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English is your mother tongue

Ang Ingles ay tongue ng ina mo


By ERIC GAMALINDA
January 2003
Editor's Note: This essay also appears in "The Vestiges of War," published by the New
York University Press.
"The Philippines were to us a terra incognita. No ship of our service had been there for
years. When, after my appointment as commander of the Asiatic Squadron, I sought
information on the subject in Washington, I found that the latest official report relative to
the Philippines on file in the office of naval intelligence bore the date of 1876."1
That was what Commodore George Dewey, the hero of the Battle of Manila Bay, had to
say about the Philippines. More than a century later, the age of the Internet may have
made information on the Philippines more readily available, but it remains a fact that
most Americans know no more about their former colony than Dewey did in 1898. Few
Americans are aware of the history of the United States in the Philippines, a history that
was kept secret from their own people for many reasons.
This history was also largely unknown to many Filipinos who grew up during and after
the Second World War -- grew up, that is, with the belief that the Unites States was a
savior twice over, saving them first from the Spanish and later from the Japanese.
The image of savior and redeemer was something the United States exploited with the
precision and efficiency of a professional publicity agent since 1899, when it invaded the
archipelago. Since then, there have been two major deities in the pantheon of the Filipino
psyche: God and America.
Those of us who grew up in Manila in the 60s and 70s know this only too well. We
learned English the moment we were ready for school around the age of five, if not
earlier, when we learned it at home.
We were taught that A was for Apple and we learned to sing America the Beautiful and
we were aware that in December there was snow and Santa Claus came down our
chimneys, even if we had none. We watched I Love Lucy and Flash Gordon and listened
to Top 40 radio and watched Hollywood movies and read all the great Anglo-Saxon
authors and knew all the 50 states (well, some of us did). And most important, most of us
had some next of kin in the States, whose balikbayan boxes regularly arrived like manna
from heaven.
How strange to discover that in the United States, people would ask questions like Where
did you learn to speak English and Do Filipinos live in trees. How disappointing to learn
that while we knew everything about America -- knew possibly more about America than
the average American did -- the average American knew next to nothing about us. The

effect may be something like praying for a hundred years to God, and finding out that
God never really knew we existed.
But that's the way it is, and that is indicative of the one-way traffic of commerce and
information that has existed between the United States and the Philippines since 1899.
And this relationship applies to the way we use the English language, and the way
English is used upon us.
To understand that we have to go back to 1901, three years after the wakening American
Empire had just defeated Spain. The United States was about to embark on one of its
most ambitious missions: to transform the inhabitants of the 7,100 islands of the
Philippines into an English-speaking people. That year, a shipload of teachers on the SS
Thomas sailed from San Francisco to the Philippines.
These "Thomasites," as they called themselves, were selected from the best universities
in the United States. Their task was to give basic education to as many Filipinos as
possible, and to teach them to speak in the language of the civilized world, meaning
English.
The 1901 log of the Thomas, a souvenir publication printed on board by the Thomasites,
said: "Our nation has found herself confronted by a great problem dealing with a people
who neither know nor understand the underlying principles of our civilization, yet who,
for our mutual happiness and liberty, must be brought into accord with us.
Between them and us is a chasm which must be bridged by a common knowledge and
sympathy; fellowship must be made possible."2
The chasm they spoke of meant many things. They were coming into a territory in an era
in which the balance of power in Asia had just tilted in favor of the United States. But
this power did not come peacefully. Two years earlier, the race to exploit the Orient, in
particular the great market that was China, intensified political and economic rivalries
among Great Britain on one hand, and France, Germany, Russia and Japan on the other.
Russian and German competition was jeopardizing Great Britain's trade centers in Asia.
France was no help: Britain was disputing its control over African territories.
Germany was becoming more blatant about its ambition to dominate the region. Only the
United States remained as Britain's possible ally, and for a now evident reason: the
United States, only a generation after the Civil War and the last Indian Wars, was
becoming aware of its future role as the world's next great power.
In Philippine American Literary Relations 1898-1941, (Quezon City: University of the
Philippines Press, 1969) Lucila Hosillos wrote, "Since the Civil War and the
Reconstruction, national developments in the United States had been directed by the
industrial revolution in the capitalistic economy. Technology and economic progress had
complicated the democratic ideals of independence, equality, individual rights, and social

