mother tongue


apa compass is a radio show i help produce as part of a collective at kboo. shameless plug: we’re on today at 9:00am pacific at kboo or on the FM in portland 90.7. in case you miss it we’ll have an archive (and podcasts soon!) at kboo.fm/apacompass. today we’re talking about language and identity and community.

i long to speak another language fluently. my parents’ first language is tagalog (filipino) and they never taught it to me and my brothers. when we were young, they thought it would hinder our ability to learn english and possibly leave us with an accent which might make it more difficult for us to fit in. and now as adults we all realize that loss and my mother tries to speak to us in tagalog at random times as if it might still seep in. and it might.

in fact, all these years, i’ve claimed that i don’t know tagalog. but the truth is that i actually understand a LOT of tagalog, but can’t open up my mouth and speak it.

in honor of our show today, i want to share a funny experience from when my husband and i went to the philippines last year. it was his first time and my first time with a “guest” who was not filipino. we were on our own a fair amount at the megamalls, the museums, tourist sites etc. i quicky found myself interpreting for matt. that’s right, i was actually interpreting, much more than i thought i ever could. it was a delightful discovery and has changed my perspective on my relationship with my parents’ mother tongue.

and another bizarre thing occurred, a story matt loves to tell. people would speak to me in tagalog. i understood the gist of what they were saying. then i spoke back to them in english. they understood me. we communicted back and forth in two different languages. i actually barely realized that it was happening, but matt, as an observer pointed it out. it happened all the time during our two week stay.

i’ll keep working on my tagalog. but next i’m going to tackle me some espanol…

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