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[personal profile] ephemere posted an essay titled No Country for Strangers that has some thoughts about colonialism and languages which I found very relevent to this community:
Background: I'm a Filipino living in the Philippines; I have lived here almost all my life, the exception being approximately two years of my early childhood that I spent in the U.S. We speak Filipino at home, but I write and do research and have academic discussions in English. I was taught to read and write in both English and Filipino, I consider myself more fluent in English than I am in my native tongue, and in my education both here and in the U.S. English-language literature has dominated my reading. For a long time I was content with this skew and was mostly unaware of its ramifications; I didn't think there was anything wrong with it, and my satisfaction in how many "world classics" of literature I'd read subsumed the slight shame I felt at not having read many works of Philippine literature, or not being able to read written Filipino without a great deal of concentration. Right now I'm still struggling with this disconnect between who I am and what I read. I'm grappling with the reality of how so much of my thinking -- even in economics, which is what I've been trained in -- has been shaped according to the perspectives of Western intellectuals whose views simply cannot be applied wholesale to the situation my country is in. And I'm coming to terms, slowly, with the amorphous nature of our national identity, the difficulties that stand in the way of its formation, and what this means to me as a majority sourcelander, an economist, and a reader. This isn't me speaking for all Filipinos. This is me speaking out of the conjunction of all these facets of my experience.

First things first: specific points, based on the aforementioned perspective. Charles Tan talks about the "small but growing awareness of the literature of other cultures" as a "liberty that occurred only because of humanity's continued struggle for 'enlightenment'". I find this exceedingly ironic when taken in light of the past history of the Philippines and of the present state of education in the country. I was very aware of the literary classics of other cultures when I was growing up, and I don't doubt this applies to many members of my generation who had access to the same educational resources I did. Most of my books as a child were simplified versions of books by authors such as Dumas, Stevenson, Alcott, Carroll, and others. In high school we were required to make ourselves familiar with Shakespeare, Hugo, Poe, Marlowe, Steinbeck, etc; our school's reading room was dominated by British, French, and American writers. We were supposed to know the figures of speech and the literary conventions used by these writers -- so where does "small but growing" come from? We, of the upper and middle classes, who had the means to access "superior" educational materials, were immersed in this from childhood. This is not an expression of unalloyed liberty to progress further toward 'enlightenment'. It is part of an educational system that was to a large extent instituted during the American occupation, whose so-called benevolent rule has not been fully extricated from either the public consciousness or our political decisions up to this very day. It is an outgrowth of a dominance that may have been thought to have eased when we were 'granted' our independence, but has in fact never disappeared, only become more subtle in its influence on our psyches.

I don't wish these influences, which shaped my knowledge of and love for literature, were completely gone from me. They've taught me many things; because of them I can engage with some people with the advantage of being informed by the literature of their country. But I want to recognize them for what they are; I want to be conscious of their effects, and capable of rejecting these effects. Yet the truth remains that these influences are often taken for granted by many Filipinos; we consider it perfectly natural that we know so much about U.S. pop culture, it's a default that we can pretend to talk like Americans or think like Americans -- act and live like them, and yes, write like them.

So please don't talk about this awareness of other cultures' literature as if it were new to us. It's not. The very fact that knowledge of American/British literature is considered a default among the educated class here is glaring proof of that.


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July 2014

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