Friday, August 28, 2009

Bahay Kubo

"Bahay kubo, kahit munti/ ang halaman doon ay sari-sari"

A few days ago, I asked Diana to find her Bahay Kubo book on her shelf. She toddled over, riffled through some of the softcover books and finally handed it to me. Maybe she recognized the photo or the size and shape of the book and matched it to the sound of the words that I say every time we read that book together. Maybe it was faeries whispering into her ear. Whatever it was, she brought me the right book and I glowed with pride. She then climbed onto my lap and we opened the book up to sing the song together, following the words and matching the pictures. I love when she bobs her head along as I sing. It's 99 kinds of adorable.

Every day, I speak a little bit of Tagalog to Diana, following each word or sentence with its English equivalent. So far she has been consistent in correctly identifying mata [eyes], ilong [nose], and tenga [ears]. She understands and complies with simple requests, like "Stand up" or "Give that to me, please". I'm sure my gestures help, but I'd like to think she is beginning to make the connection between the gestures and the Tagalog words.

I've written a little bit before about trying to teach Diana Tagalog. Now that I've stepped up the frequency, it feels a bit like paddling upstream. Everyone else in Diana's daily life speaks to her exclusively in English, including her father. Sure, Dusty sprinkles a few of the Tagalog words he knows into conversation with her, and he even attempts to sing Bahay Kubo to her because she loves it so much. Still, I am her [and Dusty's] sole teacher of what was once my mother tongue. And my brain now thinks in English, so I have to quickly translate everything for myself before I open my mouth to speak. I'm afraid I need a better dubbing system.

APTN features reruns of Northern Exposure and I recently caught the episode where Ed Chigliak decides to dub The Prisoner of Zenda in Tlingit. Ed enlists the help of his tribe's elders, the only people who still speak the dying language, and even they often speak it only when they do not want children to understand what they are saying. At the end of the episode, members of the tribe gather together to watch the dubbed movie. The camera focuses on the curious but confused face of a little one perched on an elder's lap, hearing a language he will probably never learn or use. So was Ed's project all in vain? Is my effort to teach Diana Tagalog ultimately fruitless?

Maybe that's not a question I should bother to ask. It's like asking if it's worth it to tell her that her mother was born in the Philippines. Teaching her even a little bit of the language of her mothers is teaching her a little bit about our culture. Diana recognizes and enjoys a beloved Tagalog folk song. She falls asleep every night to a lullaby I made up for her in Tagalog. She may never respond to me in Tagalog, but she understands me when I speak to her. That's something.


*Bahay Kubo means "Little Nipa Hut". It is a Tagalog folk song about the bounty of vegetables that grows in the land around a tiny nipa hut.

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