-“Naiintindihan mo ba ako?”- These words mean nothing if one does not know what Tagalog is. However, I do know what Tagalog is; the official language of the Philippines, a language that escaped my knowledge as a young child. As I look back I find myself full of regrets because of this.
As a Filipino American, I am immersed by two different cultures. Constantly hearing, speaking, and writing English has deprived me of learning Tagalog. Certainly my parents attempted to teach me Tagalog; however, the significance of knowing a second language never registered in my mind. I found myself running. Spaced out in their times of teaching. Eventually stress and despair caused my parents to just give up on lessons and I lived the rest of my life content on being an English-only speaker. It was not until a vacation to Europe enlightened me on the importance of my language.
In August 2011, my family and I took a trip to Europe to visit relatives from my dad’s side. His family is enormous since he is the 14th child of fourteen. During my time there I encountered many Filipinos everywhere I went. Communication was not so difficult since many Filipinos know English as a second language. However, they preferred to speak in Tagalog amongst themselves. Whenever this happens, a wall would quickly rise between us. I felt left out. I struggled to climb this wall to reach understanding but failed. With a limited knowledge of the language, I may get an occasional peek through this wall and catch a glimmer of the conversation, only to be clouded again moments later. This ongoing sense of inclusion and isolation was difficult. It truly felt terrible feeling so lonely even though I was surrounded by so many.
I felt disappointed in myself for letting my parents down who received much blame and embarrassment. I realized the only solution for all of this suffering is to learn Tagalog. I became determined to learn and started to focus more intently than before. I wanted to be a part of something bigger; I wanted to be part of the Filipino community. Yes I may have Filipino blood flowing through my veins, but in my heart I do not feel like a true Filipino. My exposure to Filipino culture is limited, so my best opportunity to connect with the Filipino community is through learning Tagalog. Although it was not much, I began to understand common words and phrases. I could piece together the fragments I picked up and understand the conversation to some degree. It was an improvement, even if it was small, that showed promise in my ability to learn Tagalog. This was the start of breaking this communication barrier and becoming closer to a part of my life that I kept so distant away.