How we learned Tagalog

When we moved to Manila, my brothers and I still spoke Cebuano. Ivan was six, I was five, Dot was three. We would speak this language in the household for at least four more years as school and the neighborhood gradually whittled us down into ManileƱos.

In my mind, I credit Batibot for teaching us Filipino, but that's not the entire truth. This, I remembered at dinner last night.

While eating at Provenciano with Ivan and his fiancee Ana, I noticed the blue and white enamel plate a dish was served in and remembered I had coveted the same plate as a child because of the 1980s TV series "Yagit."

"Ang mga batang yagit" would eat fluffy, loose rice and dried fish on their blue and white enamel plates. They ate with their hands and with so much gusto--especially the fat boy named Tom-tom who was credited as Tom-tom, so I wondered if he was a real batang yagit--that I associated their enamelware with a good and happy meal despite the direst of circumstances.

Ivan told me I could find old enamelware being sold online. I replied that I probably wanted those plates only because of my yagit fantasies and those aren't exactly nice fantasies to have.

Ivan explained to Ana that when we were growing up, our helpers would watch Yagit and other afternoon TV dramas. Our mother didn't like it--we weren't allowed to watch local TV--but they still did when my parents weren't home and, by default, we did too.

That's how we learned Tagalog.

One day, Ivan was angry at one of the helpers and he called her one of the first insults we had picked up: patay-gutom. She cried, responding in the same way a TV character would, and I was stunned by this real-life drama happening before me. She may have packed her bags and left.

We got a scolding, I think, for watching local TV, but so did our helpers. That didn't stop them. And, by default, us.

In grade 5, I got laughed at for pronouncing "palda" with the accent on the second A. I had long given up calling my brother Manoy Ivan because some of the neighborhood kids teased me. By then, I was struggling with English too. But I had a growing Tagalog vocabulary! Yagit, dukha, sampid. Mangangalakal. Patay-gutom. Hampaslupa. And my favorite: tulisan.