Why not Spanish?

(L to R) Tia Lydia, “Mommy” Doña Amparo y yo (¡Qué muchachito lindo! ) CTTO: James Mo

Looks like our local educational system is opening its doors to more languages like Korean. Hardcore K-Pop fans were delighted to hear the news!

But why prioritize Korean and Mandarin? Why not Spanish? Our old lingua franca?

All my siblings had mandatory Spanish. It was removed from standard curriculum when I started tertiary education.

With its contribution to our local languages, why was it removed as an “official” Filipino language in the Cory Constitution? Whose idea was it?

The late statesman and journalist from Bulacan, Blas Ople, who took part in drafting the 1987 constitution, tried to salvage it from being written off but was thwarted by hispanophobic colleagues.

While he doesn’t speak it fluently he was a staunch defender of the old lingua franca. His efforts was not forgotten by the Spanish speaking community. He was awarded the Premio Zobel, the country’s oldest literary award, in 1993.

In his Panorama column in 1992, he shared his experience during the crafting of the Constitution of 1987:

“I should reveal this now. In the Constitutional Commission of 1986, I fought until the end to have Spanish retained in the new Constitution as an official language, together with Filipino and English. I wanted at least an explicit recognition of Spanish as such a language until the wealth of historical material in our archives, most of this in Spanish, can be fully translated into English or Filipino.

But the real reason was that I wanted to preserve our last formal links with the Iberian world, which includes most of the countries in Latin Américas with a population of about 400 million. I remember Claro M. RectoClaro M. Recto’s sentimental journey to Spain, which was aborted by a heart attack in Rome. If we lost that final strand of solidarity with the Spanish-speaking world, we, too, would never get to Spain.

It was as though both sides had agreed on a policy of mutual forgetfulness.

The “radicals” in the Con-Com strongly advised me not to press the provision on Spanish, because this would have the effect of reopening other controversial issues in the draft charter. It could delay the framing of the Constitution beyond an acceptable deadline.

My worst fears have been realized. We have expelled ourselves from the Iberian community of nations. The rift is final, and will never be healed.

A few weeks ago, I saw an “Inquirer Radio” interview of Guillermo Gomez Rivera. An octogenarian, he remains the most active advocate of bringing Spanish back in our schools. Like Ople and his grandfather, Guillermo Gomez Windham, he won the Premio Zobel in 1975.

Another proponent of the language that I respect is the Filipina writer based in Chile, Elizabeth Medina. She now makes short YouTube lectures on Filipino history and culture. The last one I saw was about “Asuangs” (bruho)! In it she translates the accounts of Padre Francisco Ignacio Alzina about the fabled night creature.

Those who wants to improve their Spanish can benefit from her lectures. She speaks in Spanish and translates it in English and Tagalog. Must be her ulterior motive—imparting Filipino history while teaching Spanish—a matar dos pájaros de un tiro!

To continue to deny Spanish as a Filipino language is counter productive. We have thousands of words that came from it. We have centuries of history with it and it has economic value. Just ask Filipinos working as Spanish language support in BPOs.

My first Spanish lessons came from “Mommy,” our Spanish-American neighbor. She spoke often in English and Tagalog but she speaks Spanish sometimes, curses and sings in it too. At a very young age I heard such words as “urbanidad,” “amor propio” and “palabra de honor”. And, “hijo de puta,” “puneta,” “cabron” and “tarantado”! She loves Julio Iglesia’s “Hey” (Spanish version). And yes, I’ve got it memorized.

When Spanish was vilified in school it never got to me. Why? Because I was taught that it’s a well where many of our great traditions came from. I knew it was not something I should fear or hate.

I am sure many Spanish advocates in the country today had grandparents who shared with them wonderful stories about it. We all should consider ourselves fortunate that we heard it from the last generation that spoke it as a Filipino language.


4 responses to “Why not Spanish?

  • Arnaldo Arnáiz

    Thanks Tia Isabel. Estoy tratando de hacer eso. Not easy because the mind is so used to reading English but I get by with Spanish. A mí me gusta leer en mi tiempo libre. Calms the spirit.

    • Elizabeth Medina

      Yo sé que es difícil, Arnaldo. Por la falta de ámbito (lack of a reinforcing ambit or environment). Pero una vez que la emoción se abre y deja entrar el español, se vuelve más que posible, se vuelve inevitable. Language comes in through the emotion, not through grammar or logic. Yo intento crear el ámbito. It’s like, if we want to incorporate Spanish into our lives, we just have to do it. Just do it. And it must have meaningful content. Spanish has to enter us together with the new historical awareness. They left us at the same time, They want to return at the same time. Just open your mind and heart, and relax. Con el corazón y la mente abiertos. ¡Un gran abrazo!

  • ELIZABETH MEDINA

    And one more thing — respecto de lo que dijo don Blas Ople: “…until the wealth of historical material in our archives, most of this in Spanish, can be fully translated into English or Filipino”. That Mt. Everest of documentation will never, can never be “fully translated”. because the intention was never there and never will be. Ang ating mga ninuno ay nangag-totobongan sa kanilang libingan sandaan at labing-walong taon na. They are turning in their graves for 118 years already. Our rejection of the truth of our own past is a curse on our nation. Rizal, all our heroes and ancestors are deeply saddened by how the hispanophobes still hold the future generations hostage with their evil withholding of our right to culture, to education, to critical thought regarding our own history because WE CAN’T READ the documentation and we can’t talk to other nations like us. Our heroes never died so that we would be English speaking and ignorant, indifferent to our historical and spiritual bonds with the Hispanic nations.

    For Filipinos today, to remember is a moral act. To learn Spanish is a moral act. To get out of the straitjacket of white consciousness is to rebel again, is to be a revolutionary. I write this in English but my consciousness is no longer a slave to white consciousness. Minamahal ko ng labis and ating memoria, ang ating kaluluwang bayan, at ipagtatanggol ko ang ating alaalang historia hangang di ako mamatay. Gayondin ang manunulat ng itong blog, at bawat taon tayo’y mas marami. Hanggang sa susunod! EM

  • ELIZABETH MEDINA

    We must recover Spanish. It is our language. Debemos recuperar el castellano. Es nuestro idioma. Sí, sí, sí. Gracias Arnaldo. Y vamos a ganar. We must read Noli in Spanish. And Don Quijote. 🙂 In my next video I will talk about all the Spanish words in Tagalog. There will be a surprise. 😉 Hasta pronto!

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