Why I Speak English

The idea behind “English” was from an earlier poem I wrote called “Dad,” [comma intended] which was written in June 2013 for a writing workshop and open mic leading up to Queer pride.  The prompt was to write a letter to your dad, in light of father’s day.

In 2010, I was a first year at CUNY Hunter College.  I joined Pilipinos of Hunter (POH), to be part of a Filipino community.  I participated in a workshop called “Personal Migration” which was given by GABRIELA New York to see how our personal stories of migration are actually a part of the larger history of migration from the Philippines to the US.  The workshop made participants reflect on the attitudes, beliefs, and actions that our immigrant families have that are shaped by US imperialism’s domination over the politics, economy, military and culture of our people in the Philippines.

After that workshop, I began my journey to discover more about my roots by having conversations with my parents.  One day, I asked why my siblings and I did not grow up speaking Tagalog.  The question came from my wanting to connect with my dad who  spoke and understood English, but could not express himself as completely as he could in his dialect.  It was then that I found out that my older brother had speech problems at an age where you should already start speaking. It was concerning to my parents because my sister and I were already reading and talking and my brother, being the eldest out of the 3 of us, was not.  At the time, my parents were actually teaching us both English and Tagalog, so there was a short amount of time that I spoke and understood it as a child.  But because my brother was still having trouble speaking, the doctor said to to teach only one language to us so it wouldn’t be confusing.

Choosing to teach English over Tagalog – or over teaching both – so that it wouldn’t be confusing is a very surface-level reason. After studying the history of imperialism in the Philippines, I was able to draw the connection between learning English vs. Tagalog to US domination over our culture, becoming “Americanized” is the way we are supposed to survive.

My siblings and I were taught to just look out for ourselves only, as my parents did.  For the Filipino people that couldn’t make it, it was their fault. The culture that capitalism and imperialism promotes encourages people to be selfish and think for themselves, and when we feel like we need support from others, it teaches us to isolate ourselves.  But what I learned from this movement is that we all need each other.  Our liberation is tied to each others so we must work hand-in-hand in the struggle.

“English”

English.  English was what my parents taught me.
And a decade and a half later,
I found myself questioning why it is that I don’t know
The native tongue of my parents.
It wasn’t because they did not want us to speak it.
They tried to help our baby mouths
To pronounce the sounds in the language of
Our motherland.
But when my brother at the age of three
Struggled for words to come out of his mouth,
Our American doctor ordered my parents to teach us
One language.
English is what my parents taught me.

Migration is a violent thing.
Families forcibly torn apart
Mothers and fathers fly away to places
Unknown. Unfamiliar.
Almost everything is unpredictable.
But what is predicable is the pain
Of possibly never seeing the people you love again.

We are forced to slit our mother tongues
And choke down the language of our colonizers.
We are forced to endure the pain of pronouncing
Every. Single. Word. Correctly.
Or risk not getting a job to send our kids to school.

Op-ten.  O-pen. Off-ten. Often.

Too often we are forced to forget where we come from
But we are forced to remember the pain of coming here.
We are forced to remember the names of children
Who are not our own
And forced to miss out on the critical moments
Of our own children’s lives.
Birthdays. Graduations. Marriage.
We are forced to grow inured to the smell
Of New York City’s heavy polluted air,
But we are forced to forget the smell
Of the freshness of countryside air,
The smell of tinola cooking in the kusina
Fresh pan de sal from the nearest panaderia.

We are Filipino Americans youth.
The children born out of the violence that is migration.
In the cold boroughs of New York City
We have lost our connection to our roots
in the Philippines.
Not because we refuse to,
But because migration has forced us.

We were born away from the warmth of the
Archipelago’s sun
And grow up to be cold.
Lost in the middle of this concrete jungle,
raised to isolate ourselves from the rest of our communities.
We are taught to not pay attention to the Filipina domestic worker
Who is being abused by her employer on the upper east side.
We are taught to not pay attention to kuya working hard
In a restaurant, where wage theft is rampant.
We are taught to keep to ourselves because
“Anak, we made it in America. That is not your business”
But more than ever this is our business.

It was in this violence that we were pushed into the movement.
It was in this violence that we found each other struggling.
We recognized that we have experienced hurt
Because of the system that depends on the exploitation
Of our people in the Philippines in order to breathe
The system that drinks the blood sweat and tears
Of the farmer, the worker, and the migrant in order to survive.
This semi-colonial semi-feudal society tries to break us
Because the system itself already falling into to ruins.
But we refuse to be broken.

Now more than ever, we see the urgency.
We need to learn the legacy of the Filipino youth
Who saw the light of our future and fought for it.
We need to learn the legacy of Bonifacio, Gabriela, Lorena.
The legacy of Edjop, Recca, Parago
We must uphold the revolutionary tradition of Filipino youth.

We are here because we were hurt from the violence,
But we will not allow this hurt to break us.
The only way for us to heal is to join the struggle.
The safest place for us to be is in the struggle
To build another world where there is no more pain.
The safest place for us is in the struggle for freedom.

Para sa mga pamilya
Para sa bayan
Para sa masa.


 Chrissi Fabro is a Filipina American native of NYC. Born in NYC and raised in Queens, she had a quest to find out her Filipino roots.  That journey eventually led her to the National Democratic movement of the Philippines.  She joined Anakbayan New York in 2012, where she became a community organizer, uniting communities to fight for their rights and welfare while drawing connections to the issues of the Filipino diaspora in the US to the struggles of the people in the Philippines against US imperialism, feudalism, and bureaucrat capitalism. She is also east coast coordinator of Kapit Bisig Kabataan Network, the largest national Filipino American youth and student alliance, which advocates for environmental justice and human rights in the Philippines. It is through her community organizing that she found her roots in the struggle for freedom and genuine change and decided to dedicate the rest of her life to serving the people.  Chrissi loves drinking tea, doodling, playing guitar and reading. Instagram

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