Blog Post

English vs. Filipino vs. Literature

An August 24 article on English on the website of Manila Bulletin raised a fuss first, because it was published, and second, because it was later removed from the website. I did not react to the article, but several readers did, by posting—without my consent but of course to my delight—an old speech of mine in my blog.

This is the speech I delivered last February*:

Since you are teachers of language and literature, allow me to think aloud through a Homeric simile or, if you wish, a 17th-century conceit, or simply, a talinghaga.

I am an adulterer.I have a wife and two lovers.

My wife is the English language. I married her, making my marriage vows to her, my credentials, my MA and PhD in English, at the Ateneo and at the University of Maryland.She cooks my meals, gives me sustenance, by helping me participate in meetings for which I get paid.She bears my children, which are my English columns and books.I come home to her, I rush back into her arms when I want to feel secure.I love her. I love English.

I have a lover, who is female. My girlfriend is the Filipino language. She is much sexier than my wife, because she has all these terms for taste, smell, and touch—the senses that I use when making love. She is much younger than my wife; English was born about 1,500 years ago, but Filipino was born only in 1973. My girlfriend’s mother is Tagalog, but her father is Spanish and her grandmother is Chinese. That is why she is so attractive, because she is down to earth like the Tagalogs and practical like the Chinese, yet she speaks the language that God speaks. You know, of course, as the Spanish people put it so well, that “children speak in Italian, ladies speak in French, God speaks in Spanish, and the Devil speaks in English.”Yes, my girlfriend thinks my wife is a devil.

I have another lover. He is male. My boyfriend is literature. He understands me much more than my wife or my girlfriend does.

I have to struggle with my English, worrying about whether my behavior, my grammar, is perfect. I am always so careful when my wife is around. On the other hand, I cannot take my girlfriend to so-called respectable gatherings. People do not look kindly at me when I use Filipino to speak at big education or business or international conferences. Of course I enjoy caressing my girlfriend’s body, all the literary works written in Filipino, such as those by Bob Ong, but I am a bit apprehensive about boasting about her, because my wife is extremely jealous of her. When I travel outside the country, I have to keep introducing and apologizing for my girlfriend, something I do not have to do with my wife. Fortunately or unfortunately, my girlfriend is not well known outside the country, so I can take her there and limit our friends to the ten million or so of my compatriots working or living abroad. Abroad, my girlfriend is our shared secret and we can talk secretely without my wife knowing anything about her.

But the situation with my boyfriend is very different. I can take him with me anywhere I go.Nobody raises an eyebrow when we travel together, stay in the same hotel room, engage in public displays of affection. After all, boxers and basketball players hug each other tightly, cry on each other’s shoulders, even walk together with their arms on each other’s shoulders. People think it’s natural when I quote lines from literary pieces, when I have a book of poetry tucked under my arm as I walk down a street, when I read a novel in public. In fact, when I quote a line or two written by my boyfriend, people even applaud.

Of course, like other adulterers, I have to admit that I have a real psychological problem, for which I need to see a psychiatrist. I also have a spiritual problem, for which I need to see a priest or pastor. Moreover, I have a philosophical problem, because I do not really know who I love more or best or all the time.

I write in English in an English newspaper. I talk in English when I am in an international or even sometimes in a national conference. But I do not really like being with my wife all the time. I get bored with her and she gets bored with me. We have done so much together that we find that there is not much to do that now interests us. Besides, she always seems like a stranger to me. Like the Duke in Robert Browning’s poem, I feel like my wife, my last Duchess, bestows her favors on everyone, not just on me. I do not feel that she belongs to me.I do not own her nor does she want to be owned by me. She insists on her own rules and does not want to make allowances for my weaknesses.

On the other hand, I write in Filipino when I feel The Urge, when I feel hot and eager, when it is that time of the month when my hormones are raging and I just want to have someone I can have a very physical, very honest, very intimate, very enjoyable time.I do not have to worry about my behavior, my grammar, when I am with my girlfriend. I can let my hair down, whatever is left of it. Since she is young, she looks up to me and admires me. She does not have a personality cast in stone, so she does not mind changing when I want her to change. Since I give her a condo, a maid, a car, and spending money, I own her. I create words that she has to include in her vocabulary. I teach her. She is not my teacher, the way my wife is. She is my student, someone I mold according to my own likes and dislikes.

Still, I look forward to being alone with literature, being alone with a short story or a poem or a novel, watching a film based on a literary text, writing a literary text. My boyfriend combines the best traits of my English wife and my Filipino girlfriend. He is equally comfortable with both and he joins my wife and me when we entertain at home. He joins my girlfriend and me on trips abroad. My wife and my girlfriend, not being of the same gender as I am, do not really understand my needs, physical or psychological. But my boyfriend does. He excites me, keeps me interested, makes me eager to be with him, with his texts done from the time of Sophocles to the time of Jaime An Lim, Gemino Abad, Cristina Pantoja-Hidalgo, Oscar Campomanes, Ferdinand Lopez, and all the writers in this audience. He knows exactly how and where to excite me.He is one with me in emotions, in sex, in love, in everything.

It’s not easy being an adulterer. My wife does not want me to be with my girlfriend. My girlfriend wants me to leave my wife and to marry her instead. My boyfriend wants me to be alone with him, not with my wife nor with my girlfriend. On the rare occasions when I have all three of them around the dinner table, they seem cordial enough, though I know that they really cannot get along that well. My boyfriend keeps breaking the rules of grammar that my wife and my girlfriend make. My wife keeps telling me that she is from a very rich and old family and I would be a fool to leave her. My girlfriend says that my wife does not understand me and only she can.

It’s a mess. Sometimes I feel that I should just go into a Trappist monastery and renounce all language, keeping a vow of silence instead. But my boyfriend insists that he should come with me to the monastery. They let males in there, but not females.

Sometimes I feel that I should just find an uninhabited island among the 7,100 islands of the Philippines and live there without books, without anyone, but my boyfriend is already in my memory, my wife has molded my thoughts, and my girlfriend has conditioned my physical needs.

There is a practical solution, but I don’t want to take it.I could just leave the country and become an OFW in a country that does not speak English—and there are quite a number of these countries. That way, I will never use English, there will be no reason to use Filipino, and I will soon forget all the classic lines of literature that define my being.But there’s a catch. That country will have its own literature. I will surely find a new boyfriend. My boyfriend will surely introduce me to a new girlfriend. Before I know it, my new girlfriend will become my wife, and I will be back where I started.

I am glad I was invited to this seminar, because I can now rethink and redirect my personal paradigm.I can now teach myself a new way of looking at myself, rethink and redirect my pedagogy in teaching language and literature. In my imagination, I can be constructive.I can resolve issues. I can keep alive my live circuit.I can break out of my depression and get rid of all my repressions by letting the world know who exactly I am.

I am an adulterer, and proud of it. Maraming salamat po.

This speech was delivered at the closing of the two-day language and literature seminar on "re-thinking and re-directing paradigm and pedagogy in the teaching of language and literature" held at far eastern university, 19 February 2011, sponsored by the alliance of language and literature teachers (ALLT).

Isagani R. Cruz's picture
Former Philippine Undersecretary of Education Isagani R. Cruz (Ph.D., University of Maryland) is President of the Manila Times College and a consultant to the president of Far Eastern University. He is a Professor Emeritus and University Fellow of De La Salle University.  He belongs to the Hall of Fame of the Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards in Literature and is one of the 2010 Outstanding Filipinos.  He writes for Philippine Star.