My mother’s tongue | Inquirer Opinion

My mother’s tongue

/ 04:20 AM September 19, 2022

I’m the first woman in four generations on my mother’s side who has a diploma.

Growing up, I prided myself in my achievements. If I were asked to count the number of awards I have, I wouldn’t be able to give a clear answer because I was competing even before I learned how to properly multiply. From an early age, I already had a decent command of both English and Filipino languages from the DVDs my cousins used to rent.


My ability to perfectly read and write in English actually landed me a spot in the special section of the best elementary school in town.

As a child, I was thrilled since this program only accepts 30 students a year and majority of them come from well-off households. I don’t remember much of those days, but I’m aware that my life was different from that of my peers. I used to attend birthday parties while wearing the same tattered hand-me-down dress from our neighbor and being the lone child without a present. I also used to dig my cold meals stored in old ice cream containers with mismatched utensils under my bag instead of a personalized lunch box with divisions packed in a cartoon bag.


This goes to say that being smart was the only option I had if I wanted better opportunities for myself. For that matter, my definition of being smart is to be good at English.

As a result, I made sure to practice my craft throughout high school and joined everything that was offered. From written to oral ones, even quizzes and spelling bees, I was always at the top. I made sure to have an award every year because I knew that those certificates and medals around my neck will lead me somewhere far — far from the life my family had. True enough, I was able to make a name for myself.

To see people appreciate me for my abilities and acknowledge my hard work lightens my load, it’s like getting a reassuring pat on the back that tells me I’m close to where I wanted to be.

I was in my little bubble until my mother popped it one night when she asked me to play a foreign movie instead of her favorite Filipino films, so her English can improve. She casually said that she wanted to understand me better whenever I competed. I was momentarily surprised before being engulfed in a sea of recollections.

When I was six, Mama and I went to Surigao for the funeral of her mother. In her burial, my Lola Harem had all her clothes thrown as the tiny box made of wood was slowly brought down. We stayed for a week after the funeral, and I didn’t have the slightest idea what my relatives were talking about. Even when we returned home, I refused to tell people where we went because I was scared of being called Bisaya.

I grew up with Bisaya being constantly thrown as an insult that I tried to bury my roots like how Lola was buried beneath the ground, so I never really tried to learn my mother’s language.

Now, my mother has lost her accent. If one would look at her, they would assume she’s Tagalog. But when Mama is alone, she likes listening to songs taught to her by my Lola. She also prefers to stay inside the house during occasions because she doesn’t like her accent to slip.


I can’t help but think about how Mama stayed inside the house doing chores while my siblings and I were out with our fast English and youth. I can’t imagine how my mother used to pray for me in a language I never understood whenever I competed.

I’m now 22, but I only learned that “palangga,” my Tita’s endearment for me, means the “love of her life.” I also learned that “Ka gwapa man jud nimong anak, Manding,” is a compliment by my Tito.

Up until now, the Bisaya words I know are very limited and the only local dish I know from my mother’s hometown is ginamus.

As proud as I am of my vocabulary in my mother tongue and my secondary language, I can’t help but be ashamed because I didn’t even ask Mama to teach me hers out of the fear of being identified as Bisaya. I’m very ashamed that I didn’t even realize that my relatives frequently brag about how Mama left Surigao to support her younger siblings when she could’ve been an English teacher herself.

To be honest, I only learned to love my Bisaya roots recently. I’m now trying to ask Mama about the people she grew up with, how it was like living with the waves, even the smallest journeys—everything that could remind her about the place she calls home, and every single time, her eyes beam with glee.

I have come to the realization that I came from a long lineage of strong women.

Girls were taught to grow up, so they can become the light of their homes at an early age. Women who chose to give their brothers a better chance at education. Brides who decided to step up and become the sole provider of their families. Mothers who prayed solemnly for their children using the language their tongues were most familiar with.

When people ask where I come from, I say Bataan. But now, I also tell them that I am also Bisaya because Mama is from Sani-sani, a small island in Surigao del Norte, a place beyond imagination. A place where I learned how to swim, a place where I met the people who lived with Mama, and a place I know has a special place in Mama’s heart.

* * *

Aureen Kyle Mandap, 22, is a psychology graduate. She likes to write and explore but when she’s not busy, she plays online games.


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TAGS: Bisaya, mother’s language, Young Blood
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