Bisakolak: My Filipino Identity
One’s identity is never just defined by sexuality. Rather, it encompasses a broad spectrum that forms his being. This spectrum is highly dictated by his upbringing which is highly driven by culture. Needless to say, one’s identity is highly influenced by the culture/s cultivated in him.
I find no other perfect time than this to reflect on the essence of my culture/s which form my identity as a Filipino through the language/s I speak. Needless to say, it is essential that I dig deeper into my roots, for only then can I appreciate the Filipino that I am and the uniqueness that I carry.
I was born in Manila to Filipino parents who are from other provinces. Almost immediately after birth, we moved here to Baguio City. As a child, I have been educated that I am a Filipino. Left without a choice, this fact was inculcated in me and all the more have I absorbed since I speak English and Tagalog with ease. That is basically it, right? Unfortunately, this is still superficial to my Filipino identity.
I have lived here in Baguio City for almost 30 years now. Through these years, I had poor foundations of my Filipino identity. As a child, I have always known that my mother hails from Albay while my father is from Misamis Oriental. I am half-Bikolano and half-Bisaya. However, I never knew how to articulate this fact whenever I am asked of my roots. Sometimes, I would say that I was born in Manila or that I have lived here long enough which would lead people to assume that I am Tagalog. None of those responses did justice to my Filipino identity. Despite the confusion, I still knew that it was imperative for me to learn my parents’ native languages as these were inherent and to learn Iloko as it is spoken in my hometown.
My collegiate years have opened my ears to Iloko. However, I was very reluctant to practice as I was afraid of being ridiculed for making mistakes. I have already learned the basics, but these were not enough for me to survive; I would still be told, “Mailaklako ka pay lang.” I gave up trying and it took me six years later to pick it up again. Despite having given up, the drive to learn the language was still there. I still tried to observe the language’s nature and to speak it throughout those six years. Although my efforts were futile, the sixth year was a game changer. That year, a brother from a Catholic community reminded me of how it was imperative for me to speak five languages – English, Tagalog, Iloko, Bikol, and Bisaya. Hence, the game has begun!
That same year, I had significant visits to Mindanao, particularly in Cagayan de Oro to visit my lola for her 80th birthday and in Iligan City for my father’s official trip. There, it seemed as if the language was inherent to me. Just by listening, I was able to learn a little of Bisaya. This breakthrough empowered me not only to continue delving into the language but to re-ignite my desire to learn Iloko once more.
As I got back home, I began learning both languages simultaneously to the point that I would end up mixing them. Regardless, what was important was that I was learning. As my mother, who has absorbed Iloko, would teach me, I had to constantly swallow my pride to be able to speak to those who spoke the language. Along that, I also had to allow myself to make mistakes in learning. This in turn enabled me to learn and research more and to speak the language with a little more confidence. It was also at these times when I met a sister a Catholic community, who hails from Davao del Sur. As she stayed for a significant number of days in the city, she, together with my father, would teach me Bisaya. Hence, when asked if I can speak, I would say, “Naa ko’y nahibaloan nga gamay.” (I can speak a little.)
Two years have passed and I am undeniably more enlightened of my Filipino identity. It is now clear to me that I am half Bikolano and half Bisaya and have embraced my Baguio upbringing as I navigated through Iloko. Although I have yet to learn Bikol, I can truly say, “Idi pa man ko tatao ke Bikol.” (I still cannot speak in Bikol.) As for Iloko and Bisaya if one were to ask, I can say “Makasasao ak ti bassit” and “Kabalo ko’g gamay”. (I can speak a little.)
Although I have significant knowledge of my Filipino identity now, I am still confused. What am I exactly then? Not too long from then, I ended up watching a video from Miss Universe Philippines on Youtube where each girl spoke her language. One of the girls proudly called herself Bisakol despite hailing from the Bicol Region as her province embodied Bikol and Bisaya upbringing. This is my Filipino identity! I am Bisakol for I am a product of both cultures. I am Bisakol and has embraced my Baguio upbringing by learning Iloko. This is my Filipino identity: Bisakolak! — John Carlo P. Unson