< Breast-Fed Language


Monday, October 11, 2010

HOST INTRODUCTION:About two thirds of New Yorkers are from immigrant families. And when parents - who came here from other countries - raise American children, they face all kinds of choices about which cultural norms to follow. That's the case in Radio Rookie Andrea Lee Torres' family. Her parents came here from the Phillipines in the 1990s. And she's not sure she agrees with at least one decision they made - not to teach her their language.

NARRATION: I'm in the car with my parents. I drift away into the back seat as the car muffles out their words, but this is how I always hear them. They're speaking my family's dialect, kapampangan, also known as breastfed language. My parents never fed it to me.

(kapampangan in background)

My older sister Sara was born in the Philippines and they speak to her in kapampangan, but I was born in America and they speak to me in English.

Why? Excuse #1:

MOM: You were about a year and you don't really like talk so I asked the doctor why and she said what language do you speak at home? And then she said probably she's just confused; so that's how it is.

NARRATION: So it's the doctor's fault. Here comes excuse #2:

DAD: If we speak in Tagalog, and you never learn how to speak English, when you go to school it's very hard for you to adjust.

NARRATION: And lastly excuse #3

DAD: Probably you're not really interested in learning how to speak.

NARRATION: My mom says I probably whined.

MOM: I don't need it!

NARRATION: So it was my fault?

NARRATION: But seriously none of these excuses change the fact that I'm Filipino and I don't know my own language. I can't call the Philippines my home like the rest of my family.

I do like my fatty roasted pig and a sugary iced halo halo.

And when I get off the plane in Manila, I love the smell, the way it fills my lungs. But then, we open the front gate of my family's home and they gather 'round my sister talking, laughing, sharing stories about how they raised her until she was three. When they get to

I feel like they don't know my name and I don't know theirs.

MOM: You get frustrated right.


MOM: 'Cause you don't understand it. We were all laughing, and you just being in the middle of it looking at us, right?

NARRATION: I'm a joke to them. Even my sister Sara laughs.

SARA: I don't know you don't find it funny 'cause I find it funny that's what I think.

NARRATION: Haha, yeah, okay. It's like being tickled after it's not fun anymore. So last year, I decided to learn the language--get some Flip-Pride! Flip short for Filipino.

ANDREA: I'm teaching myself Tagalog through this this book, it's called teach yourself Tagalog. All right.

NARRATION: My mom convinced me to learn the national language instead of their dialect because it's more practical, but she doesn't have faith in me and my shiny Tagalog CD and Book.

MOM: Do you open it and read it?

ANDREA: I don't have time to!

MOM: Oh see? If you wanted to learn you watch the Filipino Channel.

ANDREA: But I don't understand it!

MOM: Well you will learn!

DAD: Sometimes when we see other parents when their children speak Filipino something like that we're a little bit envious that our children they cannot do that.

NARRATION: (sigh) I feel like a huge let down.

(Distorted Sound)

ACE: Hello.

NARRATION: That's when I call my cousin in California to rant.

ANDREA: How do you feel about Filipino Americans who always say Filipino pride, Flip pride, Panoi pride, how do you feel about that?

ACE: That's their problem. What are we proud of corruption?

NARRATION: Ace grew up hating his Filipino-ness.

ACE: They have a lack of cultivating their minds, mainly only viewing inane programs

ACE: I don't know any successful Filipino business owners.

ACE: From personal experience I've known many criminals.

ANDREA: So Ace, for someone who like me who feels disconnected from the Filipino culture what advice can you give me?

ACE: Remain that way.


NARRATION: This is when I should shove him and say, "Don't be like that. There's a lot to be proud of," but I can't. I don't know enough.

ANDREA: So Ace I have to go now.

ACE: Okay

NARRATION: We're like loud Americans with cheeseburgers in our hands.

ACE: Talk to you later.


(Door opening)


BING: Come in, I'm Bing.

NARRATION: Professor Agnes Magtoto teaches Tagalog at NYU. She says that most of the people she teaches are me.

BING: Why Tagalog? Why the Filipino Language? It's basically to be able to reconnect with my roots.

NARRATION: But she also says it takes more than language to reconnect.

BING: I think identity is not defined by the language you speak.

ANDREA: When I was talking to my cousin he actually brought up a conflict in me thinking that I'm not really that proud of being a Filipino and just meeting you and you telling me about your classes it just made it seem like maybe I can do this and maybe I can tell him to be a little bit more proud and think about it.

BING: You know what's great? Your cousin pushed you, he challenged you. There's so many uncomfortable things happening in our head but it's okay.

ANDREA: Um...other than learning the language, what else do you recommend that I should do?

BING: Enrich that learning. What else is there in history, what else is there in terms of your own family history?

NARRATION: The only time my parents talk to me about their lives is when I see a spider and I freak out. They laugh at me and say, "We used to play with Spiders, why are you scared?" I don't really ask about their lives.

ANDREA: Can you share some stories about your childhood?

DAD: When I was growing up in the Philippines especially we have many friends.

NARRATION: I finally got off my scaredy butt and when I did my dad talked about family and respect and how that runs in my blood.

DAD: You're a part of it.

NARRATION: But he also told me his hard times, something I've always wanted to listen to.

DAD: Sometimes to provide food, clothes, things it was difficult for us because we were 9 children so, we always wear the same clothes, wear it clean it wear it clean it. So I just try to sacrifice.

ANDREA: Why didn't you teach us the value of sacrificing?

DAD: Why should we? You know because we know the feeling to sacrifice is very very hard. We don't want you to feel that too.

NARRATION: I asked my dad if all of this was the reason why they never spoke to me in their language. Honestly, I wanted him to say they faced hard times, moved on to America, dusted off the webs and just put me on the English track. Then I'd understand. But he said that he wasn't turning away from his past, just thought I didn't need his culture.

DAD: We're not in the Philippines. You'll get frustrated if we push you to speak Tagalog in America. And we're very proud of you that you can speak English very well.

ANDREA: Well because I'm American.

DAD: Because you're in America.

NARRATION: My sister, Sara knows English and Kampampangan. But my parents say Sara had a hard time making friends when she came here at three and only knew Filipino.

SARA: When I'm here, I feel very Filipino. But if I go back there to the Philippines I'm American. It's this very in the middle type thing, you get stuck in the middle and that's where I am.

NARRATION: I guess I can see why my parents didn't want to make me Filipino. They wanted to give me a place to fit in. Okay, I fit in.

ANDREA: So right now I'm going to re-begin how to understand and read.

NARRATION: Maybe my dad was right, I don't need his culture. But I want it.

ANDREA: So let's begin with chapter 1.

For WNYC, I'm Rookie Reporter Andrea Lee Torres.

Produced by:

Sanda Htyte


Marianne McCune


Andrea Torres