MAGSALITA (TO SPEAK)
By: Isabel Angeles
“Ang hindi marunong magmahal sa sariling wika ay higit pa sa hayop at malansang isda.”
(He who does not love his own language is worse than an animal and smelly fish.)
— Jose Rizal
These are two dreaded words that have been hurled at me my entire life, laced with ignorance and usually accompanied by laughter. As a child, I did not comprehend the meaning of these words at first, but I soon came to the understanding that I was being mocked — for being Asian, and most especially for being able to speak another language.
Although I was an immigrant from the Philippines and could speak Tagalog, I found myself disconnected from my heritage because of the anti-Asian environment I grew up in. The disconnect began when I moved into a suburban neighborhood at seven years old. I found myself, a little girl with tan skin and dark eyes, lost in a sea of children with pale white skin and flaxen hair. I thought I might find solace if I befriended other Filipino kids, but the ones that I got to know were whitewashed. Even the non-Asian, other children of color participated in the mocking of my bilinguality. “Ching chong” was thrown around teasingly and eyes were pulled back.
For a while, I kept my culture close to me, especially since my parents and I would speak to each other in Tagalog. My mother would always make traditional dishes, and my father would play traditional songs or put Tagalog movies on.
But as I continued to grow up in that community, I, a tiny second grader, made the decision to stop speaking my native tongue. I was consistently made fun of for being bilingual. The other children, rather than choose to understand something foreign to them, found comfort in their ignorance and ridiculed me instead. My first language, the language that was spoken to me in the womb and after, the language my ancestors fought to preserve — was labelled “weird” or “nonsense”. I learned to dislike my language. As years went by, the disconnect from my culture only grew larger.
Up until I was a freshman in high school, I casually dismissed any discriminatory comments made towards me or anyone else of my race. I realize now that this action is what helps uphold the ‘Model Minority’ myth against Asians. If you refuse to speak out against the discrimination and racism that your people face, you are complicit in the perpetuation of this oppressive behavior.
Culturally, as a young Asian woman, I am expected to sit still and refrain from speaking my mind. As a young Asian woman, I am expected to follow any rules I am presented with. As a young Asian woman, I am expected to play the part of a studious, dutiful daughter who only uses her voice in tones of politeness and agreement. But as a young Asian-American woman growing up in a society that longs to silence minorities, I cannot permit myself to stay quiet, nor can I deny the anger I feel.
At fifteen years old, after traveling to the Philippines during summer vacation, the shame I had for my culture withered away and was replaced with undeniable pride. Being back in my home country served as an awakening — I learned that I should never be ashamed of my roots. I heard Tagalog being spoken, and I suddenly wanted to speak the language again as well. I struggled at first since I had not spoken it in so long, yet I still knew Tagalog because my parents continued to speak it to me even though I refused to speak it myself.
I returned home and was suddenly more aware of who I was and what I could do to unlearn the shameful behavior and colonial mentality I picked up all those years ago. Though a difficult feat, I learned to use my voice for more than just myself, but for those like me. I started to speak out against racism against Asians, and began to educate myself on the history of my own roots. I decided I would no longer hold my tongue.
I learned to love my language again. Looking back, I find it so silly how I wanted nothing to do with it at the time, when I should have been grateful. I now consider myself blessed to have parents that persisted to talking to me in Tagalog even though I refused to speak it myself. With that action, I never lost my bilinguality. I have now learned to appreciate the fact that I can speak another language.
Anti-Asian behavior was and still is normalized. The ridiculing of Asian languages plays a large part in the dissociation from one’s heritage, especially if it begins in childhood. Asian children, especially Filipino children, participate in the erasure of their own culture to assimilate to a society that feeds this mentality. Although a struggle, this mentality must be unlearned.
Shame towards heritage should be combatted. Always speak out against anti-Asian sentiments. Refuse to give in to self-hate, and ignore the encouragement of doing so by others. Remember to love your language, and to love yourself.