Why I don’t speak my mother tongue

The following post has been in my drafts since 2014.  I have been going back and forth about whether I needed to post this, because clearly I wanted to at some point. Today, I’ve finally decided that I should because I know some people feel the same way as I have and this may even bring them comfort to know that there are others like them. And personally, I would just like to throw this out there because I feel that since the time I wrote this, I have definitely grown more comfortable being myself and not giving a damn about what people want to think or assume of me at first glance. Without further ado, my name is Agnes. And this is another part of my story.

I feel like I’ve pondered this question too many times over the course of my young life.  I had some more time to think while I was stuck in traffic the other day.  And I found myself coming back once again to this explanation that I think is the most accurate one so far, which I wish to share with you guys today (to be digitally immortalized on this blog for years to come).

As some of you may know, English is not actually my first language.  Tagalog is.  Although, I can definitely say that I am more fluent and more comfortable with English than Tagalog, especially if you’re looking at it vocabulary- and literacy-wise.  I feel like I can just mimic the typical Filipino accent really well, so that’s how I’ve been getting away with it. (I seem to have this strange talent of being able to nail an accent or pronunciation right away.  Not for long though, just in the beginning.)

I always thought I spoke English more because my family and relatives seemed to prefer speaking in English at home growing up, but now that I’m older, they all seem to speak mostly Tagalog now even though I respond in English still.  So I’ve ruled out that explanation–that it was just in our nature.

So what is it?  Nurture?  I grew up with people who spoke mostly English; therefore, I speak mostly English too…?  Nah, I had a maid who only spoke Tagalog up until her second year in Singapore, so I kinda practiced with her a lot those times.  Also, I did have Filipino friends and their parents whom I spoke in Tagalog with whenever I got the chance back in SG.

Then it hit me.

Those Filipino ‘friends’ of mine.  Whenever I tried speaking to them in Tagalog, they responded in English.  They even seemed turned off from the conversation when I flipped it to Tagalog.  I even had one annoyedly tell me, “Can you not use Tagalog?”  And maybe you think it was just because I was hanging out with the ‘wrong sort’, but I also had similar experiences while I was at church or at church events, which are places that you can always count on spotting large masses of Filipinos anywhere.  I got mean looks from them when I spoke Tagalog with the lunch-ladies (actually, even the lunch-ladies gave me those looks), or asked for things in Tagalog.  I didn’t really assume it was because I was bad at the language because they understood me, right?  So I’m left to think that maybe the fact that I was even speaking Tagalog was their problem with me.  But being the proud Filipino that I was, I ignored them because what could they say about me?  I was ‘one of them’ in this foreign land.  They probably had the same story, so who cares?  (Also, what’s really weird now is that I’ve run into a few of them here in Manila and they now speak straight Tagalog even though I speak in straight English to them, because I was still thinking they would get annoyed with me or something.)

Okay, racism amongst the same race, that’s fairly harsh.  And it’s bound to happen, right?  I would simply just resist the urge to speak in Tagalog so much in front of other fellow Tagalog speakers in this foreign country.  This was my reaction because I was a weak and shy little girl.

But guess what?  It wasn’t just my own people being racist against me.  It was also OTHER races who were being racist against me.  This part I wasn’t too bothered about either because my parents had warned and briefed us about this already.

Anyways, the kinds of racial discrimination I usually faced with non-Filipinos was a bit more typical.  One kind was the usual “where should I go on vacation?” questions, to which I usually replied, “I don’t know”, because I myself hadn’t really traveled within the PH at the time.  Another kind was the “can you teach my how to say…” questions, to which I would usually reply, “I’m not sure because I don’t speak Tagalog very well”.  After responding to either of those kinds of questions, they would usually give me a look that said,”Are you kidding me?  You don’t know you’re own country/language?” and then I would quickly apologize before they walked away, probably thinking I just didn’t want to talk to them or something.  There are also those times when I’m mistaken for a race other than my own.  What happens is they speak to me in what they assume is my mother tongue, asking about a translation usually, and I have to say, “Sorry, I don’t speak that language.”  Then they give me a look of disbelief, and they follow up in English, asking what my race is. (Or sometimes they just continued in their language, thinking I was bluffing. In which case, I’m obliged to keep quiet and ignore.)  Of course, I say, “I’m Filipino.”  Then they look at me baffled, and they furrow their eyebrows more.  That’s usually my cue to smile (depending on their attitude, I would apologize too) and walk briskly away.

The draft ended here.  I can’t remember too well, but I think I was just rambling on and on ’til I decided to go to bed.  Seriously though, racism can be a pain in the ass.  But I have realized over the years that the best way to deal with racists, and bullies in general, is to kill them with kindness.  Most of those people just want to make people cry, or show how much more “powerful” or dominant they are.  And it annoys the f*ck out of them when it doesn’t work, haha!  Since I wrote this draft, I’ve learned to be more accepting of who I am and to not be bothered by other people’s opinions of me, especially when they don’t know anything about me.  And good news, I have been moving forward with my life, letting go of the past that doesn’t matter anymore, and  stepping into the future to continue discovering myself.  (I’ve also become slightly better at Tagalog, though my vocabulary seriously still needs work, hehe…Gotta work around this stubbornness of mine next.)  Still working on the whole “socializing” thing, but I think there has been an improvement.  The memories I mentioned in the draft I now think of fondly, as learning moments and tests that the universe decided to throw at me.  I have been enlightened, but there’s still much to learn.Well, that’s as good of an ending as I can give this one for now.  Over and out.Kill ’em with kindness ;)Agnes

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