A few years ago, my friend Jenn and I attended an opening gala for the Vancouver Asian Heritage Month Society (VAHMS). We were inundated with arias, appetizers and guest artists from Korea. Display tables were brimming with travel brochures and cheap flight information to Korea's best tourist destinations. We got the fermenting lowdown on kimchee, giggled at the frivolity of K-Pop and learned how to say hello and goodbye in Korean.
Jenn, a newly transplanted migrant worker to Canada just a few months into her nanny profession, wondered when the Philippines would be the feature country for VAHMS. I flipped to the back of the evening's program and scanned the list of business and individual donors.
"When Filipinos donate a billion dollars to the society," I tell her.
"Ay naku," Jenn replied. "We'll be dead by then and so will our future children."
Jump ahead to the present: Jenn completed her required 24 months of live-in nannying but is stuck in the domain of domestic work. The woman cleaning up after you in the food court? That's Jenn, and yes, I'm still a childless singleton in Canada's small-big city.
What has changed in the last six years though, is that Tagalog, the over-looked patois of the Philippines -- 40 per cent borrowed Spanish words, a peppering of Sanskrit, American English, and distant cousin to Malay and Bahasa Indonesia -- is rapidly colouring Canada's language landscape, and shows no sign of staying within the lines.
Before anyone breaks out the karaoke and fires up the pig-roast -- à la fiesta barrio style -- the recently unveiled numbers from Statistics Canada do not mean that the Philippines will be the country feature for VAHMS anytime soon.
Nor do the numbers mean that Pancit and the even more dubious dinuguan -- yes, the notorious pig's blood stew -- will replace Vancouver's beloved sushi rolls or knock off crispy chow mein from its top spot of precious Asian cuisine.
Giant wooden forks and spoons will not be erected in cathedrals, nor will uncouth barrel men statuettes displace shrines dedicated to the Virgin Mary.
The numbers, however, prove the following:
1. Canada is still grappling on how to create a sustainable national day-care program;
2. Canada's solution to this child-care problem is to recruit and tax foreign nannies through the Live-in Caregiver Program (LCP); and
3. The LCP targets the Philippines since Filipinos -- thanks to an American-style education system --are proficient in English, industrious, and, according to Aprodicio Laquian, UBC professor of Asian research, "are easy to get along with -- they laugh, they smile."
The 64 per cent jump of Tagalog speakers across the country between 2006 and 2011 is not only related to the aggressive fielding of Filipino nannies since the implementation of the LCP in 1992 --there are currently 35,000 women under the LCP; 96 per cent are of Filipino ancestry -- the stats also reflect Canada's intense recruitment of highly educated, highly skilled temporary foreign workers to staff the service sector industry.
Your grande, non-fat, no-whip white chocolate mocha and double-quarter pounder with cheese were made by foreign recruits fixated on smiling and dishing out excellent customer service.
In an alternate reality, the language census would be a celebration of Canada's multicultural dogma and racial diversity -- if only class, immigration and labour weren't part of the big picture.
LOWEST PAID WORKERS
Considering that Filipinos are among the lowest-paid workers across the board, and Internet platforms such as Urban Dictionary cite Filipino women as trophy wives and maids -- their male counterparts referred to as hard-working weed whackers -- it's hard to ignore the polarized class and race division associated with language.
Once, after telling me that his father secretly humped around with the help, I asked an ex-boyfriend from two millennia ago how good his Bahasa Indonesia was; his family lived in Bali for a few a years and I figured he knew a thing or two of the local language. "Terrible," he told me. "We didn't really talk to the maids."
The mere fact that the media has zeroed in on Tagalog as the fastest growing immigrant language, and the public's surprise of this so-called linguistic phenomenon, is telling of the social insignificance of Canada's third largest ethnic group. Sure, Filipinos are common props in fast-food restaurants, hotels and homes, but their lack of political and economic weight renders them invisible despite their large presence and 24/7 work cycles.
Tagalog is not, most linguists would agree, a prestige language of the business elite -- Mandarin and Cantonese share the bounty as the vernacular big-wigs for global economic trade and influence. Tagalog, for lack of a better expression, assumes the language of servitude, the parlance of the transnational working-class.
If you don't believe me, just ask the nanny at the playground.
ENGLISH WORDS WITH TAGALOG ORIGINS
Abaca: In the Philippines, this is a banana. Elsewhere, it's used to bag tea and make envelopes.
Boondocks: This means mountain, first and foremost. Not the comic series-turned animated sitcom.
Cogon: A type of grass used for roofing homes. But if you go to the Philippines you'll be lead to a large village in the province of Bohol.
Cooties: From kuto which means head lice. How it became an imaginary love disease amongst children, we'll never know. I blame the Americans.
Manila envelope: See abaca.
Ylang-Ylang: This means "rare wilderness." In North America, it's a gooey substance that makes your hair shiny.
Yo-yo: This "toy" was actually a weapon. Yes, that's right, a deadly assault weapon.
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