The Santa Clara
May 9, 2019
Many universities across the United States have a language requirement for undergraduate students. Santa Clara is no different. Here is what the Santa Clara website says:
“Language and intercultural communication are fundamental for meaningful, purpose-driven and compassionate engagement with the world, which is at the heart of our Jesuit values. ”
I can guess that most of us probably read the details—the ‘what’ and the ‘when’— all except for the ‘why.’
Clearly, Santa Clara does not aim for students to learn a new language just for the sake of learning. Their goal is to integrate their students into the real world through interaction. Students are not required to learn a language simply to gain understanding of other cultures, but also to connect with the various cultures around us.
Last week, I learned that San Jose State University implemented a Tagalog language class. I was shocked because this was something I never considered. I never thought of my culture being represented in such a way that makes me proud but also makes sense.
As a San Francisco Bay Area native, I have recognized that my culture is well-represented in my hometown. I encounter Filipinos in almost all parts of the Bay, so I didn’t think the word ‘minority,’ usually used to describe my ethnic background, is untrue here.
In 2010, the United States Census revealed that 43 percent of Filipinos living in America reside in California. Filipino Americans had become the largest Asian American population in California, with the largest concentration of them living in Santa Clara county.
In addition, the Statistical Atlas, updated in 2018, found that Tagalog was third of the non-English languages spoken at home across California, after Spanish and Chinese (Mandarin and Cantonese). In the entire United States, Tagalog was fourth.
By taking a second language, the university wants us to increasingly engage with those in our community and beyond. The Filipino community is very prominent in Santa Clara and the rest of the Bay Area, yet Tagalog—the national language of the Philippines—is curiously absent from the list of Santa Clara’s offered languages.
I wanted to make a Tagalog language course happen at Santa Clara, so with the help of Barkada Chair, junior Sam Sy, I sent out a survey to some Santa Clara friends and members of the university’s Filipino student union.
For those who identified as Filipino, I asked if they would be interested in taking a Tagalog course at Santa Clara.
Sy does not speak Tagalog and barely understands the language but said she’d like to learn. Her parents do not speak Tagalog at home, but Tagalog is often spoken by her extended family.
“I struggle to connect with them on this very basic level, and because of this, I worry I will never hear or understand their stories about their immigration, family, childhood or culture,” Sy said.
Most of the responses were based on the idea of connection, whether it be with family in and out of the States or with their culture.
“I am interested in taking it as a language course because it would help me get in better contact with heritage as well as help me read, write and speak because right now I can only understand bits and pieces,” junior Michael Simeon said, whose parents speak Tagalog at home. “I feel like I am so close to learning the language.”
“My mom and dad speak [Tagalog] and all my aunts and uncles,” senior Will Villamayor said. “I’m left out of conversations sometimes because I can’t speak their main language.”
He explained how much is lost in translation when he communicates with his family.
“I want to be able to speak to my grandma or grandpa without putting too much strain on their cognitive translations,” he added.
Of the Filipino respondents to my survey, just 10 percent said they speak Tagalog. Sixty-eight percent said at least one parent or guardian speaks Tagalog, while the rest do not hear the language spoken at home. On a Tagalog language comprehension scale of zero (no understanding) to 10 (complete understanding), 12 of 17 people marked in the lower half of the spectrum.
“As a child of parents who emigrated from the Philippines, it has always been spoken at home and at gatherings,” junior Noah Kane Manuel said. “Personally, I think it’d be a good experience and a pleasant surprise for myself and family respectively to talk in a language they grew up with.”
By adding a Tagalog language course, Santa Clara would start us on a path connecting us to our family— parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and other generations before us—in a way we’ve never been able to connect before. Even with the generations in the future, if we could connect them to their ethnic background via language, we would be able to better preserve a culture whose authenticity, I fear, is fading.
“For Filipino Americans especially, our community has faced an erasure of identity with our language, because English and Western ideals are so prominent in the Philippines due to its history of colonialism, and coming to America, [Filipinos] were discouraged from speaking Tagalog or having as much as an accent because they feared discrimination,” Sy said. “Tagalog is a dying language, and it is integral for our community to learn it and pass it on to future generations.”
As Manuel put it, “It would be a nice way to put the Filipino in Filipino American.”
Annika Tiña is a junior communication major with a minor in mechanical engineering.