15 February 2009

Giving up the homeland?

Here are words from Cuba: A Cubano’s Coming-of-Age in America (1995), by Cuban-American writer Gustavo Pérez Firmat: The exile "waits to embark on a new career, to learn the language, to give up his homeland." Do these words ring true? Do writers learning a language give up their homeland? Or is this true only if they actually emigrate to another country? In the case of Filipinos, some writers still living in the Philippines appear to have given up their homeland by, for instance, forgetting that the language (English) they write in is not their mother tongue. These writers fail to exploit their advantage of having two languages to work with, as opposed to linguistically challenged monolingual writers. For example, they insist on following the grammar of American English, instead of the grammar of Philippine English, a variety of English as respectable as American or British English.


  1. Have I given up my homeland, now that I enjoy relative comfort in North America? Is it true that being an expatriate writing in the adopted country's lingua franca also means giving up one's land of birth? No, I will never give up my homeland (nor did Yeats, Conrad, Gabriel Marquez, Tagore, Rizal, Woolcott, Richler. Nolledo, NVM Gonzalez, Bienvenido Santos, Garcia Villa, Armando Manalo, Ninotchka Rosca, Cesar Aguila, Belinda Aquino. etc.), but I could give up on the people of my homeland (who may have never lost their "ningas cogon" (brushfire) unsustained anger over colonial despotism even if that is perpetuated by its own people -- who could not even make clear choices of what language to use in teaching its children in schools, straw patriots who strike against martial rule only to sustain the same by being lorded over by former military functionaries, shadow-boxing "revolutionaries" who could not topple patently corrupt leaders propped up by corrupted military remnants of a past regime). In fact, living in a bilingual country like Canada has added French to my having been equipped already by my homeland with my childhood languages of Ilocano-Igolot-Pangasinense, Spanish, Tagalog, American English, Filipino English, and British English, and conversational Nipponggo. My work has always been coloured by these borrowed tongues. I doubt, however, if Filipino English grammar or rhetoric will enrich the lingua franca of world commerce -- although call centres seem to be sprouting all over cheap Philippine labour centres peopled by hapless wage earners whose "taglish" and public-school-accents confuse 75 per cent of multicultural English-speaking clients who are dumbfounded by the outsourcing of call assistance in English-speaking countries like the Philippines and India -- but for God's sake, if Filipino English has indeed attained a linguistic viability to add to the Babel of a fractured world without befuddling its communicative value as a people's medium but adding to the currency of a dominant human language, then let Filipino English be a second language to link the archipelago with the world's dominant culture. Let us not forget Spanish which still spoken by all nooks and crannies of the world; and while the Philippines is honing its tools for education, why not Chinese and Japanese so that the Filipinos could be part of a tidal wave of cultural and economic current? Even after its ebb tide, the remaining languages will be valuable residues of world consciousness. But nationalism (jingoism) may yet be the killer of universal education. Learning more languages and writing in them has sharpened
    this writer's awareness of how insignificant one's homeland appears vis-a-vis the wealthy and powerful countries, but it does loom large in his ken because his soul sprung therefrom. In the lyrics of that old song: "Pilipinas kung minumutya, aking adhika, makita kang sakdal laya!" -- ALBERT B. CASUGA

  2. "In your imagination and writing (where it matters most), you cannot "give up" your homeland as much as you do with your religious upbringing, even if you've stopped
    going to church."