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The Importance of Preserving One's Cultural Identity

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In our country today, we are a nation of diverse cultures. Our society has now become African American, Asian American, Hispanic American, and Native American. “When the Western world forced its way upon us, the result was a struggle between out traditional education and attempts by the outside world to assimilate us in their society by force-feeding their education upon us” (Ronnie Lupe, 2). With the U.S. being a majority English speaking country, these other cultures have to adapt or resort to speaking this countries’ so called native tongue. Because of this, individuals are losing a sense of the culture and are no longer able to represent their own kind in the country. Even in certain workplaces, the use foreign language is strictly forbidden. For example, “Last January 31, 1992, Filipino employees of Contra Costa convalescent homes, together with their AFL-CIO union, sued Casa San Miguel in Supreme Court in Concord for discrimination against Filipino Workers. They had been disciplined by the care home management for speaking Tagalog in the workplace” (Prudencio Europa, 17). The cultures as well as its people are losing their identity due to the single fact that their foreign language is no longer used, and in some cases not allowed in this English speaking country. Being Filipino, I am not recognized as a “true Filipino” because I lack the ability to speak our native tongue, Tagalog, nor do I have an understanding of it. The common judgement toward me from my people is, “He can not speak, so why should he represent us?” This is why I believe that being fluent in our native tongue can give you respectability from our own people. It allows us to have a more defined identity, it enriches our cultural background, it enables us to communicate with our own people, it allows you to get respect from your own people, and most importantly it is a way to keep our culture alive.

“[B]ecoming American means adopting new values, defining new self and finding new voice” (Kingston,16). As U.S. citizens, we must change traditional aspects of our lives in order to fit in the American way of life. As a result, we lose touch of our own culture, leaving everything we know about it behind. In my family, the responsibility of passing on our Filipino culture onto future generations is placed upon the young people of our race. It is now that more an more adolescent individuals are becoming less interested in their native language, because of the everyday exposure of American life. From experience, I know that young adults who have no kind of understanding of their language, such as Tagalog, Chinese, Japanese, or Spanish etc. are viewed different and are almost segregated from their own race. For example, in college universities, a large population of the students are Chinese. There is a division between this culture; There are the fluent Chinese (those who speak and understand the language) and there are the so called “A, B, C’s,” which stands for “American Born Chinese.” Not being able to speak our own native language makes us silent and invisible to our own people. To the American society, we can speak freely, but to our people, we have no voice. To most cultures, this is recognized as a disgrace.

In the month of June, 1993, I went back to my hometown Manila, Philippines for a three week vacation. This was probably the most trialing experience in my life. When we arrived, I was introduced to several cousins I had never met before. As we greeted, I started off with a “Hello, how are you doing?” My cousins were giving me offensive looks and truthfully, I was not immediately accepted. Because I could not speak our native language, or even know how to say “hello” in Tagalog, I was not recognized as a “true Filipino.” Every uncle and auntie I met kept asking me why I could not speak Tagalog, in a very disappointing manner. I had a difficult time communication with many of my relatives and I could not understand what they were saying to me. I felt disappointed in myself. Because I received no respect, I simply could not communicate and I could not relate to my own people.

In an article entitled, “Cherokee Language committee Holds Summit,” from a periodical, The Cherokee Advocate, discusses the importance of preserving the native language of the Cherokee tribe. “Throughout the years, use of the Cherokee language has faded causing us to lose some of our culture. It’s imperative we initiate a plan to preserve the identity of the Cherokee people” (Cherokee Advocate, 21). Many cultures in the U.S. are struggling to keep their language in use. They lack the empowerment to keep their culture strong. There are many obstacles to overcome in order to achieve such status. “The best place to begin preservation (of our language) is in the communities” (Cherokee, 21). We cannot depend on the existence of our cultures to continue if the people do not take the initiative to make sure that their language is carried on. “We can’t decree language preservation. The people themselves have to truly want to preserve it”(Cherokee, 21). The first step is hard to achieve in America, especially when parents of foreign nationality are now trying to teach their children the American values. This is due to the fact that the English language empowers you to survive in this country of diverse cultures. Loss of language can generally be attributed to the non-use and the non-exposure. When you are not taught to speak your own native tongue, the more it will be obsolete in the future.

This is one of the reasons why I decided to learn my own language. It is a major asset to actually “being” Filipino, Chinese, Mexican, African, etc. I now realized that when we are not fluent in our language, we are stripped from our identity. On the other hand, being able to speak our native tongue will allow us to gain respect and acknowledgment from our parents and elders. My “Lola and Lolo” (grandmother and grandfather) were only fluent in Tagalog. I regret the fact that I never had the chance to bond or form a long lasting relationship with them. Learning our own language shows that you have taken the time to learn and appreciate our cultural background. It also shows that we care and are curious about where we came from. Knowing your language is not just knowing how to speak it, it is also knowing your historic background. I know that from my experience, my parents would like me to very knowledgeable about our family history because it gives them the security that our culture will continue on for generations to come. I think the main thing our elders are most worried about is the fear of completely losing our culture. That is why when they see it in their youth, they feel very proud.

Speaking our native language has a lot to do with being able to communicate with our own people, but there is much more to it than just that. It can also define our true identity. Not only does it empower us to relate to others but it also empowers us to discover who and what we are. Being Filipino, but also American, I am part of a generation struggling to find its identity. We must pass through pain and joy and solitude and community to discover our own inner self that is unlike any other and come through that passage to the place where we see all people are one, and in so seeing may live our life in a brighter future (Johnson, 127). Being able to speak and understand my own language would give me a sense of satisfaction, not just because all my parents and relatives would finally accept me as a “true Filipino,” but also because of the fact that I gained that respect and that I have a whole identity. I don’t have one part of me hidden behind a black curtain, I can truly express myself in my true colors (Kingston, 18). We have to not only realize what being able to speak fluently in our native language means to our people, but equally important, what it means to ourselves.

Many activities are being set up by language preservation committees. Foreign languages are being taught in schools; lessons are available in college, high school and even in elementary. There are also writing practice classes and even summer camps to teach foreign languages to young adults. All these activities could be used to help us empower ourselves to keep our cultural status alive, and enable us to become more aware within our cultural community.

If there is one thing we want from our culture, it is being accepted. In my country and I know as well as many others, being apart of your people has to do with more than just having the color of skin. I am a prime example, I have Filipino blood, I have the Filipino color, but because I am so Americanized,I am not acknowledged as being Filipino. To my own culture I am illiterate, but I am learning to speak. Having the ability to speak will empower you to communicate and relate with your own people, and to receive full respect and recognition. I would feel the satisfaction in myself when or if I become fully recognized as a Filipino. All I want is to be able to proudly represent my people to the fullest. Being able to speak is a very strong part to a culture. I think carrying out our ability and passing it down to generations is our only hope to keep our cultures alive.

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