My dad recently emailed me and my siblings:
“Kids, when you were young, I asked you to memorize this poem. This was taught by my Lolo Leon Guinto to all of his grandchildren. If we recited it well, we got 5 centavos, enough to buy a Cosmos Sarsaparilla soda drink.
“All of you were able to memorize this then, but probably with some difficulty now. Please keep this and ask your kids (when they reach 6-8 years old) to memorize it. Maybe Jack first? I will give him Mango Royale Salad from Conti’s.
“If you memorize it now, I will give you 1 Hershey bar or a ChocNut package.”
Ako ay Pilipino,
Laki sa bayang Pilipinas,
Ang dugo ko’y dugong Pilipino,
Gayundin ang aking utak,
Kaya’t hindi ko pababayaan,
Ang aking Inang Bayan,
Dugo ko’y iaalay,
Kung siyang kailangan.
Of course, I got my Hershey bar; I still know the poem by heart, long-term memory being stickier and all. And, because, chocolate.
I don’t know who wrote the poem. It has nothing to do with the pop song “Ako ay Pilipino” written by George Canseco and sung by Kuh Ledesma. It’s just something I grew up always knowing, and have filed away as stock knowledge.
Leon Guinto Sr. was the wartime mayor of Manila, and later, governor of Quezon. Since then, his name is more known as a street in Manila. My siblings and I know him as the one who helped send our dad to school and called him his “Star Boy.”
Pre-internet, reciting poems for our elders was a thing, and it was just something we all did for a treat. Post-internet, is poetry (in Filipino at that) still relevant?
I relayed his lolo’s message to my 8-year-old son Jack, and he was eager to get his salad reward (whatever works, yo). Rebranding his grandfather’s request as “challenge” made it more interesting for him, while I saw it as a refresher course in formal
Filipino as we psyched ourselves up to back-to-school mode.
As with most Pinoy kids these days, Filipino isn’t the language he speaks most often, but we are being more intentional in using it conversationally. We put up our Philippine flag every June in preparation for Independence Day, so we have more reasons to talk about our country, and why it’s important to love it, warts and all.
It is not always an easy task, with all the complaints and inefficiencies we are quick to see and experience. But having my own children to talk to most of the time makes me think twice about badmouthing “the usual” national issues, as I am made painfully aware that my days of being sarcastic on autopilot are over.
Greener where it is watered
As in marriage, what we focus on increases, and the grass is always greener where it is watered, so we have to make an effort to care about our country in all love languages possible.
When we say we love our country, how do we show it? By being a good ambassador when meeting foreigners or balikbayans (words of affirmation), by taking the time to explore and appreciate its beauty for ourselves (quality time), by supporting legitimate causes that protect the endangered and uplift the lives of the less fortunate (gifts), by staying here and making a difference (physical touch), and by taking care of our environment and preserving our natural resources (acts of service).
Having had the opportunities to travel abroad has made us appreciate not just other countries’ beauty and efficiency, but also our own.
When visiting local tourist spots, we try to learn something about the place’s culture and show respect for their ways. When we prepare our food or buy things at the store, I explain why we choose to eat and purchase mindfully and why we make the extra effort to learn about how things are made and where they are from before we buy them. It is my hope that weaving these habits and choices into our daily lives will fortify this sense of love for our country in a more practical way.
My dad didn’t just tell us stories about his grandfather one time; storytelling becomes a tradition made stickier by passing it on to the next generation on a regular basis. It’s how memories stay alive. It’s how actionable nationalism (vs blind, shallow Pinoy pride) is embedded and stays relevant—simply, consistently. —CONTRIBUTED