welfare. By the end of the nineteenth century, capitalistic development had engendered
the feeling of power and its philosophy of force and political recognition of racial
superiority on one hand and the spirit of humanitarianism and the concept of 'manifest
destiny' on the other." 3
Manila was a strategic base from which to conduct America's commerce with China. This
motive becomes clear when we recall that as soon as the Spanish-American War broke
out in 1898, the United States sent Commodore George Dewey to the Philippines,
purportedly to aid the Filipinos who were then fighting a war of independence against the
Spanish government there. After it defeated Spain, the United States decided to colonize
the archipelago, "largely in an eclectic effort
to construct a system of coaling, cable, and naval stations for an integrated trade route
which could help realize America's overriding ambition in the Pacific -- the penetration
and ultimate domination of the fabled China market." 4
Commodore Dewey recalled: "Hitherto the United States had been considered a secondclass power, whose foreign policy was an unimportant factor beyond the three-mile limit
of the American hemisphere." 5
Although the United States anticipated some recalcitrance from Filipinos, it never
imagined the acrimony of the independence movement that the Filipinos would carry
over from their war with Spain. The Philippine-American War was one of the bloodiest
and costliest wars in American history. But because of the temper of the times, the
invasion of the Philippines would initially find overwhelming support among the
American public.
"The fact is that the atmosphere of the late nineteenth century was so thoroughly
permeated with racist thought (reinforced by Darwinism) that few men managed to
escape it," wrote Christopher Lasch in The Anti-Imperialist as Racist.
"The idea that certain cultures and races were naturally inferior to others was almost
universally held by educated, middle-class, respectable Americans -- in other words, by
the dominant majority."6
Why did the Filipinos continue to oppose an obviously unbeatable enemy?
In a letter written on August 31, 1900 to General J.F. Bell of the American cavalry,
Apolinario Mabini, reputed to be the theorist of the Philippine revolution, wrote: "The
Filipinos know only too well that by force, they can expect nothing from the United
States. They fight to show the United States that they possess sufficient culture to know
their rights even when there is a pretense to hide them by means of clever sophisms."
American victory over the Philippine Republic -- just over three months old when the war
began -- was all that the United States needed to become a global empire at the turn of the
twentieth century. Later, the United States strengthened colonial ties to make sure the
Philippines remained dependent in many ways. In 1946, the United States would finally

grant independence, but would also make sure the colonial ties would be tightened with
the passage of several acts that guaranteed economic subservience. The United States
passed the Philippine Rehabilitation Act only on the condition that the Philippines would
accept the Bell Trade Act, which ensured the unrestricted flow of American goods to the
Philippines and granted "parity" rights allowing U.S. citizens equal rights to exploit
Philippine natural resources. Manila, being the second most devastated city in the world
after the Second World War, had no choice but to accept the terms. The Military
Assistance Pact gave the
U.S., through military aid, control over the military forces of the Philippines.
Furthermore, the Military Bases Act allowed the United States free use of 23 base sites.
This act expired in 1992 and today has been replaced by the Visiting Forces Agreement.
Signed in February 1998, the VFA was opposed by many individuals and organizations,
among them the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines, which said that "the
VFA was signed without public consultation." Among the VFA's provisions include:
"Philippine authorities' waiver of primary right to exercise jurisdiction when requested by
US authorities," and "unhampered and unrestricted movement of (American) vessels and
aircrafts."
The United States also strengthened colonial ties through the idea of tutelage. Ignoring
the fact that the constitution of the Philippine Republic of 1898 was patterned after those
of France and America, the United States had to convince its public -- and the Filipinos
themselves -- that Filipinos were inept in the art of self-government. In order to justify its
invasion of an independent republic, the United States had to create not only its own
image as redeemer, but of the Filipinos as a people in need of redemption.
That redemption came in the form of public education, and education was to be
conducted in English. Philippine Governor General of 1932 Theodore Roosevelt, the son
of the President, reported in Colonial Policies of the United States: "English was adopted
as the basic language, and rightly so, for the Philippines were not like Puerto Rico, which
had already a single language that had been used for years.
What was necessary in the Philippines, if there were to be a united people, was a single
language, at least for official use. Spanish was reasonably widely spoken when we took
them, but it had not reached the back country or the smaller towns to any great extent.
Probably because of the logic of this action there never has been the resistance to English
encountered in Puerto Rico."
The imposition of English was not as simple as that. It involved a calculated program to
discredit Spanish and the existing native languages, to convince the Filipinos of their
inferiority and therefore their need for upliftment, and to glorify the material and
intellectual progress the English language promised.
One proof of the Filipinos' inferiority was the alleged fact that they had not been able to
produce a national literature. "The languages have produced little or nothing which can
claim to be literature in the sense of elegant and artistic writing," wrote Frank R. Blake,

