You know you can begin to write when you’ve noticed the difference between your handle of words while talking with neighbors idling in front of your house and when you’re alone walking in the middle of the field, holding a pen on your right and a notebook on your left, waiting for the owl’s flight on the first night after they shot its mate.
My everyday Pangasinan is strong. But I couldn’t say the same when I write. I could say so because I couldn’t get far reading Pangasinan without a dictionary.
I am sitting here, holding Melchor Orpilla’s Lainëng ed Casborran (Music from Casborran), while rubbing my cat’s belly with my foot. I am only on the third poem by the writer hailing from Alaminos, the town that was once called Casborran.
I read its title:
“Mansësgaw a Liknaan”
“Liknaan” is “feeling,” “pakiramdam.” But what is “mansësgaw”? I’ve never heard of it from Papa or Mama, even from my grandmothers or grandfathers.
I couldn’t say what it means.
But when I utter it repeatedly…
…it is as if I feel what it means. It is as if the words that would make me understand are deep within me—a child, born in 1992 in Dagupan, son of both Pangasinenses, grew up speaking Pangasinan at home while reading books like The Boxcar Children, T_he Cat in the Hat_, and The Grimm’s Fairytales unpacked from balikbayan boxes sent by my three aunts—one in New York, two in Michigan, all nurses.
That’s like love being simmering under your chest. Slowly, the fire that kindled from years of long-suffering grows. Smoke fills your chest. You must open the locked doors of your mouth. Feelings. Words. Bursting.
|Say anak no napërëng la’y lamang|
Ibaing to’y ateng ya nanlapuan
Laot no sikara’y dokan ugman
Onung’d inaral ton panúkatan
Itapat ton pëtëg ya ilingwan
|When ingratitude blindfolds a child|
He shames the parent he came from
More so when they’re poor and old
According to the measure he learned
He compares them to forget
I closed Melchor’s book and laid my eyes on a bird that just landed on the tree outside my window. If I’m not mistaken, this is the Luzon hornbill, one of the many different birds that would just appear out of nowhere in your window here in Los Baños. This is smaller than other hornbills and lives in forests below mountains.
I remember the small dam in Lobong that I frequented with bike when I was still in San Jacinto. In the afternoon, when the people watching the fish pens on the edges of the dam have gone home, I would go around the waters looking for a good grassy place to sit on. Once seated, I would watch the dancing of insects that floated over the greenish water. Later, when it starts to get darker and everything is quiet, birds—the indigo-banded kingfisher, the cinnamon bittern, and the lowly but loud sikling—appear.
I stood up. I took my red backpack and wore it over my shoulders. I went downstairs.
I need to walk.
In the past, when I studied in Baguio, it wasn’t rare that I would hear someone speak in Pangasinan. Occasionally, I would hear buyers of plastic, bottles, paper, and tin speak in the language while passing by my apartment at Ambiong,. Their tone is that of someone who has nothing to be ashamed of. Natural. Grounded. Unpretentious. Unconcerned with what others would say. Roots firmly buried under rice fields even when they walk over mountains every day.
It was around one year here in Los Baños when I noticed that my Pangasinan was wearing out. When I chat my mom on Messenger, I would be looking for Pangasinan words to say. You can just imagine how happy I was when, one day, I heard one of the four young Mormon men on the other unit speaking in Pangasinan loudly. The young man was sitting on a plastic chair on the opened door while holding his phone over his ear. He was telling his mom how he preached a crabby old man who was fond of debates.
“He said we can’t add books on the Bible, so our book didn’t come from God,” I heard him say.
About a few days after that, I chanced upon all of them getting out of their apartment. I greeted all of them and introduced myself. They also introduced themselves, but they didn’t use their first names. “I’m Elder McKay,” said one of the two white missionaries. I learned that one of Filipinos was from Cagayan, while the two whites were from Utah. I greeted the Pangasinense last, in our language, of course.
“I heard you talking in Pangasinan a few days ago. What is your name? From where are you?” I asked him.
“I’m Elder Quinto. I’m from Bayambang,” he replied.
