Jul 17, 2024

September 16, 2023 - ‘Halina na! Kadto kamo! Sung na!’ are three distinct Philippine linguistic expressions with one common English translation, ‘let’s go’ or ‘come.’Together, they highlight the language diversity of the Filipino people and prelude the full title of a forthcoming cultural event.

In an exclusive interview with CanadianFilipino.Net ahead of the event,Canadian Filipino researcher Phebe Ferrer – one of the organizers and a University of British Columbia (UBC) alumna and Vancouver-based Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada senior research specialist – articulates the nuances of Filipino identity through language diversity not only among the Filipino diaspora, but also beyond, as envisioned.


Phebe Ferrer came to Canada when she was 15.


Ferrer’s forebears came from all over the Philippines, which means they speak other languages in addition to Tagalog. [Tagalog is, of course, the foundation ofthis Asian country’s national language, which is officially called Filipino.] 

As the Vancouver-based researcher relates, her paternal grandmother and grandfather hail, respectively, from the province of Ilocos Norte, where Ilocano is spoken, and from the southern Philippine city of Cagayan de Oro, where people speak Bisaya. Meanwhile, her maternal grandmother is a native of the province of Nueva Ecija, where Ilocano and Tagalog are mostly spoken.

“I love little moments when I see my grandparents making tsismis [Literal English translation of this word is ‘gossip’, but in this context, it means ‘small talk.’] in Ilocano or Bisaya,” Ferrer recalls. “Or, when I watch my Lolo’s [grandfather’s] face light up when he starts speaking in Bisaya when we’re visiting Davao City [in southern Philippines] or running into someone in Manila.” 

No doubt Ferrer’s own family story has eminently impacted her reverence for the Philippines’ rich linguistic diversity – over 150 languages. She holds that it is necessary to honour and treasure this linguistic wealth.

“I believe that to celebrate the many languages in the Philippines is also to celebrate our families, kin, and ancestors, and the cultures they knew or grew up in,” she states. 

For Ferrer, this is particularly true in the context of the Filipino diaspora. “I think it’s important to celebrate the diversity of languages, cultures, and experiences of people in our community to avoid homogenizing ourselves and being too rigid with our definitions of identity, especially when living in Canada or places outside of the Philippines,” she explains.

This imperative is the driving force behind the forthcoming cultural event dubbed in full “Halina! Kadtokamo! Sung na! - Celebrating Our Languages.” It will be held on September 21, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., at the Massy Arts (23 East Pender Street, Vancouver). 

Readers and the audience would be correct to discern the prelude to the full title of the gathering comes in three Philippine languages. Halina is short version for halikana, which is Tagalog translation for “let’s go” or “come”; kadtokamo is the translation in Hiligaynon or Ilonggo; and sung na is in Sinug, the language of the Tausug people in southwestern Philippines.

Organized by Ferrer and colleague Justinne Ramirez, this cultural gathering is presented by the National Pilipino Canadian Cultural Centre (NPC3) and promises to be no ordinary cultural show. The presentation will feature storytelling, poetry, and songs in different tongues. 

“We expect folks to share pieces in a wide range of languages, including Tagalog, Pangasinan, Cebuano, and Kapampangan,” Ferrer notes.

Ferrer and Ramirez originally started planning for the event in time for the observance of National Language Month in the Philippines, which falls in August. At once, the two noticed how the celebration in the Philippines mostly focuses on Filipino or Tagalog. 

While the two collaborators agree that it’s important to celebrate the country’s official national language, they also wanted to “move away from the sole focus on Filipino and, instead, celebrate the many languages that exist and are widely spoken in the Philippines.”

“We believe that is crucial to honour the diversity of languages that continue to be alive and spokendespite and in spite of our history of colonization, which attempted to erase our peoples and cultures,” Ferrer states.

“We reflect on and mourn the loss of many languages and their communicators, as Indigenous and other ethnic groups continue to be displaced, targeted for defending their lands, and neglected in the Philippines.He adds: “Staying connected to the languages of our families, kin, and ancestors is a big privilege, and is also a vital part of our varied identities as people from the Philippines.” 

In hosting “Halina! Kadtokamo! Sung na!,” Ferrer says organizers want to “create a space to speak, sing, and celebrate in our many different languages, and highlight the linguistic diversity of peoples from the Philippines.”

“We also want to introduce fellow Pinxy/a/o folks to languages they may not have heard before from the Philippines and move away from the singular focus on Filipino or Tagalog in defining our identities as Pinxy/a/o.”

The UBC-trained Ferrer currently works as a senior research specialist with the Vancouver-based Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada. Her ability to communicate in Tagalog or Filipino is crucial to her identity as a new Canadian.

Ferrer was born in the Philippines and was raised in different countries throughout her childhood as the family moved around the world because of her parents’ work.

“I arrived in Canada when I was 15 years old, in my junior year of high school. I started my high school years in the Philippines and then finished in Canada, and later went on to university and started my career.I have been in Canada for over 10 years now, and it is the longest amount of time that I have spent in one place. My experience of growing up in various places has really made me reflect on how speaking Tagalog and being Pinay are foundational to my sense of self,” Ferrer says.

For Ferrer, celebrating the diversity of languages in the Philippines is also an act of kinship with the Indigenous peoples of Canada. “As settlers on Indigenous lands, we are in solidarity with Indigenous communities in their journey towards decolonization. Language played a significant role in colonization , which is why we communicate in English.”

“As Pinxy/ay/oy, we share this journey with Indigenous folks here in reclaiming our languages and cultures, decolonizing, and straying away from white supremacy,” Ferrer declares.

[“Halina! Kadtokamo! Sung na! - Celebrating Our Languages” will be held on September 21, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., at the Massy Arts (23 East Pender Street, Vancouver.] 

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