Campus: ‘English-paka ko?!’

I REMEMBER in Filipino class some time ago when we were discussing some important contributions of Dr. Jose Rizal and he was quoted as condemning those who did not speak their native language: “Ang hindi marunong magmahal sa sariling wika ay higit pa sa amoy ng malansang isda.”

I remember my classmates immediately inciting me as an example and joking about it. I laughed it off, but those words struck me. English was taught to me at a very young age. I was taught how to create grammatically correct sentences before I was even taught how to count. Even if I could speak English well, I could not say the same for the way I speak Filipino or even Bisaya. This language and dialect did not come as natural to me like English did. I find myself having to think for at least five seconds to respond in Bisaya and another five seconds to understand what the other person’s response was. It made having conversations with people who spoke really fast a huge difficulty to understand and it made socializing with other people just as challenge.

The whole language problem I have is kind of embarrassing when you realize that I was taught it willingly. Others like me had moved from English speaking places to the Philippines so it makes sense why they would be more accustomed to the language. But I do not have that luxury of an excuse. I learned English first without learning my native language. It is why I often have second thoughts on striking a conversation with random people.

People normally mock how I speak when I attempt to express myself in vernacular. I remember how they would make fun of the way I said a few words. I tried not to think about it too much though because I somehow feel that if I am struggling with speaking Filipino and Bisaya, then probably they are also struggling with expressing themselves in English. Life is just fair after all, I guess.

Given the whole circumstance, you would not really call me a model Filipino youth. If speaking one’s native tongue is considered a huge basis for being patriotic, then I would have to admit that it I am struggling with the concept of patriotism.

As a matter of fact, I find it kind of ironic that I cannot be considered a patriotic youth, given that my father is a soldier serving our country. I used to think how odd it was for an English-speaking guy to be born in a country that speaks a different language. It is sort of amusing though, being born in a country but not being able to relate so much to what’s happening around. Yes, it is indeed shameful.

Ever since I entered high school I mostly only speak English in front of those who I am comfortable with and switch to vernacular when I have to converse with other people. It is a difficult thing to do sometimes because this process takes a few seconds to get used to. It makes for a funny conversation but I rarely find people who understand what I am driving at most of the time. My difficulty usually stems even from the start of a conversation.

“Hi, my name is Joeie Cuerpo.”

“English-paka kayo ka bai…”

“Yeah…”

It’s like you can already see their noses bleed. Believe me, mine bleed even more.

There are, however, people who do not make an effort to carry out a conversation, probably because they are intimidated (I am just as intimidated). My classmates have adapted to the way I speak and I have found ways to understanding them, too. It was this sort of mutual thing that my classmates and I have. It helped me get over both of my feeling of awkwardness talking to people in the English language and in the vernacular.

So, this is how I’m going to end my school year: not with a list about my achievements nor a story about my non-existent struggle as a student. I am going to end my Junior High experience with this article that highlights my greatest weakness and disability.

If you’re going to ask why I’ll probably just say, “Because it is a continuing struggle for me… and I think it would be amusing.” (Joeie Cuerpo/Corpus Christi School)