Apr 7, 2011

Nakem Conferences and the Struggle for Cultural Nationalism

by Fil-Am Observer Staff

In the forefront of struggle for cultural democracy, linguistic justice, cultural pluralism is Nakem Conferences, a movement born of the struggles of the Ilokano people in their fight for a piece of the earth under the Hawaiian skies. 

About six years ago, in 2006, at the centennial of the coming of the first groups of the people of the Philippines to Hawaii—the Ilokanos in particular—the University of Hawaii’s then Ilokano, Philippine Drama and Film Program held the 
first-ever Nakem conference participated in by scholars from various countries 
including representatives from the United States Mainland, Canada, Japan, and 
the Philippines. 

Aurelio Solver Agcaoili and Prescilla Espiritu, both of the University of Hawaii, convened the conference. 

Towards the end of that year, the Ilokano Language and Literature Program of the University of Hawaii (formerly the Ilokano, Philippine Drama and Film Program) put together an advocacy group aimed to pursue the ends of cultural pluralism and linguistic democracy.

That group became the Nakem Conferences.

In 2007, Nakem Conferences linked up with the Mariano Marcos State University to hold the first-ever Nakem conference in the Philippines. The conference was held at the university’s Batac campus, in Ilocos Norte.
At that conference, the Nakem Conferences in the United States initiated the 
organization of Nakem Conferences International Philippines Chapter—or simply 
called Nakem Philippines.  

In that year, the conference’s general assembly also elected the first set of officers of the board of directors of Nakem Philippines, with Dr Alegria Tan Visaya, a professor of MMSU and secretary of the board of regents, elected president.
Since 2006, Nakem Conferences International, the name used to distinguish the 
Nakem Conferences Philippines, in cooperation with various institutional partners forming the Nakem Conferences consortium, has held five international conferences.
In 2008, the Nakem movement held the 3rd Nakem conference at Saint Mary’s 
University in Bayombong, Nueva Vizcaya, the Philippines.
In 2009, the 4th Nakem was held at the University of Hawaii at Manoa under the 
auspices of the UH Manoa Ilokano Program.
In 2010, the 5th Nakem, “Education to Cultural Democracy and Linguistic Justice,” was held at Caoayan, Ilocos Sur, under the sponsorship of the University of Northern Philippines, the co-sponsorship of the Mariano Marcos State University, the partner institutions of Nakem including the Department of 
Education in various school districts, the Abra State Institute of Science and Technology, the Ilocos Sur Agricultural College, the 170+Talaytayan MLE, St 
Mary’s University, Northern Luzon State Polytechnic College, the University of the Philippines (Baguio, Los Baños, and Diliman), Apayao State College, Isabela State University, Cagayan State University, Pangasinan State University, Benguet 
State University, Ifugao State University and other non-profit organizations and 
cultural advocates. 

On May 23-25, 2011, Nakem will hold its 6th conference, “Mother Language 
Education and Cultural Nationalism,” at the Ifugao State University in Banaue. 

In the quest for avenues for a more relevant education to heritage, to language 
and culture promotion, and to respect for language and culture rights as enshrined in various international covenants, Nakem Conference has been in the 
forefront in the struggle for the return of Ilokano and other Philippine languages in the basic education of young people in the Philippines.
Scientific researches in basic and higher education all point to the fundamental 
role of language and culture in critical and emancipatory education. 

To date, Nakem Conferences has teamed up with 170+Talaytayan and the Akademiyang Bisaya in the pursuit of more relevant education in the Philippines.
In Hawaii, Nakem has been in the forefront of cultural advocacy work, in the 
promotion heritage learning and education, and in diversity and youth empowerment.
In 2009, Nakem through the current president Aurelio Agcaoili, and in partnership with young people such as Jeffrey Acido and Calvin Rilveria, put up 
an independent youth group, the Nakem Youth.
In advancing the cause of cultural pluralism, Nakem has published a number of 
books including “Nakem: Essays on Amianan Knowledge,” “Sukimat: Researches on Ilokano and Amianan Studies,” Saritaan ken Sukisok: Discourse and Research in Ilokano Language, Culture, Politics,” and “Essays on Ilokano and Amianan Life, Language and Literature.”
In 2012, the 7th Nakem will be held at the Leyte Normal University in Leyte while in 2013, the conference will come back to the University of Hawaii at Manoa, with the Ilokano Program sponsoring and hosting the said conference. 

The road to education to cultural democracy, linguistic justice, and cultural pluralism is long and winding and even twisted.
But in the struggle for what is just and fair especially in relation to issues 
as fundamental as the right to one’s language and culture, and to be educated in the language and culture, Nakem is here to stay.

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