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Oh So You Speak Tagalog!

You gotta hand it to the creative thinkers of ABS-CBN, in particular those responsible for the noontime show ‘It’s Showtime!’ Last Monday, the show introduced this new segment called ‘Halo-Halo,’ which features Filipino mix-breeds who compete against each other in terms of talent.

The segment is arguably conceptually colonial; but at the same time it recognises and showcases our colourful heritage as well as the diversity of our peoples. There is probably no other nation in the Far East where so many of the native population have some amount or the other of white Caucasian blood flowing through their veins.

The great majority of these mix-breeds, understandably, are of part-Spanish or -American descent; and they are mere testaments to our storied colonial past.

I am old enough to remember an era when any stranger with white skin was always greeted with “Hi Joe!” Joe would be the Filipino name for John Doe, the nameless generic American stranger. Heck, even albinos were sometimes the subject of such a greeting; albeit in a derogatory manner.

I had a similar experience but on the football field. In my senior year in college, my teammates and I were happy that we had a blond-haired and gray-blue eyed stranger who was trying out for the football varsity.
Because the American occupation eventually superseded the longer if older Spanish colonial past, instinct built into the Filipino DNA – at least of my generation – was that any conversation with somebody with white skin would entail a challenging bout with the use of the Queen’s language.

Because of this trait written into our DNA, we are often taken aback when a white Caucasian talks back to us in... uhrm... Tagalog.

Take this one time back in the mid-eighties when I was on a jeepney on my way to work when three Americans got on board outside the gate of a subdivision along the way. Well, I didn’t know that they were Americans. I just assumed that they were Americans.

We Filipinos can always smell out the mestizos – the half-breeds. Although they are white-skinned, their skin is always not as white as the pure-breds. They also almost always have black hair and brown or gray eyes.

When they have multi-coloured hairs and have different shades of eyes, then we know they must be foreigners. More so if they dress funny, as Americans tend to do. That was why I immediately knew those three who got onto the jeepney were Americans.

The young man in his late twenties sat right across me, but after I gave all of the foreigners a cursory look of curiosity, I proceded to ignore them, the proper Asian thing to do. Except that the man in front of me looked at the football badge sewn onto the front of my jacket and took that as a subject to open a conversation with me.

When he caught my eye, he took that as the opportunity to ask me, “Mahilig ka sa soccer?”

And I nearly fell from off the jeepney, partly because he called my beloved game ‘soccer’ and partly because here was an American talking to me in Tagalog!

I have always hated it that Americans, when they do try to make an effort to learn Tagalog, can never ditch their short a’s and long o’s. So I replied, “Yes, I coach a football team.”

But the American was defiant and continued to talk to me in his broken Tagalog. Between the two of us, I learned that they were missionaries and that before they could spread the Word in this country, they had to learn the language.

The damn fool, apparently, had chosen me of all people to practise his Tagalog on. At least he was a foreigner. There are few things more shocking than a white man who speaks Tagalog like a native.

Some are pure-bloods born and raised in the country and some are mestizos who, by a quirk of genetics, manifest more of the Caucasian traits.

A boardmate in college who went to the same university that I did once told me of a classmate who had blond hair and gray eyes. This boardmate was not really all that fluent in English and avoided classmates wbo rather preferred to talk not only in English but also its bastard version, Taglish.

He certainly avoided this blond-haired classmate who, he was sure, was a foreigner. Until one day when the professor had given a quiz and the classmate, who was sitting next to him, was trying to make a decided effort to move his chair closer to his.

He nearly fell from off his chair when this blond-haired and gray-eyed classmate asked him, “Pare, pa-kopya naman!” In accent-less Tagalog!

I had a similar experience but on the football field. In my senior year in college, my teammates and I were happy that we had a blond-haired and gray-blue eyed stranger who was trying out for the football varsity.

From the grape-vine, we learned that his name was Jack and that he was from Canada. We all, naturally, assumed that he was Canadian. He played as striker and was quite a decent goalscorer, somebody we could make good use of.

So, everyone talked to him in English. He talked right back with a North American accent, which reinforced everyone’s assumption that he was, indeed, Canadian.

Until one training day when somebody came in a little hard with a tackle during scrimmage and our blond-haired blue-gray eyed ‘Canadian’ screamed at him, “Putang-ina mo!”

That didn’t sound North American at all! We had a good laugh from that one!

Later, we learned that blond-haired Jackie was not Canadian at all but born and raised in the Philippines, learned his football at San Beda College, went to live in Canada for while then came back to the country for college.

Imagine that! A blond-haired Caucasian swearing like a kanto boy!

Acknowledgment: Photo from http://www.sodahead.com.

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