in American Anthropologist in 1911. "The literature of the Philippine languages is


literature only in the broader sense of written speech."7
This wasn't entirely true, as Governor General Roosevelt would assert in later, less
unenlightened times. He would say: "The average individual has an entirely wrong
impression of the Filipinos. He thinks of them as savages. They are not savages any more
than the citizens of the United States are savages. Even before the Spaniards came they
had their own civilization. They in no fashion resembled the Indians of America. They
had a literature and a written language.
What is more, this was recognized by the people who came in contact with them. La
Perouse, the French explorer, said in 1787 that the Filipinos were in no way inferior' to
the people of Europe."8
La Perouse was not the only one to make that observation. As early as the seventeenth
century, missionary grammarians already recognized the maturity of Filipino (Tagalog)
poetics. In 1744, the friar Juan Francisco de San Antonio wrote in his Cronicas: "The
natives are fond of verses and representations. They are indefatigable where verses are
concerned, and will act them out as they read them.
When they write, they heighten their style with so many rhetorical phrases, metaphors,
and pictures, that many who think themselves poets would be glad to do as much; and yet
this is only in prose. For when it comes to poesy, he who would understand it must be
very learned in their language even among his compatriots."
Moreover, many epics were written in the native languages, some of which were already
translated into Spanish by the late nineteenth century. Among these were the Ilokano epic
Lam-ang, first recorded in 1889; the Bicolano Ibalon, first recorded in W.R. Retana's
Archivo del Bibliofilo in Madrid in 1895; the Bagobo Tuwaang, discovered by E. Arsenio
Manuel in 1956; the Ifugao Hudhud and Alim; Hinilawod, the epic of the Sulod people of
Panay; the Maguindanao Indarapatra and Sulayman; the Tausug Parang Sabil; the
Bantugan of the Maranaw, and the Baybayan of Bukidnon. In a study in 1962, Manuel
found 13 epics from pagan Filipinos, two from Christians, and four from Moslems.
But there would be more proofs of the Filipinos' supposed intellectual inferiority. One
was the fact that after three centuries under Spain, Filipinos allegedly never produced any
significant literature in Spanish. Again this wasn't true. It ignored the reality of
censorship, the fact that Spanish friars deliberately withheld the language from the
Filipinos, believing that knowledge of the language would incite Filipinos to rebel against
ecclesiastical control.
Harley Harris Bartlett, in a study called "Vernacular Literature in the Philippines,"
published in Michigan Alumnus Quarterly Review in 1936, wrote: "Nothing could be
printed without permission, and permission was seldom granted, except for a religious
book of which it could be certified by the censor aparece que nada contiene

