I am Bisaya. I was born in Cebu City, though my nine siblings and I were all raised in a coastal town in Leyte where I spent the first 15 years of my life. We, specifically, speak Cebuano. My father’s avocation was writing award-winning short stories in the vernacular. He’s cited in the Cultural Center of the Philippines Encyclopedia of Philippine Art.
Our parents moved our large family to Manila where we all, by God’s grace, eventually finished and graduated from different colleges.
As a promdi, a colloquial word for “from the province,” I silently endured some sort of culture shock on the first few days of my fourth year in high school. I saw a big sign, “Speak English,” on our classroom wall. A fine was imposed on any one who spoke Tagalog. Dilemma — I was not fluent in either English or Tagalog!
Feeling inadequate and uncomfortable, I spoke only when necessary. My classmate Susan, now Chicago-based, vividly remembers me 46 years later when we had a mini-reunion in Los Angeles, California, with four other classmates. Susan recalled that she befriended me by asking something to elicit a reply. She said I answered but didn’t budge on her next query.
History was my major and Pilipino my minor in my education course. The Mother Superior of my first employer assigned me to teach Pilipino to all high school levels, in addition to world history to fourth year students, and economics to third year students. An acid test for a 20-year-old fresh college graduate!
Imagine one with a thick Bisaya accent, teaching Pilipino to teenage Tagalog students. Not a quitter though, I faced the challenge head-on, ignoring both the snide remarks from a jealous, much older English teacher and some juvenile misbehavior from one or two fourth-year students. I moved the following year to a bigger, better-paying Catholic school. This time I experienced sarcastic glances from one or two third-year students. When I couldn’t take it any more, I reprimanded them in class using strong English words. It was my way of teaching them that I was not the lowly Bisaya they thought I was. Effective, they cried buckets! That day they learned, not Pilipino, but how not to underestimate and miscalculate a young Bisaya teacher.
I later joined the government after a four-year stint as teacher and as nighttime college instructor. In the office, I once felt slighted when a coworker jested quite condescendingly: “Bisaya kasi!” I nearly retorted, What makes you think you are superior? My better judgment prevailed. I would have sounded regionalistic.
Two daughters of mine are now living abroad with their families, in two different continents. They speak Tagalog to their children so that my grandkids won’t forget our native tongue, or at least be conversant in simple Tagalog. Thus, my four-year-old Fin-Noy grandson speaks Tagalog even as he automatically switches to Swedish/Finnish when talking with his dad. On the other hand, my 13-year-old grandson speaks Tagalog better as he was already six years old when their family migrated to Down Under. No language barrier, no communication gap between us. So far, so good.
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Katy Viacrucis, 69, has been a contributor to the Philippine Daily Inquirer since 2001.
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