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Mother Tongue

For the first five years of my life, I woke up to the loud shriek of the roosters forcing my eyes open. Every morning, my grandma, who I call Nanang, wakes me before the sun peaks on the horizon; fried tilapia and bagoong grace my taste buds. After that, I put on my uniform and head to school. I walk past neighbors that greet me with a tang in the way they say my name, "Ashling."

In November of 2008, the day started differently. The innocent mind of a five years old me believed this trip would be brief. My neighbors greeted me, "Ashling naimbag a bigatmo." Good morning Ashling. The comforting intonation of our mother tongue gives my name a charm. Today felt the same, but there seemed to be a lot of dust in people's eyes as I bid them farewell. That day, I was finally moving to Hawai’i. To my ears, the way we spoke to each other was natural. I always thought there was nothing wrong with the way we spoke. Even if I did live in a small fishing town in the Philippines, I still had to take English as a subject. My teacher always said I did a good job. With the encouragement I got from her, I felt confident in my speaking English.

It was March 2009, I walked into my Kindergarten class with the best smile I could muster. I didn’t buy the uniform yet, so I was already the odd one out -- I sported a very fashionable striped shirt -- and walked to the front of the room. “Hello, everyone. My name is Ashley Valois, and I just came from the Philippines.” My voice came out in squeaks so quiet only mice could envy it. The accent used to lull me to sleep threw me into the deep end, and the loud snickers coming from my classmates drowned me.

From that day on, I grew very quiet. I hesitated to raise my hand in class. I was very afraid that I would stumble on my words and that my strong Filipino accent would shine through. I never raised my hand in class. The kid that would get picked on because they didn't raise their hand? Yes, that was me. It got to the point where I can still remember that during every Parent-Teacher Conference, my teachers would always give the same smile that was shrouded in pity. “Ashley is a smart student, but she seems to have trouble with speaking up during class.” My parents dutifully nodded and my mom would respond, “Yes, we will talk to her.” I knew she also was fearful of English.

I tried my very best to grow out of that shell and I can honestly say that I’ve succeeded in getting over that obstacle. There are lingering feelings of regret and resentment that I feel for being ashamed of my mother tongue. After all, it was the language that greeted me first and raised me. Ilokano will always be the comfort that I look for. Regardless, I still stumble on my words and struggle to say Neosporin, and while it is an ointment for any bumps and bruises, Ilokano will always comfort me.


Ashley Valois



Clark University


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