I am Filipina and Puerto Rican. When I tell that to people, they ALWAYS ask if I can speak Tagalog and Spanish. The truth is I can’t speak or understand either language. My mom came to America from the Philippines when she was really young and had to speak English in school. Now she only understands and says a few words in Ilocano (my grandparents’ dialect) here and there. My dad is a Nuyorican who was born in the Bronx and grew up in Puerto Rico. He speaks Spanish fluently. Although I can’t understand either language, I think I know enough of both to know when I’m being talked about.
Ilocano was never directly spoken to my brother, my cousins, or me. My grandparents only spoke it to my mom, her siblings, older family members, and each other. The only time they spoke to us kids in Ilocano was when they would threaten to spank us when we were causing a ruckus. The only phrases I understand are “awan ti rice” (“no more rice”) and “diak ammo” (“I don’t know”). And then there are the bad words like “ukininam” or “ukinam” that everyone just seems to already know. I honestly don’t even know how to count from 1 to 10 in Ilocano, and that pretty much sums up my knowledge of the dialect.
When I started high school, I decided to take a Tagalog class. Since I never heard the language at home, the class was really hard for me. I didn’t even know what “kain na” meant until my teacher taught it. I felt like a complete oddball because I was the only one that didn’t know a single word. I used to be so embarrassed about not being able to understand Tagalog, especially because older Filipina women would come up to me and start speaking in Tagalog. When they realized I didn’t understand them, they always gave me the DIRTIEST looks!
I’ve always understood bits and pieces of Spanish because my dad sang and talked to me in Spanish when I was a baby. So when it comes to speaking Spanish, I’ve got the basics down. I can say “water,” “goodbye,” “good morning,” and other easy phrases; but when it comes to a full-on conversation, I get lost. For the past year or so, I’ve been trying to teach myself Spanish using Duolingo. Although the website does help, I still have trouble understanding and writing sentences. And just like the older Filipina women, Hispanic women often come up to me speaking Spanish, and I always have to reply, “Sorry, pero no hablo español.”
During the past few years, I’ve gotten back in contact with my family members in the Philippines and Puerto Rico. Although both sides can speak English, it is sometimes hard for them to freely express themselves outside of their native tongues. Many times we use Google for quick translations, but let’s be real, Google isn’t always correct. Being born and raised in America has its perks, but sometimes I wish I grew up being able to speak and understand my family’s languages. Speaking English is cool, but imagine the possibilities of being fluent in 3 different languages!
In the meantime, I’ll continue to learn Spanish and hopefully gain enough courage to actually speak it. As for Tagalog and Ilocano, those will take some more time. If you know of any good books I can use to teach myself, let me know! I would love to be able to at least understand Tagalog and Ilocano!
Thanks for reading!