• Clarice A.

Tagalog in a Bi-Cultural Household


What’s your experience learning Tagalog in a bicultural household? As a Filipino American how does it feel to know or not know Tagalog?


This question was posted on an Instagram post, and this is my attempt in responding to it.

First my background, I first came to the US when I was 11; we immigrated to Los Angeles and that’s where I grew up and went to school. Our family is from Batangas, where there is a deep pride in Tagalog. My dad is one of those Filipinos who believed in the saying “Ang hindi nag mamahal sa sariling wika, ay mahigit pa sa hayop at malansang isda”. This is pretty harsh, it translates to a person who doesn’t know how to love his own language is lower than an animal or a smelly fish. So growing up , he used to say to us, “gusto mong maging malansang isda?” And I did not want to be a smelly fish.


So we spoke Tagalog within our family, and upheld the Filipino traditions and values as we grew up in the US. Like most Filipino families we got together a lot, every birthday, baptism, funeral was celebrated with food and hospitality. This kind of conservative bringing felt like one foot is still back in the Philippines when you’re home. And when you stepped outside your house you were in America, and of course could not get away from the American Culture. I remember in the 8th grade asking my mom if we can have a traditional American Thanksgiving. Instead of having pansit, embotido and rice, because I wanted to experience carving a turkey and having mash potatoes and gravy like everyone else in school. It was in the early 90s and we used to get together just to call the Philippines using phone cards and getting the “tsismis” and finding out who died or got cancer. I have to be Filipino within my close knit family, and was expected to act a certain way.


Looking back at that memory, it was very much like a Filipino bubble. I mean we used to go to Manila Sunset in West Covina, CA every weekend to get more Filipino food. My dad would say “don’t forget the GARRLIC” in his Filipino accent, as we ordered “arroz caldo” for “merienda.”


I think what’s unique about being Filipino-American is being able to identify with both cultures... being able to eat your lumpia and use “po at opo” and also have sleepovers and play sports in High School and strive for that American Dream.


Since I knew how to speak Tagalog, I feel like I was able to make more connections. When I go to a Filipino store or restaurant, people are always surprised that I speak Tagalog. Since I don’t look Filipno… and I’m on the lighter shade of brown. Honestly, I feel like speaking the language makes me more Filipino, especially to those who don't see me as Filipino at first. When they find out that I can speak Tagalog, it breaks the ice! Especially if I’m talking to someone older or from another generation.


“Marunong kang mag Tagalog, saan kayo sa Pilipinas?”


Language is a bridge that can open up new connections. I think it provided me with more social opportunities. I think it gives people a sense of ease that you came from the same background, you have the same values and they know... you will just get it.


Now that I’m a mom raising my own child in a Bi-cultural household, I definitely see how Filipino Americans struggle with learning the Filipino language. This is especially true, since my spouse is American and don’t speak the language. In order to be a more inclusive household, when my husband is in the room, we speak English. I tried just talking to Isabelle only in Tagalog, but it felt weird. As if I was not acknowledging my husband’s presence. So now, when its just me and my daughter, we speak Tagalog.


I think this makes my thinking process more complicated.


Lately, I have tried speaking both Tagalog and English when my husband is in the room. Which just means I say everything twice. For example:


Kakain na tayo. Let’s eat.”


Mag-hayin na ng pagkain. Set the plates and bring the food to the table.”


Yes I literally say things twice. I feel like a walking translator.


Its tedious, but I think this will be more effective in the long run. Plus my husband ends up learning a few words here and there! So both of them are learning, together. Teaching Tagalog in a Bi-cultural household means I have to make the effort, its an active choice. I can't just turn on the TV and expect my child to learn from watching videos. I think it also means I have to make the effort to bring her back to LA, where we have more relatives and more exposure to the language. In order for her to be fluent, I also plan to take her to the Philippines, so she can see, smell, experience and fully immerse herself in the culture.


The key is to be consistent and have patience....and just keep going. There are definitely times when I feel like I’m just talking to a wall…and Isabelle is not getting it. But then there are days when she will surprise me with a new Tagalog word..and that is like a mini victory.


The other day after her bath she said “tapos na” all done!


I hope you will join me in this journey and teach yourself or the next generation the love of our language. Tell us about your journey, how are you actively learning Tagalog? Do you watch films? Sing karaoke? What is your experience in teaching Tagalog in a bi-cultural household? Let me know and comment down below.



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