On a rainy day last August, I went to NAIA to go back home to my province. As I would always do, I took a cab, where I met Romy, a man in his late 40s, who has been driving his taxi for 12 years. He speaks very good English, and decided to addresses me using the language. I replied in Filipino to reassure him that I am a Filipino, and that he need not exert the effort to speak English. I pondered whether he could speak fluent Filipino (as there are many Filipinos from the provinces who do not speak fluent Filipino, but speak excellent English, and of course a dialect), but his next few sentences cleared my doubts.
Romy enjoys his job, and has a trunk full of anecdotes of his encounters with various kinds of passengers and situations that show that life as a cab driver is nothing short of interesting.
He narrated a story about his encounter with an Australian national who was particularly amazed by his proficiency in English. She asked him how he came to be a taxi driver. He said to her that he could not complete his college education because he had to bear the brunt of financially supporting his family. He mentions that although he never finished school, he has always yearned for knowledge.
On the way to the airport, we talked about many different things; our discussion delved into traffic, education, politics, law, and psychology. He even graced me with a textbook definition of the latter, which was his favorite field of study. Upon arriving at the airport, I gave my thanks and bid him goodbye.
As I arrived in my province, I remembered the first time I came to Manila for my studies. I was not in any way adept to speaking Filipino. Of course I knew how, but I was not used to speaking one complete sentence in Filipino. The environment and the crowd I grew up in considered our local dialect superior to Filipino. Moreover, we would always choose English over Filipino, and to be honest we were not really proud of speaking the latter. It was hard at first to adjust in Manila and to my classmates, who at that time, I believe, were very keen to classify me as conyo, but I somehow managed. In the process, I began to appreciate the language, and I was no longer ashamed to use it daily.
We Filipinos have welcomed the English language with open arms. We use it every day of the week. Although there is nothing wrong with adopting this foreign language, we must also not forget to speak our own. I am not afraid to admit that I was not at all proficient, let alone appreciative of our native tongue but, I can see that I was wrong. My days at Taft have shown that Filipino is a beautiful language, and my conversations with the people in Manila serve as a constant reminder of the importance of appreciating our language.
This does not, however, mean that we should shun English from our culture, no, not at all. I remember a lesson that my professor taught me when I was a frosh. He told us that there is nothing wrong in using English as a medium to communicate as long as you are working towards something good for your country and fellowmen, be it writing or speaking in English. It is a means to an end if you take a look at it from a certain perspective. Moreover, history justifies our use of English, and we have years of American occupation to prove that. In any case, English is now a part of our culture whether we accept it or not, and this is nothing to be ashamed of.
Instead of trying to remake our culture in such a way that we put a lid on English/American influence, why not use it to our advantage? We Filipinos have so much to be proud of, and one of them is the fact that we are bilingual, and in some cases, trilingual. And though English nowadays is no longer the only language in demand, it does not change our skill in adapting to other cultures. Perhaps our greatest learning from the occupations is our willingness to accept cultures, which provides us an opportunity to learn other languages, enabling us to speak a wide array of foreign tongues.
I think we have been wasting too much time lamenting about our society’s “inability” to appreciate the Filipino language over another language. Why not master both?
Nevertheless, at the end of the day, we have to go back to our roots to remember our own language and who we are as a people. We are not colonials who have been reduced to an amalgamation of different races. We are Filipinos who are gifted with the traits of various races. If you are wondering who else believes in this, just look around you, and you might just meet someone like Romy.