It was late at night when an old friend from my hometown started talking to me through chat. She lives in the Philippines and I in Vancouver. At some point in our conversation, I started typing slowly, struggling to figure out what I was trying to say and how to say it in my mother tongue. Then an alarming realization hit me — I’m starting to forget my native language.
This encounter got me thinking how much my native language has slipped away from me in my eight years in Canada. Philippines is my motherland, I am Filipino, and our language is called Tagalog.
I grew up in a nation heavily influenced by Western culture, meaning that the English language was never foreign to me at all; so even though English is our second language, Tagalog is still the main language spoken around the country.
To isolate the English language as a form of assimilation is unjust.
At home, with my family, I speak my native tongue but English when interacting with people outside — the means by which one has a functional life as an immigrant in a city like Vancouver.
Though my situation can be considered a form of North American assimilation, I don’t want to claim that. Vancouver is a melting pot of diverse cultures, and to isolate the English language as a form of assimilation would be unjust.
One of the first things I learned in high school social studies when arriving in Vancouver was the term “assimilation.” It is defined as the amalgamation of a minority group to the dominant society or culture.
The term stuck with my immigrant self during that time. I was determined that I wouldn’t let myself be assimilated by North American culture; I would not willingly give up my Filipino identity upon moving here, and I think that any immigrant would protest against being purposely assimilated or giving up their identity entirely.
Language is said to be a huge identity marker, and once that is lost, many question one’s capability of claiming to be part of such identity. However, I believe that losing the ability to speak one’s native language, does not take away the ability to belong to such culture. There are many factors at play when defining an identity, such as race and tradition, language is just one of them.
We have to accept that we need to speak English to communicate effectively.
Many forget their native language after years of living in a foreign country, but remain deeply attached to their roots and culture in other ways. Language is just one of the ways in which individuals can express their heritage.
The only problem surrounding the issue of losing or not knowing your native language is the shame of forgetting it and the guilt for not being able to preserve it. It may seem like a betrayal to your own culture, but it all boils down to the individual’s will of retaining his or her native language. As long as the individual recognizes the problem, it can be resolved in many ways.
I am now a Canadian citizen on paper, but I am also still Filipino because of my roots. Whenever someone inquires about my identity, I proudly identify myself as Filipino while delivering my response in English. Language is an important identity marker, but we have to take into account that it is also just a medium for practicality, and tool that can help when trying to have an efficient conversation in the new country you live in.