dreaming in filipino
things take on strange pallors when you view them from afar. it becomes worse when you try to capture those in words.

writers and academics in a yahoogroup i lurk around are talking about the 'books for barrios' exchange where old american books will be shipped by container to the philippines to send to the provinces.

simplistically, supporters say that the need is so great, the provinces will accept whatever literacy help they can get.

contenders claim that the program will instill and perpetuate colonial mentality.

others argued whether the philippines were suited for just old books. if they were really concerned, they said, they would help the publishing industry so the country can publish their own books. allowing the country to publish more of their own would offset colonial mentality perpetuated by the books - all types, from medical texts to journals, cook books, popular fiction, periodicals, paperbacks, hardbounds, you name it - and hopefully develop a reading public of their own.

the discussion is impressively thorough - but mostly about the ramifications of having more american books populate provincial libraries, of the books possibly perpetuating colonial mentality.

i'm not sure about that: it doesn't always mean that what one reads is what one becomes. a 9-year-old reads books for class or entertainment. sometimes it doesn't matter if the books feature white girls. they look beyond that to see what happens to the girl - and if that could happen to them, too. sometimes they do dream of leaving and succeed, but sometimes they grow up to realize they'd rather be in their homelands than elsewhere far.

there already is a thriving publishing industry in the philippines right now, and not all of it is based in manila. while critics like to gripe about the industry nonstop, to me it's proof yet of normalcy. writing is personal, no matter what price you give it or how often it's shredded to ribbons or how subtle or violent the delivery. writers may fight tooth and nail, employ sabotage, enact murder and mayhem just to get published, but that's what keeps the industry churning. that's normal of any business, anywhere in the world.

aside from using the vernacular outside of school, there's even programs in school where filipino is made the primary language of instruction. one afternoon in my 3rd year of high school in quezon city, my homeroom teacher, who taught chemistry, walked into class and declared, "today starts the new school policy of speaking and teaching in the native language." i had no clue what she meant, and it was the first time weirdo me realized there was contention between english and filipino. in that first year, we learned from government- and university-provided texts written in english, but translated them into filipino on the chalkboard and in our notes. in exams, we were required to describe chemical reactions in filipino.

there were opportunities to sharpen two vital skills each time we read from our books and said things out loud - translation and cognition in filipino. as someone who still thinks and speaks in filipino, but writes in english, i call dealing with nonfilipino coworkers as needing to 'translate' everything. i can jump into filipino at the drop of a hat, something that people around here can only dream of doing (unless, of course, the language in question happens to be spanish, estonian, arabic, russian, thai or korean - see, even the photographer won't even say whether he lived in the north or south, it's just 'korea.' hehe).

ah, wells. the ability to play linguistic gymnastics is all well and good, except that now i can't write respectable filipino. i think i'll take that penitential hatchet now.

also, this type language concern grabs the attentions of only those who wield it for a living - the writers, the teachers, the lawyers, the publishers. but everyone is a reader, so it is a legitimate concern.

the academics' concerns should be forwarded to willing participants of the 'books for the barrios' program so they can make efforts to gather material the academics think will be beneficial for the provinces there. propaganda isn't always the reason behind the publishing - or gathering of a number - of books. willing participants should be ready to do the legwork themselves of locating and procuring these books... for less politics. (you know the drill.) willing participants could also fulfill any book requests from there to here.

the books will help librarians and teachers in the provinces teach kids how to read, write and speak in english, and might even mobilize them to develop lessons in filipino or in their regional tongues. english is valuable in that it is the world's current lingua franca. but if identity is interlaced with language, then retention of filipino and the regional tongues are beyond vital to an individual's survival.
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