In my youth in Puerto Princesa, Palawan, most boys would be called ‘Badodoy’, that term of endearment peculiar only to us island dwellers.
My wife and I continued this beloved practice of my culture with my son. When I first held him in my arms when he was two days old, I whispered in his ears his pet name Badodoy. It felt really good. We made it a rule in our home in Vienna that our son from his infancy would call his mother “Nanay” and me, “Tatay,” names that felt closest to our hearts. They remind us of our grandmothers and grandfathers who were saop (land tenant) probinsyanos. We did not consider “Papa/Mama“ or “Daddy/Mommy“ suitable for our status; they are alien words.
My father narrated to us kids an allegory, occasioned by an incident with a neighbor that left him both amused and disgusted. He said that once a kobrador (collector) came knocking at the neighbor’s door and a child answered. The kobrador asked,“ Where’s your father?” The little girl said, “Ah, si Daddy, he is out harvesting kangkong (water spinach)“. The man asked again, “And where’s your mother then?“ She pointed to the fields and replied ‚“ Mommy is out fetching the kalabaw (water buffalo).“
He had a point. Filipino society has developed a meme that is much too alien to the probinsya setting. I thought that was the end of that irony until a Pinay acquaintance of my wife came for a visit. She questioned our decision to get stuck with the sobriquets of Nanay and Tatay since we have already settled in Europe. I was rather offended. I reasoned that we never wanted to keep up with the Joneses‘, adding that neither the color of our skin nor our social status would change should we use those names. It made for an awkward situation.
Filipinos are very skillful at adapting. I guess after so many years of being colonized our grandparents have devised clever tactics of social conformity and passed them to us. However, acculturation and deculturation can be tricky. Which part of the culture stays or goes? Which side of the new culture do we embrace?
Social scientists have described culture to be onion-like with various layers of language, food, jargon, rituals, values, customs, etc. closely wound intact around the bulb. It is hard to distinguish which layer one should let go of whilst keeping the others in place so the whole onion does not break apart.
Many Neo-Austrians like me who have children of immigrant background born in Austria (including mine) have to struggle with this. Some do quite well but there are cases, sadly, where Pinoy-looking kids cannot speak a word of Tagalog, Ilocano, or their own parents’ mother tongue. They miss out on being more competent. Instead of being tri-lingual (German, Tagalog or Iloko or Cebuano, English) they do only the least. They can understand a limited amount of Filipino but the big hurdle in conversing in the native tongue remains. And because German is officially taught in schools (which means on a daily basis) throughout Austria kids of Pinoy ancestry have no choice but to make the foreign language their own.
One case that saddened my heart was a family I met. The Austrian father and the Cebuana mother lived in the Highlands of Tirol almost near the Swiss border. The mother raised the two boys, now grown men, with little exposure to her background. They were dismally taught only the Cebuano curse words which they thought was a friendly way to break the ice when making the acquaintance of Pinoys. I was shocked. They were in their late twenties when they first visited the Philippines. The eldest child confided that he felt lost growing up only in Tirol and never really experiencing Pinas. The younger one had no clue on how to link his bloodline to his current person. I feared that this might happen to my family.
As my son was growing up in the Viennese setting, I saw he was struggling not only with both languages but with both cultures, even though his mother spoke exclusively Tagalog with him and we would visit Pinas as tourists for a month or so.
The fact remained he was not exposed long enough to the Palawan probinsya I grew up in and live like a local. I wanted to show him how as kids we would catch spiders or dragonflies and play with them. How in the Balsahan Iwahig River tributary, bathing was both work and fun as we had to wash our laundry and be soaking wet the whole day. The pet chickens I kept as a child around our house. Fishing around Tiniguiban Cove was the daily sport. Crab hunting was a daring challenge together with my childhood barkadas.
My memories of Palawan. Yes, they are two very different worlds. My son’s Vienna and my beloved Puerto Princesa. In 2015 and we flew to Palawan and spent some time there where my Badodoy went to school for a year and learned to say during the start of each class, “Good morning Teacher…“ He also learned that pigs and piglets are sold along the streets. That we can eat eggs freshly harvested from our very own chicken pen in the backyard. That whenever he spoke German to the chickens they get bewildered. That we can cook sumptuous bamboo sprouts fresh from the bamboo grove of the premises. That we need to wake up before 6AM every morning to pick up the mangoes fallen from the tree before everybody else does. That sea grapes or lato can be a very delicious ensalada. That like me, he too, learned to love sinigang na hipon. That the gecko lizards or tuko in our house serve as bio clocks and kept the cockroaches at bay. That we can use banana or taro leaves found around the garden as plates, and not worry about washing them afterward. He has also come to play with the other kids in our little sitio. Climbed tamarind trees and chewed young tender leaves and green pods with them. He was all excited when he learned how to make air bubbles from the Jatropha or Tuba-tuba plant. And in Palawan, one can always find a hidden deserted beach cove all for one’s self and virtually own it.
I am rather fortunate to have had the chance to expose my son to that side of my provenance. There are a number of Pinoy migrants who for many other reasons are not as lucky. And yes, it had a profound effect on my son. His Tagalog is not that ‘baluktot’ or crooked anymore. He understands basic Cuyunon, the vernacular in Palawan. He can follow Hiligaynon and Cebuano conversations already. He took to heart learning Filipino Sign Language from hearing-impaired friends. He can already cook rice by himself and make his favorite steamed okra or noodle soup, prepare his own omelet recipe, hand wash his clothes. He somehow got connected to my past, my heritage. Our culture. Our Onion.