By Aurelio S. Agcaoili, Ph.D.
Ilokano Program, UH Manoa
I am counting the semesters, and this Fall 2007 is my third in running a heritage program that it is so unique in ‘the whole wide world,’ to use a worn-out phrase that does not mean so much except as some kind of an exercise in self-affirmation when even in exile, the Ilokanos remain invisible, underrepresented, their existence remaining obscure. This heritage program is second to none because no other program of its kind ever exists to keep it company.
The University of Hawai`i’s Ilokano Language and Literature Program–formerly known as Ilokano and Philippine Drama and Film Program–is the only program in the world that offers the Bachelor of Arts program, with an academic concentration in Ilokano.
Not even at the University of the Philippine where all things innovative are expected, things that have something to do with the liberation of the land from the claws of the cultural enemy, whoever and whatever this enemy is.
The only boast the great UP could pretend to show before the taxpaying Philippine public, many of them Ilokanos, is that they offer, as a token of academic appreciation, and in order not to be accused of being partisan for Tagalog, a handful of courses, two in the Ilokano language, and a smattering of Ilokano literature, couched in a generic and unkind term, “Regional Literature,” in the graduate program. The term ‘regional literature’, of course, gets a flak from the younger academics and scholars not any longer schooled exclusively in the ‘Tagalogized’ mindset of what constitutes ‘the national language’ and its twin, ‘the national literature.’ The younger scholars now know better—and they do understand that the crop of the crap kind of ‘Tagalogism’ permeating the whole of the educational system of the Philippines does not make sense any more, with the new-found spirit among the ‘globalized villages’ that values the local. It is this same spirit that holds that the local makes sense because it is the everyday and, thus, in putting a premium to the local, the ‘national’ and the ‘international’ must be put into question and subjected to interrogation.
Which is what many people are doing to demolish the flawed because hackneyed argument for Tagalogism as a principle for the definition of the Philippine nation, of Philippine nationalism, and all such cognates that are being used against the rest of the languages and cultures of the more than 170 ethnolinguistic groups of the homeland.
Even here, among the exilic communities in Hawai`i, such pervasive attitude remains, an attitude that is unruly and incapable of reason and rationality because, the argument goes, there is already the national language, and it is all over The Filipino Channel or TFC (that boob-tube supplier of boob-tube argumentum ad populum in the likes of that ever-so popular and invasive ‘Wowowee’). I am certain the same holds for all the exilic communities in the mainland United States and in other communities abroad reached by the long and extended arm of the gigantic competing TV stations in the Philippines and their subsidiaries elsewhere.
Now the 2007 Ilokano Drama and Videofest held November 17 this year, at the Art Auditorium of the University.
I now write it from hindsight, a day after the celebration. I write as well from a series of reflections that have something to do with the continuing cultural and linguistic injustices committed against the peoples of the Philippines by the very government of that has vowed to follow the rule of law. Other perpetrators of this linguistic and cultural injustice are the very people who are swearing allegiance to a homeland for all the people of the Philippines, a homeland that takes as its founding principle justice and democracy.
In the three semesters that I have been running the program, I have seen many of the things that make you happy. I have seen as well the many things that make you dolorous and timorous. Dolorous because you do not have many advocates, not many willing co-warriors to fight for social justice that takes into account the demands of cultural identity and cultural democracy. Timorous because, well, yes, you have to admit it, the future is yet to come and that the future is beset with many challenges. Of course, when you run a heritage program in a country that announces its respect for diversity but you must fight it out to gain that respect even among the members of your very own heritage community, you ought not to believe that challenges are necessarily problems.
And many of those who do not understand what we are doing at the Ilokano Language and Literature Program are Ilokanos who either are (a) busy becoming other people, (b) busy with their civic-mindedness minus advocacy for Ilokano, (c) busy jockeying for position of power within the already fractious cultural organizations of Filipinos, or (d) too ashamed to own up their Ilokanoness.
For the 2007 Ilokano Drama and Videofest, we at the faculty decided to dedicate the festival to the cause of cancer awareness and domestic violence.
On the matter of cancer awareness, those in the know say that of the many ethnolinguistic groups in the State of Hawai`i, the peoples of the Philippines register the highest in terms of the number of those who do not receive adequate services related to cancer because only a few go through a regular physical examination meant to deter the onset of early cancer.
On the matter of domestic violence, we peoples of the Philippines ranked first—with our record unparalleled—in domestic violence cases, with our latest, Erlinda Adviento, a proof of the kind of work and education that we have to do. Her husband stabbed Adviento to death.
With these as our premises, we prepared for the 2007 Dramafest and we opened it to the public. At the festival, many people came to watch our students try—and many succeeded—to act and speak like an Ilokano in the way an informed Ilokano would.
It is also at this program that we honored our partners in the holding of the 2006 Nakem Centennial Conferences: Reynie Butay, Annie Corpus, Tina Daquip, Estrella Pada Taong, and San Nicolas Lechon.
We also honored Edmund Calaycay Jr., the first-ever fully certified interpreter in Ilokano—the first-ever in the history of Ilokano interpreter certification in the State of Hawai`i, the United States, and the whole world. The Philippines do not have such kind of a program and we wonder what is happening to the courts where expertise in the Ilokano language and in the art and science of interpretation would be needed.
Two sets of judges for the drama competition came in to help. For the beginning level, we had Jennifer Alforo, Edmund Calaycay Jr., and Dr. Ella Pada Taong. For the intermediate level, we had Meann Binonwangan, Agnes Malate, and Amado Yoro.
It was hard work, with the kind of a preparation involved, the nitty-gritty details that we had to look into, the oversight that must be done even on that morning of ‘The Big Day.’
Here we are—and our Ilokano students, a number of them not even linked in any way to the Ilokanos—looking forward to the 2008 Spring Dramafest.
Our prayer is to see a full-blown Ilokano and Amianan Program in many of the Universities of the Amianan Philippines in the future. With our Nakem partnership, this dream might soon come to fruition. Mariano Marcos State University is soon putting up its Ilokano and Amianan Studies Center. We hope some other universities will follow.
We must mention here that Don Mariano Marcos State University beat everyone in the offering of a creative writing program in Ilokano. I was there at their inauguration. I should know.