contrario a la fe. All too prevalent among the clerics was the attitude of the Franciscan
friar, Miguel Lucio Bustamante, who, writing in Tagalog, told Filipinos that they ought
not to understand Spanish, for the moment they could speak Spanish they would become
enemies of the King and God. They ought to learn only to say their prayers and to spend
the rest of their time on their carabaos."
The clergy's paranoia was not unfounded. By the late nineteenth century, the Philippines
was opened to international trade, creating a new Filipino middle class who sent their
children to be educated in Europe. This new generation of Filipinos brought home radical
ideas and created what is now referred to as El Siglo Oro, the golden age of Hispanic
Filipino literature. Among the writers of this age were
Jose Rizal, Jose Burgos, Marcelo del Pilar, Graciano Lopez Jaena, and other intellectuals
of the Reform Movement.
Only later would the American regime take advantage of Rizal's anti-clerical works to cut
Filipinos from their Spanish past. But to curtail the infestation of nationalist ideas, and
because most anti-colonial literature was still being written in Spanish, the United States
passed the Sedition Law on November 4, 1901, limiting writing
in that language and imposing the death penalty or prolonged imprisonment for anyone
who spoke, wrote or published "scurrilous libels" against the American colonial
government. The unintended effect here was it stimulated writing in the Philippine
languages, led by the growing lingua franca that was Tagalog, which were not understood
by the censors, and which they had already decided was not worthy of producing "artistic
writing." But by censoring the use of Spanish, the U.S. made sure anything written in it
would remain inaccessible, and therefore non-existent.
"The ability to read means little in a society where people had nothing to read worthy of
being called a literature," wrote James Le Roy in The Americans in the Philippines in
1914. "It was felt that the Philippines had not produced a body of writings which would
serve to either acquaint its people with world movements and thought or to bring to them
a rich native culture."9
It was all very clear: The fact that Spanish never became the common language despite
three centuries of Spanish rule, that no significant literature in Spanish was ever produced
by the Filipinos, and their native languages were not sophisticated enough to produce art,
were all proofs that the Filipinos were backward and incapable of self-rule, and that
colonization was justified, and necessary. By having them go through the pains of
learning a new language, the United
States reinforced the mentor-pupil relationship, reinforced also its superiority over what
Rudyard Kipling described in his famous poem as America's "new-caught sullen peoples,
half-devil and half-child."
Filipino author Nick Joaquin, writing in The Sunday Times Magazine in 1957, described
it this way: "A people that had got as far as Baudelaire in one language was being
returned to the ABC's of another and taught to read 'Humpty-Dumpty' and 'The Little Red
Hen' instead of Cervantes, Calderon de la Barca, Lope de Vega, and Ruben Dario."10

The terms used to refer to Filipinos in several reports and letters from that period reveal
what the current attitude was: they were "savages," "injuns," "*******," and "gooks." By
proving beyond doubt that Filipinos were inferior, President McKinley's divine mission
to carry out the United States' "manifest destiny" in the Pacific was now justified.
"The political and economic background of Philippine American relations colored the
Filipino image in the United States," wrote Hosillos. "Biased reportage and partisan
writing, playing up the defects of the Filipino character and ignoring Filipino
achievements, distorted the Filipino image. Organized business interests, both in the
United States and in the Philippines, lauded works distorting the
Filipino image as part of the campaign for racial prejudice and anti-independence."
English, naturally, would pluck the Filipinos out of their backwardness, and would keep
them attuned to the progress made possible by Anglo-Saxon knowledge and traditions.
Popular education was something the Filipinos never had under Spain, and was therefore
an effective way to further demonize the vanquished colonizers.
In 1900 the Director of Education made English the official language "with the intention
of making it the common language of the people, the medium of __expression on the
street and in the home, as well as in the classroom, in the school shop, and on the school
playground."
Bienvenido and Cynthia Nograles Lumbera, editors of Philippine Literature: A History
and Anthology, wrote: "Through English, the flow of cultural influence was facilitated
and an immediate gain for the colonizers as the progressive deterioration of resistance to
American colonial control. English opened the floodgates of colonial values through the
conduits of textbooks originally intended for American children; books and magazines
beamed at an American audience that familiarized Filipinos with the blessings of
economic affluence in a capitalist country; phonograph records that infected young
Filipinos with the same concerns and priorities as American teenagers; and films that
vividly recreated for the Filipino audiences life in the U.S., feeding the minds of the
young with bogus images of a just and altruistic government and its wondrously happy
and contented citizens."
Historian Renato Constantino, in an essay called The Mis-Education of the Filipino, said:
"The Filipinos became avid consumers of American products and the Philippines, a fertile
ground for American investment." But there was something else that English achieved in
the Philippines. He wrote: "English became the wedge that separated the Filipinos from
their past at the same time that it helped to
further separate educated Filipinos from the masses."11
In other words, English became a mark of social standing. The more proficient one was in
it, the more education one was presumed to have had. This perception was important in
controlling the islands. When the United States organized the Philippine Assembly
shortly after the Philippine American War, it restricted voting to Filipinos who were
above a certain income and who had had considerable American education.

