Rolando Tinio’s Valediction sa Hillcrest7 March 2009 at 5:31 AM | Posted in News | 6 Comments
It’s not exactly a hot topic on the Web (with only 134 entries on Google), but Rolando Tinio‘s poem “Valediction sa Hillcrest” (1958) has been baffling students when given as a standard text in literature classes in the Philippines. The poem is written in Taglish, the code-switching dialect of Tagalog that uses many words, phrases, and even sentences from English. (Taglish should not be confused with Philippine English, which is the object of much study by linguists). Most students find the work opaque because of (a) the situation, and (b) the language.
The situation is easy to understand if you studied outside your home country and deluded yourself during those years of study that you are a native of the foreign country. When you are forced to return home by your student visa restrictions, you don’t quite know where your home is. Once pointed out to students, this situation (which students can relate to, since many of them live away from home to go to university even in their own country) becomes easier to appreciate.
The choice of language raises questions because hardly anyone wrote or writes poetry in Taglish. Considered subliterate by most university professors, Taglish (a pidgin, technically speaking) is used mostly in popular romance novels (which, btw, sells in the millions of copies in the Philippines) but not in Literature (with the capital L).
Tinio (posthumously declared a National Artist of the Philippines), with unimpeachable credentials earned in the USA and the UK, made Taglish respectable as a literary language in this one poem. (He later moved away from pidgin and into classic literary Tagalog.)
Taglish as a language neither here nor there is a perfect objective correlative or symbol of the identity crisis of the young man in the autobiographical poem. The shifts from English to Tagalog to something not quite English nor quite Tagalog mirror the conflict inside the young man as he easily recalls the happy recent moments spent in Iowa and tries valiantly to recall the happier earlier moments spent in his native Tondo (a district in the city of Manila in the Philippines). At the end of the poem, he sheds tears unabashedly, in a striking image of water falling from his eyes into snow melting on the ground as he walks towards the bus station.
For non-Tagalog readers, here is a taste of the linguistic beauty of the poem:
There’s a flurry, ang gentle-gentle.
Pagwhoosh-whoosh ng paa ko,
The snow melts right under.
Ang is a marker, like so; pag- is a marker for the onomatopeia; ng means of; paa means feet; ko means my.