Aurelio Solver Agcaoili
PRESERVING ILOKANO AND OTHER LANGUAGES, SOCIAL JUSTICE, AND CULTURAL DEMOCRACY
Fifth of a Series
The path we took at Nakem Conferences was never easy; it is not yet easy until today, this we now know full well.
When Ricky Nolasco was chair of the Commission on the Filipino Language, we made it sure that he knew what we were doing at Nakem Conferences.
For two consecutive years, in 2007 and 2008, we asked him to come to our conference and lend his name to the cause, which he did, and for which Nakem Conferences will always be grateful.
We sometimes feel that Nakem Conferences pushed him to side with our cause at the expense of his position as chair of the commission.
All told, what Nakem Conferences did and what Nakem Conferences continues to do in the interest of the goals of Education for All by 2015 is a commitment first to our peoples of the Amianan.
We are clear on this.
The six EFA Goals can never be vague to us as these are concerns that have not left us even when we were discriminated against, even when the tolerance for our languages and cultures was not the virtue that we saw, heard, and experienced during all these educational regimes that did not regard the difference and diversity that we offered as something of value to the development of our cultural and political citizenship.
Nakem Conferences could not be vague with what universal primary education was.
We went to school sharing seats with others, even walking barefoot for hours to experience the traces of words that were not ours, to go through the rite of getting into a world we do not understand because the words in that world were not ours.
Nakem Conferences could not be vague with increasing adult literacy: we owe it to our communities and our people that our adults will be able to read and write in the Ilokano language again.
With about eight Ilokanos in the country and millions more abroad, we have only a single monolingual magazine to speak of, with a weekly circulation of 50,000.
This means that a fraction of one percent (or .6%) only reads—or buys. Given that people share their reading materials with others, we can extrapolate and increase the number of readers to four per week.
We have these facts: the original number based on the weekly circulation reveals that: 6250 out of one million read.
With the multiplier, we have: 25,000 out of one million read, or a measly 200,000 out of some 8 million.
We cannot even compare the gravity of the situation when someone calmly said, “Houston, we have a problem!” in that calm NASA-speak.
We have an astronomical crisis pointing to the eventual disappearance of our language!
The tell-tale signs are there: you initiate a conversation in Ilokano with the young in Ilokandia and chances are you get a response in Tagalog or some foreign language.
This problem, of course, is compounded by the fact that many of our magazines and newspapers do not live long because: (a) the number of readership has always been a problem and (b) the overall environment for adult education does not support the learning process in the Ilokano language.
There are of course business issues related to the failure of these publications but this is not concern of this paper at this time.
Nakem Conferences could not be vague with the need for an education that is geared towards gender equality.
While the issue of gender equality takes as a subtext the issue of patriarchal privileges, our people are not blind to the immediacy of responding to inequalities resulting from these privileges.
We have not succeeded in all respects and that we need to educate ourselves further along these lines.
But given the right mix of motivations and incentives such as the learning environment, we will evolve a fairer and more just society for our people.
Our language, certainly, is not pure but polluted as every language is, but the fact that it accords respect for varieties of gender, for the equality of the sexes, and for the recognition of the virtue of acceptance and tolerance—this is enough data to make us proceed with our reading of this world of gender parity.
A Language of Critique, A Language of Possibility
Nakem Conferences and its work could be understood as our own language of critique. Our work in the Ilokano language and culture instruction at the University of Hawaii does the same thing.
The simple fact that Nakem Conferences came out of our desire to put in context the centennial celebration of the first 15 Ilokanos to work in the plantations of Hawaii already implicates the intrinsic connection between what we do at our university and at Nakem Conferences—and between what our Nakem Conference partners in the Philippines, through the consortium between Nakem Conferences Philippines and the Nakem Conferences International which is housed at our UH Ilokano Program.
This proves that there is this beautiful but delicate dance that we are doing in our respective organizations and academic institutions.
It is beautiful because we have come to a point where we can now speak who we are, not in the fullness of human speech yet because of constraints that are largely external and systematic but in the new courage we have found we do have.
These constraints are traceable to our educational bureaucracy such as the Department of Education, the Commission on Higher Education, and the TESDA.
This courage is an antidote to our having been rendered mute by the educational system, by the pressure of the school system to enjoy our acquiescence, silence, and acceptance of the status quo without question.
There is the delicate dance in our pursuit of the MLE goals, this we have to admit.
And the dance is delicate because we are walking on new ground even if we resist the old ground and insist on our freedom to walk on this new one.
Certainly, we are learning along the way, even as we try to respond to the challenges of the various MLE goals and its six areas of focused activity.
New Educational Practice of “Being More-So”
What we envision and what we want done at Nakem Conferences is the evolving of a new educational practice of “being more-so”, a practice that takes into fundamental account the language of the students and the language of teachers teaching these students.
We refuse here to look at language and its reality as something akin to a tool in learning, in education, and in understanding the world.
In our account of the new educational practice of being more-so, we look at language, like the hermeneutist Hans-George Gadamer, as that which mediates our understanding of the world, that which middles, that which is between us and the world.
Thus we can only come to an understanding of this world through language.
There is no other way.
That we have to perceive Ilokano to be always in the concrete, that it must be ours even if we accept that it is also beyond us, the fact that after taking a long hard look through numerous and diligent studies the United Nations has declared that it is the birthright of everyone to learn in his own mother tongue at least during the early stages of his education—all this makes it all the more relevant in understanding the place of MLE in our pursuit of education that emancipates, and that it emancipates because it grounds itself from the humanity of our students and our teachers, a humanity that is always life-long and thus demanding a life-long, continuing, ceaseless educational practice.
Now, we summon the poet Machado and we say: Indeed, there is no road. But we make the road while walking. We have begun to walk hoping that our efforts will shine on the road that materializes before us.