Historically, this is nothing new. The policy is similar to the one adopted when the
original thirteen United States were integrated, whereby only people of property were
allowed to participate in democracy.
By doing this the United States ensured that members of the native law-making body
would come from wealthy Filipinos who would protect their own businesses as well as
those of the United States. These native lawmakers would be kept under the tutelage of
the United States, a relationship that ensured that only the United States would decide if
and when the Filipinos were smart enough for self-rule.
Richard E. Welch, Jr. wrote in Response to Imperialism: "If American administrators
sought to promote 'progress' in the islands, they often fell victim to the occupational
disease of the pedagogue who would dominate as well as instruct and who remains
reluctant to declare his pupil equipped for the freedom of graduation. Tutelage can have a
crippling effect, and apprenticeship too long continued can promote a sense of
psychological as well as economic dependence."12
Today in the Philippines, English is the official language of media, government, business,
and higher education. English is a status symbol: an indication of being civilized. The
perception that English is a sign of progress and education and the native languages a
sign of backwardness has been so successfully instilled in Filipinos that even today, many
Filipinos are ashamed to be caught speaking their
language.
In everyday life, from shopping to government and business transactions, a Filipino must
speak English if he or she is to be taken seriously. This bias is reinforced even in the U.S.,
with accent discrimination. In American mass media, for instance, a person with an
accent is often portrayed as stupid, no matter how articulate he may be in another
language. An interesting exception has been pointed out to me, however: this form of
discrimination does not generally apply to people with British or French accents.
"Colonial subjugation for more than three hundred years during which the Filipinos were
kept ignorant and made to believe that they belonged to an inferior race produced a
cultural neurosis which admitted the superiority of the conqueror," observed Hosillos.
"The trend toward growth and progress attainable only through
Westernization and the American outlook encouraged imitation in almost all phases of
life. The ability to speak, read, and write in English became an enviable achievement of
the "modern" Filipino; it became the key to one's success in life."
This idea of success became more apparent to students during the first two decades of the
American regime. They were modern young people who witnessed the gradual demise of
Filipino literature in Spanish, a demise occasioned by dwindling audiences. At the same
time, American education created an increasing English readership.

From this milieu -- the transition of the Philippines from one language to another -- a new
branch of Philippine literature would emerge: the literature of the American colonial
people.
Philippine literature in English began as an extension of the tutelage relationship between
the United States and the Philippines.
In literature's case, it was literally so : In the first decade the United States established the
University of the Philippines, and patterned it after Harvard. Training here was rigorous
and graduating from it would soon rival the distinction of graduating from the
universities founded by the Spaniards in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In
1910 the University of the Philippines published its College Folio, the first scholarly
journal in English to be published in the country. It was a landmark of sorts, because
through the efforts of Dean and Harriet Fansler of the English Department, Filipinos for
the first time were encouraged to write beyond imitations of the standard reading texts of
Longfellow, Irving, Holmes, Arnold, Eliot, and even Shakespeare.
By 1915, the American-owned Philippines Free Press, which had only published
Americans, was receiving so many poetry submissions from Filipinos that it gave in, but
not without first commenting: "The Free Press is not much in favor of encouraging the
young Filipino to verse, for he seems to take to it like a duck to water, and with much less
reason."
It can be said that Philippine literature in English began when Filipinos writing in English
began writing about themselves. Teachers like T. Inglis Moore were responsible for
weaning Filipino writers from the early Romantic models. In 1930 he wrote: "The
Filipinohas to learn not only to write with English but to write against it. He has to write
English without becoming an Englishman or American. This difficult task is necessary
not because Filipino English is better than English, but because a Filipino literature must
remain Filipino if it intends to be literature."
Many Filipino poets followed his advice. The nationalism created by the literature of the
Reform Movement would still echo under the new colonial regime, and not surprisingly,
once Filipino poets began writing "Filipino English," many of them wrote about their
dual identity.
A poem by Trinidad Tarrosa Subido, written in 1940, summed up the angst of the age:
They took away the language of my blood,
Giving me one "more widely understood."
Now Lips can never
Never with the Soul-of-Me commune:
Alas, how can I interpret my Mood?
They took away the language of my blood.

