I Married an Ilonggo
Do you remember when you were young and you thought your neighbourhood was your whole world? Everyone spoke the same language, played the same games, ate the same food. Indeed, it was only when I reached elementary and started studying Araling Panlipunan did I realise that there were actually other Filipinos living in other regions, eating different versions of pancit, and conversing in other ways. I found it strange, when I first learned that, and fascinating as well; how we could all be the same yet so different in these respects.
It was during one such AP class when I first learned of the existence of other dialects. Our teacher asked all of us to stand up one by one and share where our probinsiya is, where our families originally come from, and what dialect we spoke at home. I remember not making much of that exercise except learning that majority of my classmates were born and raised in Manila and spoke in Tagalog, like me, and oh, taga-Cebu pala si ganito.
In college, I got to widen my social circle and met more peers who hail from different parts of the country. But it was when I started traveling for work, actually being in other parts of the Philippines that wasn’t Manila, did I begin to feel that I was missing out from not having a probinsiya of my own.
I found that I loved the “probinsiya life”. It was relaxing, life moved at a much slower pace and there were more trees and the air was fresh. I enjoyed seeing glimpses of other Filipinos’ “life in the boondocks”, sample how differently every region cooked, and listen uninterestedly as they chatted in their respective dialects and went about life. I even marvelled at how every region designed their tricycles differently, some had eight side mirrors and others were like mini-jeepneys in terms of capacity.
Then God married me to an Ilonggo from Bacolod, and my insulated life as a Manila-born tourist came to an end.
I suddenly found myself thrust in social gatherings where almost everyone spoke in the Ilonggo dialect. In the beginning, I bewilderedly tried to catch on, but more often than not I just tuned everyone who did not speak in Tagalog/English out and lost myself in my thoughts, smiling absentmindedly, observing like a foreigner, taking note of and appreciating those who patiently translated everything for me in Tagalog, so that I at the very least could get a gist of what was going on.
I noted that Ilonggos spoke in Ilonggo wherever they may be, even here in Manila, regardless if there is a non-Ilonggo-speaking person in their company. I initially found this to be insensitive, rude, and highly excluding, like they belonged to a clique they didn’t want me to be a part of, but then later on came to understand that they behave so because that is what they are most comfortable in and what they are used to. And just like there are some thoughts best expressed in Filipino rather than in English, there are also some stories best expressed in one’s native dialect.
I didn’t come to this understanding outright. I remember dreading those instances where I knew that there would be a lot of Ilonggo speaking, already feeling out of place just thinking about it. I shied away from Ilonggo speakers because just being with them made me feel unconsidered and unwanted, and there were probably two or three instances in the past when Joey and I would fight because even he would speak in Ilonggo in front of me, not seeming to care at all how I felt.
That’s all in the past now. I thank God that He changed my heart and made me more intentional in learning the dialect. I also realised that I still actually quite like not knowing everything or participating in every discussion, and that I am still very much content with letting my mind wander off while listening to the gentle and musical inflection of Hiligaynon. In any case, I know that I do eventually have to speak it, especially if in the future God would lead us to retirement in Bacolod, who knows? But for now the need for me to learn is extremely important because it’s the only way I could converse with my adorable three-year-old nephew who speaks better Ilonggo than Joey, haha!
I am extremely grateful to my new family for talking in Tagalog when I’m with them, and to my husband who patiently teaches me whenever I encounter an unfamiliar Ilonggo word.
I now keep my very own Hiligaynon-Filipino dictionary on my phone’s notes, adding to my vocabulary as needed every now and then. Whenever we are in Bacolod I find it easier to adapt to the dialect, and then we go back to Manila and switch back to Filipino and I feel like whatever progress I’ve made is lost. But it’s okay. I know that at the heart of it, it’s my attitude that matters, and that I must always be teachable.
So to you who may be struggling right now, being suddenly planted into a pot surrounded by unfamiliar surroundings which you can’t change or have no influence over, I say to you, get over yourself (as harsh as that may sound, eep), start learning, and bloom where you are planted. :)
Oh, and by relation to my husband, I can now lay claim to having a probinsiya! Never mind if it’s not legit, haha, but I am grateful to be able to call Bacolod another home. :)
Madamo gid nga salamat for reading!