Mother tongue

The older I become, the more I regret not knowing Tagalog. My family is half Tagalog, half Ilocano, but the primary language I heard from family and friends’ families was Tagalog.

The most I could ever muster was a rudimentary understanding whenever my family was talking about me. Sort of a sixth sense for gossip. Not a particularly useful skill in the real world.

I know basic words like thank you/salamat, beautiful/maganda, hello/kamusta, etc.

In grade school, I had zero interest in learning anything about my culture. It wasn’t until college that I started to feel that something was amiss, that a part of my identity wasn’t fully realized. Since then, it’s been a fevered dream of mine to become fluent, but it’s taken 31 years to finally attempt it.

San Francisco Public Library offers two language learning programs, Rosetta Stone and Mango Languages. Mango has a mobile app, so I chose that for convenience. For now, I’ve been studying greetings and goodbyes, and trying to get the inflections right. Unlike learning Spanish, which I also grew up around in Southern California, learning Tagalog has been difficult to wrap my tongue around. The pronunciations still feel foreign, and the accents still feel overwhelmingly random. I feel awfully shy when I try to speak it to others, but I try. I’m even trying out a Tagalog story time at the library this summer.

I feel a bit like a cultural imposter. I am an American first, no doubt about that, but the land of my parents and grandparents still looms over me, seemingly just beyond my reach. I’m proud of my heritage, and I’m trying to reflect that more and more in my everyday life, but I still feel so behind. Lacking. Especially when I’m around other Filipinos and Filipino-Americans. I don’t feel comfortable enough with the language or the history, and I worry that it’s glaringly obvious to everyone else.

But I’m trying. I’m learning very slowly. Maybe I’ll write a whole post in Tagalog some day.


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