By Consul General Paul Raymund Cortes
I grew up in the 70s and 80s in the metropolis, a time when being Manileño was hip, cool, and well – trendy. Corollary to that, it was also the time when speaking Ilokano in the midst of my Manila-boy schoolmates meant being teased as one from the barrios or the mountains (well – I was born in Baguio!) or to put it as I remembered some of my schoolmates did – “rural.”
I learned to withhold my knowledge of Ilokano, afraid that it would make me the laughing stock of the chill Tagalog kids (only to find out that most of them secretly knew Ilonggo or Cebuano or any of our other tongues). I never mastered to speak it as fluently as those from the Ilocos, although I understood every word since both sides of my genealogy was as Ilokano as it could be. My parents would speak it, thinking that there were things that needed to be understood only by them, though when they spoke Ilokano to us it was clearly a sign that either they meant business or that it was urgent or that a reprimand was in order.
When we arrived in Hawaii in 2006 for our second tour of duty, I was struck by the dominance of the Ilokano language among all Philippine languages in the Aloha State, so that speaking it was a necessity. Most of the Consulate’s clients spoke Ilokano and obviously, knowledge of it boosted effectivity and efficiency as far as public service and community relations were concerned.
This time, I warmed up to the Ilokano breed in me, my childhood fears of being branded “rural” evaporating and dissipating. I slowly re-learned it, memories of words long hidden in the deepest recesses of my brain resurfacing and pushing them onto the forefront of consciousness. Though I will most probably never speak in the accent and swagger and rhythm of those from the North, there was no denying that I was reborn into my true roots – an epiphanous insight that heritage is never lost in one’s lifetime. Notwithstanding, I could not repudiate the Manila culture that I had adopted as my own. It had become part and parcel of my person.
I think then about my kids who, because of diplomacy, were inculcated with foreign cultures – from European, the Pacific and North American, and then Arabic – juxtaposed with our own. Luckily, my boys grew up in societies that embraced other ethnicities, in communities that cared not whether one was white or black or brown or permutations thereof. The interactions they found themselves in, whether in school, public places, church, or elsewhere, were welcoming. They were cloistered by a diplomatic world that partially immunized them from the pitfalls of prejudice and discrimination. They were not regarded as pejorative; rather, simply different, spared from judgment on superiority or inferiority of ethnicity or language. For them, that the world accepted diversity unconditionally, was gospel truth.
One of my most vivid recollections is that of my oldest son, then around 3 or 4 years young arriving in the Philippines for a short visit. Immediately upon deplaning, he remarked how many Filipinos (presumably those of similar physical features) there were back home. It was an adorable observation, untouched by bias. For him, there appeared no difference between the world where most had fair skin and blond hair, and where one had brown skin and jet black hair.
I suppose most children transported to different cultural set-ups grow up unscathed by the jagged edge of diversity and discrimination. Only when they grow older and become more exposed to the seeming intolerance and stubbornness of the world in accepting diversity do they understand that there was something that made them different from others, prompting them to be more introspective about their personas as Filipinos.
Awareness of one’s heritage emerges either when the comfort of one’s adopted culture is shaken and confronted by ignorance of some closed-minded folks who argue for purity in culture, or when the equilibrium between the flux of two or more heritages is disturbed by the need to respond to a forthcoming challenge.
It is in moments when we are pushed against the wall of racial bias that triggers us to assert ourselves and prove the mettle of our ethnicity. It is also in the moments of latency that we realize that there is much more than meets the eye. Here, I realize that as far as my third-culture kids go, their Filipino soul, although inherent and physically recognizable and happily co-existing with new cultures, needed to be awakened from its dormancy.
It is my obligation as a parent to present our heritage to our children to make them understand the milieu that raised their ancestry as only in fully comprehending where their cultural and philosophical make up had come from can they move ahead in an ever changing and increasingly global community.
It would be a great disservice to the history of mankind if we didn’t live up to this responsibility.
Consul General Paul Raymund Cortes
When not performing his duties as the head of the Filipino community in Dubai and the Northern Emirates, or the obligations of a dutiful dad, passionate patriot Paul Raymund Cortes mulls over how to further enrich the local Filipino community by promoting a more progressive mindset.
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