Nov 14, 2010

To Enter Into The Lives Of The Young Ilokanos Like Me

by Jeffrey Tangonan Acido
Agkabannuag, Fil-Am Observer November 2010 Issue
Opinion Section, Page 6

            To enter into the difficult lives of the young Ilokanos of Hawaii is something sacred and rare. To be allowed a glimpse into the inner lives of those who are struggling it out with the many issues of their identity when such are also my issues is rarer.

            For it takes grace and courage to be able to understand the missing links in one’s identity, the jigsaw puzzle of our socialized lives, and the rubric cubes of our quest for what makes sense in our immigrant life especially when many of us do not believe anymore that we are just visitors of this land but have become, somehow, part and parcel of its story and landscape. 

            One of the Kabambannuagan writers said:  “It took me six months and a self-exile half way around the world to realize this was my calling.”  This ‘self-exile’ was in
London, England, where Ilokanos are more than invisible and almost absent in the minds of their employers. 

            In that essay, she speaks of her ‘calling’—a responsibility to learn the language of her ancestors. This ‘calling’ she speaks of is her responsibility to learn the language of her ancestors—Ilokano. What it took her six months it took me years and multiple graduate degrees to figure out.  This coming to terms with her own identity and language, thus her struggles, is the common theme found in an anthology I co-edited—Kabambannuagan: Our Voices, Our Lives.  

            I had the privilege of co-editing and, therefore, entering into the lives, emotions, and traumas of 14 young Ilokano writers who have taken the painful task of naming the source of their pain and struggles and reclaiming what was theirs to begin with—their body, vision, and language. 
            My experiences are not too far from their world of traumas and hopes. It was not possible to live out a ‘detached professionalism.’ Like all of them I have roots in being from Kalihi, in being Ilokano and in loosing and shaming myself for the sake of ‘fitting in’ and ‘being like everyone else.’ Only later would we realize that ‘fitting in’ happens only when you erase that quality that made you a reflection of the gods and goddesses.  And ‘being like everyone else’ meant that English had to be the only language spoken, and if not English, it would be Tagalog, masquerading itself as Filipino.  I felt all these and I lived all these.

            In the process of reading and prying into the lives of the writers I realized and internalized the pain and struggle of what it means to name that oppression, how ever that oppression looks like. 

            I found myself unable to attend class and ride the bus without tears welling. I tried hard to hold back those tears that should have fallen years ago by pushing back the emotions and memories that came with it; I tried to look out the bus window but I could not help but see these emotions, reflections, and re-memberings being more real than the traffic that the bus passed by.  My mind tried hard to rationalize and follow a logic that would not allow me to cry but I had to trust my body and my skin, my feelings and my heart.  I cried enough to make uneasy those who sat next to me. I cried in silence; but for whatever reason I felt like the Ilokano elders that sat next to me knew the intentions of my tears.
            In many occasion I found myself surprised to find the ground that I stood on dripping with tears that only a certain form of trauma can summon.  Though the tears came from pains and struggles they also came from a sense of finding that we are not alone.  I cried alone but I did not feel alone.  I knew I was connected to these writers in the same way that I am connected to the land that my ancestors tilled—in the Ilocos and elsewhere, in Hawai’i and elsewhere.

            The Ilokano word barangay connotes the sense of community or communities that we are a part of. The popular usage of barangay has lost its sense of indigeneity; for political purposes it has stripped itself of the power to heal and thus remains only a word relevant to the government when it wants to account the population and administer the people’s collective life. The true meaning of barangay is rooted in connection to each other, the land that we till, the sea that we ride and fish, and the wind that wipes away our worries.   Here is a concept that we have regained and reclaimed in Kabambannuagan.  Their essays make up a barangay, a community that shares the burden of what it means to live in the diaspora in hope of finding a home that offers them a chance to live out an ethic of relationality.  The writer’s attempt to journey together in the geography of pain and struggle, hope and vision, make real the true meaning of barangay—to be in
 community in the hope of healing our body, our communities, and the land we stand on. 
This journeying together parallels the boat—the balangay/barangay—used by the Ilokanos and their gods and goddesses of healing. The balangay/barangay is the boat used by the Ilokanos when they traveled the sea to seek out other farmable lands that the geography of the Ilocos could not offer.  It is also the boat used by the gods and goddesses of healing—they have the power to touch human beings, heal them, and give them the power and responsibility to heal others.

            Kabambannaugan is the boat and the community that will help to begin this journey to healing and redemption for our ancestors and us, and to make real the connection to this land of Hawai’i—a place that is seeking to restore its language that was once banned and the land that has been stolen. 

            If we do not tell our stories now, someone else will tell it for us. With Kabambannuagan, the storytelling by us has begun. 


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