“Quinto? My grandma was a Quinto when she was unmarried. She hailed from Mangaldan. Perhaps your father is from Mangaldan too. Could you ask?” I said.
I seldom saw Elder Quinto after that. The last time I saw him was one morning when he knocked on our unit together with Elder McKay. I opened the door and accepted the shanghai he gave, which he said he cooked himself. We talked in Pangasinan once more. He asked me whether I was bothered by their noise and if I was familiar with their missionary work.
“No, I’m not bothered by your noise, and yes, I know what you missionaries do,” I responded. He asked me if we could have a chat and when. After a short pause, I told him perhaps we can have a chat, but I wasn’t sure when.
I didn’t see Elder Quinto after that. Since last week, it was often quiet at the other unit. There were new missionaries, but Elder Quinto was gone. I never got to know whether his father was from Mangaldan.
Upon arriving at Jose M. Capinpin, a young couple stood up and started walking in front of me. I heard the boy say that he puts things where he sees them immediately. The girl said we still lose them anyway.
In July, kalachuchi flowers fall with the rain. When water puts them on the ground, will they ever be found?
On Pili Drive, pili nuts, both green and dark violet, fall too. While walking under a drizzle, I saw an old man wrapped in a long raincoat cross toward the island between cars entering and leaving the campus. There, pili trees abound. He had a stick on his right hand and a plastic bag on his left. Looking on the ground, he would stop momentarily to pick up a pili or two.
I guess things are found when they are badly needed, when stomachs are hungry, and nights are cold. Those with no use stay on the ground longer. They start to turn brown right after glowing in the dark.
Occasionally, one of them would drop and while the brown has not yet consumed it, a lady with an umbrella would notice it, pick it up, and bring it below her nose. This will be the first and the last time we will ever understand existence.
Santiago Villafania posted something new on Facebook. He seemed to be looking for a book about Pangasinan or written in Pangasinan. He said he found a small Filipiniana section at the Mangaldan Municipal Library but there was no Pangasiniana section. If no one assisted him, he said he would’ve had a hard time looking for what he needed.
Pangasiniana? I know what Filipiniana is. Filipinas, the old Spanish name for the Philippines, and aniana, which means repositories of information. I know what Filipiniana means. But, Pangasiniana? What is it?
Someone commented on Santiago’s post. She said in other municipal libraries, Filipiniana sections have all but disappeared. She said they’ve become Filipiniani (the joke: in Pangasinan, aniani means “ghost”).
For a long time, I couldn’t understand why she, who seemed to be an esteemed Pangasinense, chose to make that joke over Filipiniana when it seems so obvious that the same joke was even more appropriate on Pangasiniana’s ghostly disappearance.
But now I understand.
That which was never there in the first place could never be lost.
Early the other day, I heard someone calling on our gate. I think it was only a few minutes before 9. He was shouting my name while hitting the gate with a coin. I went out. Ninja van. He asked my name while he took a photo of me when I was approaching him. Once I told him my name, he gave me my items. I pressed my hand on the bag. This is it.
I went upstairs, sat, and started tearing the packaging. Amazon. It came from Amazon. This is definitely it.
The first that came out was Santiago Villafania’s Ghazalia: Maralus ya Ayat (Ghazalia: Pure Attraction). Next came Orpilla’s Lainëng ed Casborran and Alma Ariola-Nepascua’s Saray Anlong neng Kookabura (The Poems of Kookabura). I had a hard time taking out the last book because of its size: Malagilion, a collection of sonnets and villanelles by Villafania.
This. This is Pangasiniana.
Go around all National Bookstores in the entire Philippines, I bet you will never find a book written in Pangasinan. You might find Emannuel Sison’s Tales from the Land of Salt or the Pangasinan history trilogy of Rosario Mendoza Cortes. But you won’t find any book written in Pangasinan. If you want to buy your own Pangasinan book, go to Amazon. There, under “Books,” just type “Pangasinan.” This will yield six webpages of results.
