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The Queen’s Language


Even at a young age, I did have a great fondness for language, English in particular. I was born in 1959. Mine was a generation when the remnants of the American colonial era, which ended fourteen years earlier, were still very much evident.

My mother, in particular, was very fond of anything American. This was hardly surprising because her father – and, therefore, my grandfather – was a sailor in the United States Navy and her family grew up to steady fare from the navy commissary at Sangley Point in Cavite.

But we had no pretensions in our own family. Dad was Karay-a from the town of Tigbauan near Iloilo City. Mom was from Nasugbu. Dad saw no practical use to teaching us Karay-a or Ilonggo, which all Karay-as can also speak. So, we all spoke Tagalog in the household.

But it was so easy to learn English even as children; and yes, even before formal instruction in the language. Cartoons were standard morning fare. Sesame Street did not come until I was in high school and I found it exceedingly silly.

All these cartoons were in English. Thus, I grew up watching Popeye the Sailor, that ugly clay character called Gumby, Mickey and Minnie Mice, the Magpies Heckle and Jeckle, Porky Pig, Bugs Bunny and my all-time favorite even to this day, the Roadrunner. Beep-Beep!

Learning English in school, therefore, was easy; and not just for me but for those in my generation who had access to good English instruction.

Both my parents also loved reading; and this was something that all of us in the family inherited. Some afternoons, the entire household could be quiet because everyone was enrapt in our respective reading materials.

I used to be a voracious reader. I would read anything from Mars Ravelo’s fantasy characters in Filipino comic magazines to cheesy Mills and Boon romances to thousand-page Michener and Clavell novels.

The only things I never really liked reading were, of all things, text books. The academic atmosphere inside the household was, let us say, relaxed. One of the things I will always be extremely proud of my parents for was that we were never placed under any pressure to excel in school.

Maybe this was not necessarily a good thing; but it definitely was for me. Many of the things we were being taught inside the classroom, I wasn’t particularly eager to learn in the first place. But because I did a lot of alternative reading, I was also learning many other things that I not only wanted to learn but which I also felt were more relevant to me.

The cardinal rule for me and my siblings was “no failures.” These were easy enough to avoid; and, in fact, I graduated from elementary school as class salutatorian. Don’t anyone get this the wrong way. I say this matter-of-factly. It was never a big deal because it was something that I did not have to work particularly hard for.

The only remarkable thing about my being class salutatorian was that my mother felt impelled to go to the salon to get her hair coiffured, dress up for my graduation and ACTUALLY attend. For an ex-teacher, my mother had this really odd “thing” about going to our schools.


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