Similarly, Rafael Zulueta y da Costa, in his famous poem "Like the Molave" (1940),
questioned the alleged paucity of Filipino culture, and took inspiration from an American
literary rebel, Walt Whitman: My American friend says:
Show me one great Filipino speech to make your people listen through centuries; Show
me one great Filipino song rich with the soul of your seven thousand isles;
Show me one great Filipino dream, forever sword and shield -Friend, our silences are long but we also have our speeches...Speeches short before the
firing squad, and yet of love.13
The issue of language and identity would become more prominent in the 1960s, during
the period of renewed nationalism in the Philippines. The sentiment would become
stronger among Tagalog writers, who continued to write in the dialect despite the
disadvantage posed by English media and education. Alejandro Abadilla, in his book
Tanagabadilla (1965) wrote:
Ang poesyang Ingles
Pilipino'y huwad,
Lagi nang maisip
Paintelektuwad!
(English poetry
By Filipinos is a fakery,
Always in deep thought,
In intellectoilet pose!)14
Whether it was fake intellectualism or not, soon a number of Filipinos would eventually
study in the United States, or settle there. In 1905, Philippine American government
scholars, known as pensionados, published The Filipino Students' Magazine in Berkeley,
which carried poems in English and Spanish. We can also say this is the beginning of
Filipino American literature; later, after several waves of immigration from the
Philippines to the United States, these two branches of Filipino literature in English
would develop their own literary histories, with sometimes interweaving and sometimes
conflicting intersections.
Two Filipinos who received considerable recognition during the early years of Filipino
American literature were Jose Garcia Villa and Carlos Bulosan. No two writers could be
more different from one another.
In the Philippines, Villa was lionized because he represented the break from morality and
tradition that Filipino poets had long wanted to achieve. The combination of Hispanic
Catholicism and American Protestanism left no room for the moral and artistic
experiments of Villa, who was suspended from the University of the Philippines for using
sexually graphic language in his poetry.

Settling in New York City's Greenwich Village at age 21, he was lauded by poets like
Marianne Moore, Mark van Doren, e.e. cummings, and Edith Sitwell, who wrote, in her
introduction to Villa's Selected Poems and New, "The best of these poems are amongst
the most beautiful written in our time." He received several of the country's major
national awards and fellowships, and loved to portray himself as a global artiste:
The country that is my country
Is not of this hemisphere, nor any
Other: is neither west nor east:
Nor is it on the north or south:
I reject the littleness of the compass.
Is not the Philippines:
Nor America: nor Spain
I disclaim
Nations, tribes, peoples, flags:
I disclaim the Filipino.15
Bulosan, an icon of Filipino American literature, was born in 1911 and immigrated at age
18. A self-taught writer, he worked in farms on the West Coast and helped organize farm
labor. While he is more remembered for his fiction, particularly his classic America is in
the Heart, he also wrote poetry and became a champion of Filipino immigrant workers
living in harsh conditions in the United States.
Interestingly enough, his works never really caught on in the Philippines, where his
portrayal of farm life and racial prejudice ran against the still commonly held image of
America as a wealthy, happy utopia:
You did not give America to me, and never will.
America is in the hearts of people that live in it.
But it is worth the coming, the sacrifice, the idealism.16
Both these writers broke ground, because after them it became clear that the United
States offered unlimited opportunities for publication. In 1958 Filipino writer NVM
Gonzales wrote in the Free Press that "some genius might make a name for himself in the
United States." This obsession still pervades Philippine letters to this day. While
opportunities for publication and prizes and professorships have grown in the Philippines,
publication in the United States is still the desirable goal. A writer in the Philippines is
not "made" until he has been published in the U.S. At the same time, a more international
readership seems to be the only alternative for a writer with a dwindling audience in his
own home.
Today, the Filipino writer in English seems to be facing the same fate of the Filipino
writer in Spanish a hundred years ago. With ever increasing nationalism in the
Philippines, the Tagalog-based national language, Filipino, is gaining more ground as the
official medium of education and government communications. Increasingly, too, mass
media uses Filipino. The death of Philippine literature in English had been predicted

