Aug 7, 2009

Kallautang as Ilokano Poetics of Diversity, Displacement, and Diaspora

[Second in a series]

By Dr. Aurelio Solver Agcaoili
Fil-Am Observer August 2009 Issue
Opinio, Page 3

The task of translating poetic texts is extremely difficult. A translator—essentially a traitor to the original text—must be able to bravely acknowledge that a particular language opens up a world of possibilities which another language might not be able to capture. In saying this, I am recognizing that the ‘sayable’ in Ilokano is not necessarily the same thing that is ‘sayable’ in English. The act of saying, the hermeneut reminds us, is always an act conditioned by issues that relate to culture and tradition, two things that ground the world in the word, the world opened up by language. In like manner, the translator must be able to acknowledge that the word is situated in the world.

In coming to terms with the difficulties of the texts—which are a lot—I have been guided by the notion that as a translator, my first duty is to communicate to the reader the meaning I have found in my own encounter with these texts.

My take on communication, thus, is not only a question of sender-and-receiver with the text in between but also a question of motivation: why do I communicate, after all? What am I communicating in my translation into English these Ilokano texts? With the exception of the Agag poem, which was originally in English, with a presumed Ilokano version because the poet was with the GUMIL Hawai’i, an organization of writers that fiercely fights for the rights of Ilokanos to produce Ilokano literature in Ilokano and other languages, the poems, uneven in the language as they are, were written in Ilokano, many of them published in anthologies, websites or an Ilokano magazine published in Manila but also circulated in Hawai’i. They were thus essentially for the Ilokano reading public, if at all there are still critical readers around. Because of the diasporic nature of these texts, the tendency is for these to become ‘exoticized’, really a part of the minority because also, minoritized, texts. Even with Ilokanos as a dominant Philippine population in the almost twenty-five percent of the total Philippine population in the State of Hawai’i, the issue of the invisibility of Ilokanos is a difficult issue, with the political identity taking precedence over the more authentic because lived, experiences, of the Ilokanos: their being Ilokanos first before they are subsumed under the cover term Filipinos.

In other countries such as Canada, where the concentration of the Ilokano population is difficult to determine because of the urgency of assimilation and because of the difficulty sometimes of dealing with stereotypes and profiling, the writing practices of Ilokanos, even as the works they produce are critically reflective of what we need to understand as exiles and as a people of the diaspora, are reduced to cyberspace publication, e-zine, or the occasional spot it gains in Bannawag, the commercial Ilokano magazine published in Manila or in some other regional magazines and newspapers.

A scholar of the Ilokano language has estimated that including the second and third-language speakers of Ilokano all over the world, the total number of speakers of this language can reach up to 20 million. This demographic fact could have been sufficient to sustain the production and reception of the literature written in this language. But the sad reality is that this number has not been able to guarantee just even the promotion of this literature in the public sphere of the Ilokano nation, much less, the Philippine nation. The latter’s skewed literary, linguistic, and cultural policies that favored and entitled English and the language of the center, a Tagalog-based language being passed off as the national language, has given rise to cultural denigration that symbolically penalizes those who speak Ilokano even in the public school system that should have espoused cultural democracy and linguistic justice as virtues of public life.

In a way, the effort to sustain the Ilokano language and literature has not been a concerted one, what with the competing interests of Ilokano cultural workers themselves, including teachers, researchers, and academics who do not know how to create a public space for their own language and literature and how to open up an avenue for a national conversation on the effective and systemic marginalization of Ilokano and various Philippine languages.

The ‘linguicide’ that has resulted from the iniquitous educational policy of the Philippine government has given rise to citizens who are ignorant of themselves by way of the systematic denial of them of their own first or native or mother languages; these citizens, likewise, pretend to know about the Philippine nation by way of the language of the center of commerce, power, and culture, the language in Manila and the mass media. This volume thus, is an attempt to give notice to the cultural workers both in the Philippines and abroad, that the denial of people of their right to their language and culture is a denial of their basic human right to live fulfilling lives. (To be continued.)

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