Nov 2, 2009

4th NAKEM CONFERENCE: The Struggle for Cultural Democracy

By Aurelio Solver Agcaoili, Ph. D.
Fil-Am Observer, Editor-In-Chief
Cover Story, Fil-Am Observer November 2009 Issue

For the fourth time since 2006 at the centennial of the coming of the first 15 Ilokano to Hawaii via SS Doric in December 1906, the Ilokano Language and Literature Program of the University of Hawaii at Manoa, in collaboration with Nakem Conferences International and Nakem Conferences Philippines, will hold a four-day gathering of scholars, academics, researchers, teachers, and advocates of cultural pluralism and cultural democracy, “Dap-ayan: Sharing and Understanding Ethnolinguistic Worlds Towards Cultural Pluralism”.

The Nakem Conference, first hosted and convened by the UHM Ilokano Program, was held at the Mariano Marcos State University in 2007 and at the St. Mary’s University in 2008. Both universities are in located in the Amianan, the northern part of the Philippines where Ilokano is either the native language or the lingua franca.

For this year, 62 conference papers had been accepted for presentation in 12 panels.

Conceived as a venue for the exchange and diffusion of ideas and knowledge on Ilokano and Amianan life, languages, and literatures, the Nakem Conferences as an organization in the Philippines and in the United States has been involved in several initiatives that pertain to the support for Mother Tongue Based Multilingual Education (MTBME) or simply Mother Language Education (MLE). MLE has since gained traction in the re-conceptualization of basic education in the Philippines. A department order by the country’s secretary of education, Jesli Lapus, now mandates the delivery of basic education to at least the first three grades in the mother tongue.

In 2008, at the 3rd Nakem Conference in St. Mary’s University, the participants of the conference passed a resolution in support of the Gunigundo Bill in the Philippines. The bill proposed the introduction of MTBME/MLE in basic education.

The Nakem Conference is one of the organizations that founded what is now called the MLE Alliance, the 170+MLE Talaytayan.

Nakem started with an idea; its inspiration came from the sacred sacrifices of the sugarcane and pineapple plantation workers who endured the backbreaking work just to wage a war against the deprivation and misery of the home country, the Philippines. With their resiliency, the lot of the many who came improved. Since 1906, the Filipinos have not stopped coming to Hawaii.

But of the estimated 5000 Filipino coming to Hawaii every year, about 90 percent of those are coming the Ilocos.

These are the people, who until today, are from the same hardy stock of those who came on ships in order to work on the vast tracks of land in the State of Hawaii, day in and day out, rain or shine.

It is this sense of the sacred and the honor we accord to memory that the Nakem Conference was first thought of in 2006.

The theme at that time, “Imagination and Critical Consciousness in Ilokano Language, Culture, and Politics”, rearticulated the contribution of the Ilokanos in the life of the Philippine nation and in the life of the diverse communities of people in the State of Hawaii.

In 2007, at MMSU Batac, the conference revolved on the theme of exile, “Panagpanaw ken Panagindeg: Exile and Settling in Ilokano and Amianan History and Culture while in 2008, at SMU in Bayombong, Nueva Vizcaya, the conference centered on “Imagining the Ilokano and Amianan Nation”.

The exchange of ideas and knowledge on Ilokano and Amianan life through the Nakem Conferences has paved the way for the publication of several books, including “Saritaan Ken Sukisok: Discourse and Research in Ilokano Language, Culture, and Politics”; “Essays on Ilokano and Amianan Life, Language, and Literature”; “Nakem: Essays on Amianan Knowledge”; and “Sukimat: Researches on Amianan Studies”.

Dr. Miriam E. Pascua, Retired Judge Artemio Baxa, and Dr. Alegria Tan Visaya will deliver separate keynote addresses that tackle the state of the art of Ilokano and Amianan Studies.

Pascua, currently president of the Mariano Marcos State University and Visaya, secretary of the MMSU Board of Regents, professor, also at the same university, and president of the Nakem Conferences Philippines, will talk on the progress of Ilokano and Amianan studies at MMSU. In particular, Pascua will share with the Nakem participants the policy directions her university has taken particularly in the creation of what is now known as the Center for Ilokano and Amianan Studies.

Visaya, on the other hand, will argue for a sustained and concerted effort to account other cultures and other languages in the Philippines. In the same vein, Artemio Baxa, currently a member of the Board of Regents of the University of Hawaii, will tackle the human rights perspective of cultural pluralism and democracy, one of the fundamental concerns of the Nakem Conferences movement.

Of those invited to welcome the participants of the 4th Nakem are the mayor of the City and County of Honolulu, Mufi Hannemann; the Philippine Consul General Leoncio Cardenas; UH Manoa Chancellor Virginia Shaw; Dr. Patricia Brown, president of the Filipino American Historical Society of Hawaii; Dr. Joseph O’Mealy, dean of the UH Manoa College of Languages, Linguistics, and Literature; Dr. Richard Schmidt, director of the UH National Foreign Language Resource Center; Dr. Barbara Andaya, director of the UH Center for Southeast Asian Studies; Dr. Belinda Aquino, director of the Center for Philippines Studies; and Dr. John Mayer, chair of the UHM Department of Indo-Pacific Languages and Literatures. Ms. Mila Medallion, president of the Filipino Coalition Solidarity, will give a plenary talk to close the third day of the conference.

The conference will also feature the video productions of students taking up 300 or 400-level Ilokano language courses with the UH Ilokano Program and Indo-Pacific courses including Modern Philippine Drama, Philippine Critical Discourses, and Philippine Popular Culture.

On the last day of the conference, the 100-200-level students enrolled in the Ilokano language will present their dramatic work before the formal closing ceremonies of the 4-day gathering. Both the opening and the closing ceremonies will be held at the Art Auditorium while the conference proper will be held at the Campus Ballroom.

Three books that bear upon the work of the UH Ilokano Language and Literature Program and the Nakem Conferences will be launched during the conference: Kallautang: Poetics of Diversity, Displacement, and Diaspora and Rekuerdo/Memento: Estrangement and Homing in Ilokano Poetics, and Sukimat. Both the first two books have been edited, translated, and critically introduced by Aurelio Agcaoili, chair of the 4th Nakem Conference. Agcaoili, along with Dr. Anabelle Felipe, and Visaya, edited Sukimat, a collaborative publication of the Nakem Conference Philippines and Nakem Conference International. Pascua wrote a foreword to the book while Agcaoili provided a critical introduction.

The next three Nakem Conferences will be held in the Philippines beginning 2010 in support of the MTBME/MLE in basic education.

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