A Testimonial To Alienation By Sir Butch Dalisay
The real tragedy of the James Soriano episode for me is that despite both the academic and anecdotal evidence, many Filipinos keep clinging to the illusion that only English will save us, and that any proposal to promote Filipino and other Philippine languages in the classroom alongside English is a step back into the jungle.
I’m a professor of English and a former chairman of our English department, but like many Filipino educators, I believe in a bilingual — indeed, a multilingual — policy, not only because it’s nationalistic, but because it works, and is kinder to the child in the long term. I’ve seen how raising children solely in English in the hope of turning them into “globalized” Filipinos can result in producing alienated, socially maimed individuals who can’t relate to their own people and who don’t feel a stake in their own country’s future. When I teach English or such subjects as American Literature, I remind my students that we’re taking up the subject not to try and become Americans, but to become better Filipinos.
I have no problem valuing and promoting English as the language of global business, as something we need to master if we want to make it out there (in this century, we might even be better off studying Chinese); indeed we should master English so it doesn’t master us.
As a creative writer in English, I love the language as a craftsman values his materials. In my own twist on the aesthetic value of writing in another language, I find working with English both challenging and interesting precisely because it can’t possibly fully capture the realities I’m representing — and in that breach lie possibilities for artmaking. When I write in Filipino, I relax, feeling no need to pretend to be anything but myself. (Yes, after half a century of using it, I’m still aware that I’m creating a persona, a social mask, every time I write and speak English.)
James was right when he called himself a “split-level Filipino.” Many of us are, and the sooner we acknowledge it the sooner we can deal with it and even turn it to our advantage. Unfortunately, some of us don’t know it, don’t know what to do about it, or just plain don’t care. That’s far sorrier than an essay gone astray.