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On the first webpage, after a book on arnis and a travel guide, you’ll find Villafania’s Malagilion (USD 14 paperback) and Ghazalia (USD 5 paperback). Skip the Pangasinan bible, a Spanish–Pangasinan dictionary, and Pellicer’s Arte de Lengua Pangasinan and you’ll find Bonsaic Verses (USD 15 paperback) by Villafania once more. Next would be Erwin Fernandez’s children books: Si Liwawa, Say Pusan Ag to La Labay so Ondangol (Liwawa, the Cat Who Does Not Want to Bark) and Say Pasirayew ya Malapati (The Haughty Dove). You can’t buy these printed, though. Just digital: USD 2.99 each.
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On the second webpage, you’ll finally see books by other contemporary poets— Orpilla’s Lainëng ed Casborran (USD 7.50 paperback) and Ariola-Nepascua’s Saray Anlong neng Kookabura (USD 5 paperback).
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On the third webpage are two more books of poetry from Villafania: As I Tango (USD 5.14 paperback) and Pinabli & Other Poems (USD 10 paperback).
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On the fourth webpage, the New English-Pangasinan Dictionary by Julio Silverio appears (out of print) before Carlos Bulosan’s America is in the Heart, Ben Davies’ Pangasinan: A Journey into the Philippines (out of print), and Sison’s More Tales from the Land of Salt, all written in English. But you would also find an anthology of contemporary Pangasinan writing collected by various writers called Tagano ed Kelang (Food During Drought). However, this book is already out of print.
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On the fifth webpage, there’s Priscelina Legasto’s Sarswelan Pangasinan, which was also published by the Ateneo de Manila University Press, and Marot Nelmida-Flores’ The Cattle Caravans of Ancient Caboloan. But both can no longer be bought. Not one copy is available.
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On the sixth webpage, you would still see a few postings of Lorenzo Fernandez’s Diccionario Pangasinan-Español and catechisms in Pangasinan, but everything is out of print.
After six clicks on your computer screen, you would already see all Pangasinan books you could buy in the world. Even if you manage to buy all of them and put them over a child’s stool, the stool will hold.
Six. It is as if, Pangasinense writers worked for six days. And on the seventh day, they decided to rest.
When I was a child, I had a simple dream. I dreamt of seeing you reach down your pocket and be surprised to see a five hundred bill. Smiling, you would approach me and give it. I won’t use it to buy toys. I won’t use it to buy food. I would use it to buy a book.
Now that I’m older, just any book would no longer do. My only dream is for July to come bringing rains that would get stronger and wouldn’t. Yielding on the cold, I would wrap my feet with a warm blanket. I dream that when I stretch my arm, I would immediately find beside me a book written on the very first language that watered my soul, fed my fragile child with love, cheered me as I was in the middle of the field surrounded by childhood friends whom I no longer know where they are today.
This dream has already come true.
It has come true because I bought my own copies of books from Kuya Mel, Kuya Tiago, and Ate Alma. Because someone gave me a gift card that deducted Php 1,412.9 from the Php 1,780.82 I should’ve paid to Amazon. I gave the money to a publisher who didn’t understand a single word it printed. And when you ask Kuya Mel, Kuya Tiago, and Ate Alma, they would look you in the eye and in a whisper tell you the truth. This was also their dream. And it has also happened already.
They bought their own copy of their books.
Yes. From Amazon.
We went to the market this morning where my Tita Sabel, the balikbayan, turo (pointed) the things she likes to buy. As she walked between piles of pisipising (vegetables) and karkarne and fish, I struggled to communicate with her in English, perspiring more with what to say next than with the heat trapped inside the market’s yero roof with no kisame. As I carried the supsupot and bayong, my aunt continued her litany of things she abhors in Pinas—the dugyot_, the traffic,_ the maruming tubig, and the dilawans_. As I listened to her California accent, I felt my Tagalog and Pangasinan slowly slipping away._
When we got up and rode the jeep, I said to the passenger next to me, _“_Pwede po bang pa-dere (Can you please move) a little bit?” and when I asked the passenger next to her _to pass our fare, I said, “_Paki-derew nga po (Can you please pass)to the driver. Salamat.” When the driver saw the one-hundred-peso bill, he asked, “Pigara ya?” (“How much is this?”) with which I answered, “Duwara lang po.” (“Just for two.”)
