Sunday, June 24, 2012

THOUGHTS FROM A TAGALOG-SPEAKING BANTOANON


By Epi Fabonan III

At the turn of the millenium, we saw the birth and rise of social media, the new, online means of communication worldwide. We all became part of Friendster’s rise and fall from 2003 to 2009; of Facebook’s growth beginning 2008. Now, Filipinos enjoy a huge presence in the world of social media, with 19 million Facebook users and 2 millions Twitter users respectively, according to a 2010 report.

As a Bantoanon who grew up in Cavite, social media was an opportunity to get to know my roots better. I think I owe it to my ancestors that I get to know the place where they grew up and the way of life they lived which led to my own existence today. Thus, I began writing this blog and networked with prominent Bantoanons in Friendster and Facebook, including Ish Fabicon, Lyndon and Von Fadri, and members of the Fadrilan clan. I also began joining a number of Facebook groups such as the Official Banton FB group, the Asi Studies Centerfor Culture and the Arts (ASCCA) group, Proud Bantoanon FB group, Banton Island Paradise, Istoryahang ASI, and more recently, the Fadri Foundation and 400Years Movement.

That’s a lot of Facebook groups, all bragging and peddling their own version of Banton and the Asi “spirit”. Obviously, all of them spoke in the same language—a dialect that is all too foreign for me despite living in the same house with native speakers. While I did try learning the dialect through my occassional visits to the island and through relatives, practice makes perfect—something I lacked due to my line of work and upbringing. Thus, every time I try to participate in discussions in these groups, I feel left out for I know I am speaking in a language which these people find “intimidating”—Filipino. And when I try to speak in the dialect, I can’t help but feel insecure thinking they might laugh or even scold me for being grammatically or syntatically incorrect. And somehow, these fears of mine are nonetheless confirmed as seen in my lack of following in these groups as compared to other Bantoanon users who spoke in the dialect.

Are Bantoanons really this discriminating? If not, then why do I feel like a mudblood inside Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry? Am I less Bantoanon just because I did not grew up and spoke the language of the island?

As much as I don’t want to make hasty conclusions, all other observations point to one thing—Bantoanon society is as fragmented as clay jar that’s smashed into hundred bits and pieces. Even before the dawn of the Internet, our people have been divided between lines of blood and lineage through these so-called clans. The island has plenty of these clans, which may have existed even before Governor Claveria even gave them names such as Fadrilan, Festin, Fabicon, Fabregas, Fabella, Faderanga, Ferrera, Fadri, Faigao, Musico, and the likes.

Each of these clans boasts a claim to fame, either by holding government office or vast amounts of wealth. And in the world of social media, these claims to fame are set in a much different playing field—the ability to turn public opinion in their favor. Hence the sudden abundance of Facebook groups and accounts: each offering their own version of Banton and the Asi “spirit”; each trying to prove to everyone that they are the real Bantoanon worth emulating by today’s generation and by generations to come. As if being a Bantoanon can be deduced to posting pictures, crafting T-shirt designs, or setting up a charitable foundation.

But when you think about it, where are these people anyway? Are they in Banton right now? For all I know, these people are part of the Bantoanon diaspora here in Southern Luzon and abroad. Why? Because they can’t even stay and make a living in the island they are “proud” kuno to call home. They may have big, concrete houses in banwa, but their homes are out here in the metros of the Philippines and other countries. Isn’t that embarrassing when (come to think of it) there are Bantoanons who survived without even having stepped foot outside of their beloved rock?

Don’t get me wrong people. I appreciate these efforts to make the island known to the rest of the world and the Bantoanon diaspora. But if you’re going to do it to serve and glorify the name of your clan or yourself, then your acts don’t merit my respect. As a Bantoanon trying to know my roots better, how I wish you could help accept my roots even more by being more inclusive than discriminatory. Speaking in a language that’s as complex as calculus won’t effectively make Tagalog-speaking or English-speaking Bantoanons learn and appreciate their roots. They’ll only go back to Banton to attend obligatory reunions, do photoshoots, and go skinny-dipping in Macat-ang or Tabonan.

Pursuing your own interest of promoting Bantoanon doesn’t help either; it’s just making Bantoanons’ clannish way of thinking more evident. Instead, why don’t we use social media as a tool to consolidate all our actions into just one solid movement? Let’s not be crabs trying to pull each others’ leg. Let us not look at each other in terms of clan, language, or birth, but in terms of genuine love and desire to be Bantoanon in heart, mind, and spirit. In that way, we could all reverse the conditions that forced us to go on an exodus from our island and leave our home in such a poor condition.

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