Memories of a pro-American childhood
Filipinos my age will surely agree that what we had was a “pro-American” childhood.
I went to a Catholic girls’ school run by American nuns, so I suppose the bias is not unexpected. But if learning to read from books that urged “Run, Spot, run!” and instilled in me a lifelong love for Nancy Drew wasn’t enough to turn me into an American wannabe, then television and the movies sealed the colonizing project.
But there was also the matter of upbringing. By the time we, the younger half of nine children, came to be, the family had moved to Quezon City and had been elevated to middle-class status. So much so that my mother, who hailed from Pangasinan, was convinced that the only way we could continue our climb up the social ladder was to eschew our provincial beginnings. Conscious of how a Pangasinan language could twist our tongues, my mother decreed that we were not to be brought up speaking it. But because neither she nor my father were fluent in Tagalog, we ended up being raised in English. In fact, I remember growing up feeling that to address my parents directly in Filipino was somehow rude, as it was the language we used with our house help and among ourselves. And even then, the Tagalog I grew up with turned out to be a hybrid of street lingo forced into the rules of English syntax. A friend from college remembers being amused at how I described seeing a doctor as “nag-pakita sa duktor.”
America was for us the unattainable Paradise. Whenever relatives or family friends sent us a box of “American goods,” we all gathered around the receptacle as it was being opened and then breathed in the unmistakable odor that conveyed “made in America.” When an aunt of mine, who had taken graduate studies in the United States, hosted the daughter of an American friend who had come as a Peace Corps volunteer, our entire household was agog with preparations to host an “Amerikana” in our midst.
Paradoxically, Mama spent a fortune buying apples and grapes, which at that time were still quite costly, instead of native mangoes or atis, in the belief that only such “Stateside” fruits were worthy of a foreign visitor. I personally had no complaints as this was one of the rare times we would have a taste of such expensive “imported” foodstuff.
My childhood infatuation with America faded in adolescence. By this time, the Vietnam War was raging and as with many young people then, my mantra was “make love, not war.” The declaration of martial law in 1972 likewise fired up a latent nationalism and brewing rebelliousness. I remember attending “nat sit” (or national situation) sessions and being won over by anticolonial, anti-imperialist rhetoric.
But I was still a teenager then, and my strongest expressions of nationalism were confined to using miniature bayong as handbags and modified bakya or wooden sandals on my feet.
I was a young mother by the time the 1986 Edsa Revolt came around, and part of my personal search for nationhood was a resolve to raise my children in a different way from my own colonial childhood.
Language was a key issue and there was no question which between Filipino and English we would use, as my husband was a “Manila (actually, Mandaluyong) boy” through and through who found my pidgin Tagalog quite amusing.
What an irony then that we would end up raising a daughter who, despite going to a school where Filipino was the main medium of instruction, ended up with a “California girl” vocabulary as a result of hours of TV watching. (Still, her Filipino is miles better than mine!)
Now I hear of young parents proudly warning friends and relatives that their children “can’t speak Tagalog.” On the other hand, I have a nephew who asks new acquaintances if they prefer to speak in English or Filipino, and then converses with them accordingly.
Filipinos’ relationship with Americans — or the idea of America — has certainly evolved through the years. But I believe the friendship that survives is far better than the blind allegiance, or crazy infatuation, that skewed our relationship.