While waiting for my sukli_, I looked down in the_ bayong and realized that we forgot to buy something. I looked to my aunt and said, “Oh no tita, we forgot to buy the… what do you call that… the kuwan… the… agamang (shrimp paste)?”
In our province, a pestilence consumes the minds of many. It is highly contagious especially among the young. But even old women selling vegetables at the market get it too. This sickness has four main symptoms:
1. You forget your mother tongue. 2. Even if someone speaks to you in Pangasinan, you answer them in Tagalog. 3. Even if you speak in Pangasinan at home, arriving at school or work, even if everyone else speaks the language, you all speak in Tagalog. 4. You want all your children to grow up speakin English as their first language.
Three things could cure this disease: Pangasinan humor, song, and poetry.
Both were in front. I was alone at the back. We were together the entire day. After looking at the land that Tito Bob bought, we had lunch at Michelle’s, the famous kambingan at Sta. Barbara. Papa was driving us now to Mangaldan where we would fetch Mama and my sister before we do some groceries. My uncle loves to tell stories and now he is talking about rarely used Pangasinan words.
“Son, do you know beklat?” he asked.
“No,” I said.
“That’s python,” he said.
He asked several times. During the almost half an hour trip, I learned that kusal is a type of bamboo only used as firewood, gulgulait are people looking for gold, poltaki is either a stout person or a lesbian, and man-imey refers to anything that leaks because it has a hole in it.
I try to write but I don’t have a copy of a thesaurus or even just a dictionary in Pangasinan. No copies of Silverio’s dictionary are available for purchase, and so we’re making do with the digital copy of Benton’s Pangasinan–English Dictionary that is free to download at JSTOR. Pangasinan writers who know Spanish also look at Fernandez’s dictionary, which is also in PDF. I use it occasionally with the assistance of Google Translate.
I know that there is at least one or a few initiatives to create a new Pangasinan dictionary. But I could no longer wait for these to be completed. The candle that keeps the flame of the Pangasinan writer alive burns faster than the attempt to compile all these words that are slowly vanishing. We can’t delay when our mind and heart is anxious. When there is no dictionary, we return to the heart. The law of the heart is free from any rules of grammar or orthography.
In 2019, a few months before the pandemic, I joined a seminar-workshop on translation. On the last day, the organizers asked that each of us who joined read a translation we did. Before I shared, we were all quietly listening as the other participants read translations that came from the assignments we did during the workshop. Meanwhile, I translated Malinak lay Labi (The Night is Quiet) from Pangasinan to Tagalog. I tried to keep the original piece’s musicality. When it was my time to share, I sang the original song first and then my translation. The crowd smiled. Silence was shattered. After me, a few more participants sang their own translations of songs from their own provinces.
I couldn’t find what I’m looking for because what I’m looking for isn’t here yet. A hundred years before, another walker stood on this same piece of land I’m standing on right now. And a hundred years from now, this path shall be walked by another walker.
These thoughts, these dreams, shall be gathered by them all. The answer lies not in heaven. It is here on earth.
Burning. Burning. Burning.
A poem is burning and nothing can stop it.
|Sasaniba’y alar so dayat|
manlapud yuyurongan ko
katon ondengel ak labat la
na danum ya ombabasig
insan naandi la
|The fence blocks my view|
of the sea from where I’m sitting
so I just listen instead
to the sound
of water hitting
until it is gone
When I reached IPB road, I sat beside the road.
Here, every night before seven, children, small and big, with or without slippers, come together at the edges of the railroad, laughing and teasing each other. While mothers cook supper and fathers stretch their legs, they would hug each other smiling, faithfully looking far west. Their eyes follow the shining lights of the growling train until it passes in front of them, which, at that exact time, makes them shiver in delight, in eternal delight.