since the 1960s. In a symposium conducted by the US Information Service in 1954,


writer Gregorio Brillantes said that "the outlook for Philippine writing in the 1960s was
less bright than it had been in the 1940s."
But in the same symposium poet and novelist Nick Joaquin gave a less pessimistic
prediction. "There are many young writers, he said, and they are doing something to the
English language: it is no longer simple English; not the English of America or England,
but their English. These young writers, said Mr. Joaquin, will continue to
write."17
Why then do Filipinos continue to write in English? In the 60s and 70s English was a
burning political issue, and many writers were compelled to do some soul searching. Can
English truly express what I think and feel? Am I a traitor to my country for writing in
English?
A poet and former pensionado, Francisco Arcellana, wrote: "There is something
uncommon in the not enviable situation of the Filipino writer in English and this is the
insuperable problems of language. The life from which he draws substance is lived in a
language different from the language he uses. He is therefore twice removed: by the
language and by the work of art. But the writer doesn't choose his language -- no more
than he chooses to write. It is surely an accident that the Filipino writer in English writes
in English, a historical mistake."18
A curious mutation of this "historical mistake" was the increasing popularity, beginning
in the late 50s, of Taglish, the urban-centered, media-fueled, hip young lingo that merged
Tagalog and English. Poet Rolando Tinio was perhaps the first to use the language in
poetry, creating poems like "Valediction sa Hillcrest," written in Iowa in 1958:
Pagkacollect ng Railway Express sa aking things
(Deretso na iyon sa barko while I take the plane),
Inakyat kong muli ang N-311 at dahil dead of winter,
Nakatopcoat at galoshes akong
Nag-right turn sa N wing ng mahabang dilim19
After the Railway Express collected my things
(They're heading straight to the boat while I take the plane)
I took the N-311 once more and since it was dead of winter,
I was wearing my topcoat and galoshes
As I made a right turn to the N wing in the lengthy darkness..20
Although Tinio disavowed Taglish poetry after a while, he still maintained the freedom of
the poet to write in any language he wanted: "There seems very little in our national
literatures which can be solved in terms of programs. The Tagalog writer will write in
Tagalog for those who wish to read in Tagalog. The Spanish writer will write in Spanish
for those who wish to read in Spanish. And, for as long as there are readers in English,
the best thing for the Filipino writer in English is to write in English. If tomorrow, I
suddenly recide to read nothing but Tagalog poems, perhaps even to write Tagalog poems

--well, isn't that nice? Perhaps I will, and perhaps I won't, but whatever I choose to do is
certainly nobody else's business."21
Even today the issue of language and identity continues to be discussed in the
Philippines. In an issue of the Asian Pacific American Journal in 1998, novelist and poet
Jose Dalisay said: "Among the writers I know here in Manila, the issue of whether to
write in English has ceased to be an issue -- if it ever truly was; you write in the language
you know, and through which you can do more knowing; otherwise, quite simply, you
can't and you don't."22
Clearly, one legacy of the imposition of English in the Philippines is a continuing identity
crisis among Filipino writers, a crisis that was not even present during the Spanish era. If
the dire predictions do come true, however, and Philippine literature in English dies a
natural death, there is evidently another center in which this literature will continue. A
new generation of Filipinos and Filipino Americans are being published in the United
States, a trend that seemed to have hit its stride shortly after Filipinos overthrew
Ferdinand Marcos in 1986.
It has been noted that political interest fueled interest in Philippine literature at the
beginning of this century, and it still does today.
Whether the United States will accept the literature of its former pupil is a different
matter altogether. In a seminar on British literature in Cambridge, U.K., in 1989, the critic
George Steiner said that the most exciting British literature was coming from its former
colonies. Will America look to its former colony and give its literature the same honor?
Possibly, but in doing so the United States will also eventually have to confront the truth
about 1899: even today, there is no official acknowledgement that the PhilippineAmerican War was a war of aggression. The economic relationship that motivated the
United States to colonize is still largely in place.
Filipinos, by virtue of their unceasing poverty and political instability, are still seen as the
backward children that they were a hundred years ago, the infantiles who could not
produce literature, in Spanish, English or their native languages, because of what Arthur
Riggs, in an essay called "Filipino Literature and Drama" published in Overland Monthly
in 1905, blamed on "a lack of hard, common sense, analytic powers, power of synthesis
or grasp of principles."23 By using these same constructs applied a hundred years ago, it
is easy to justify why such a people still need to be continually uplifted and civilized.
And Filipino literature in English -- will it suffer the same fate as Filipino Hispanic
literature? A decade ago this seemed likely. But today, when the centers of literature are
no longer geographically predictable, and the Internet continues to create new readerships
throughout the world, it may just be possible that this literature will survive for a while.
But one thing is certain. At the close of the first century of the American Empire, it is
obvious that the United States has achieved its goal: to transform Filipinos, or at least a
great majority of them, into an English speaking nation.