A License-less Monolingual

John Villanueva - Ecuador

July 10, 2012

Two things: I’m not bilingual and I can’t drive.

With full Filipino blood running through me, many find it surprising that I can’t speak my ethnic language of Tagalog, or at the very least understand it. It surprises me too, honestly, and I am full of pent up discontent when Filipino TV shows, potential friends, and daily conversations go misunderstood. Every day a vast world of culture evades my curiosity when the words of those seven thousand islands slip cunningly past me, over my head, through one ear and out the other, as my fluent parents, relatives, cousins, and even friends seem to ignore my monolingual self.

My parents didn’t teach me Tagalog—I assume—to allow my English to excel, westernizing me to the point where communicating with my own dad has been a difficulty within my life. Thus, car rides were the only place I could connect with my dad one-on-one during busy school weeks. Though it’s terribly inconvenient, I embraced my licenselessness. During these peaceful car rides, my dad and I talked. And though English isn’t his forte, he still recounted his struggles as a child in the Philippines when he suffered abuse from his siblings, ate stray dogs for food, endured the pains of injury without a proper doctor, and still mustered the energy to attend school. He also told me of the bravery of his own father, whose absence as he served in the army attributed to his difficult home. I learned that my grandfather narrowly dodged Japanese bullets from a ship disguised as an island, and avoided a deadly “march” of starvation that the Japanese imposed on the Filipino soldiers by disguising as a civilian. After all of this, I realize why proficiency in English is incredibly important.

To excel in English would mean to excel in America, a dream made possible for me by the struggles of my father and the visas that my grandfather’s armed service earned. It scares me to think that the comfortable life I live now almost never happened: my grandfather could have been shot, or my dad could have starved. And for that reason, I feel grateful—lucky, in fact—for all that I have, and I don’t want that luck to go to waste. So I joined Global Citizen Year to give back to the world for all that it’s given me.

During my Global Citizen Year in Ecuador, I want to learn a new language, overcome my social fears, make others happy, and meet new people who will drive me through the stories of their lives. I want to ride shotgun through the maze this world is, hitching a ride with everyone I meet, with only our stories to guide us. I’m unsure where these rides will take me; the road may even be bumpy. But by the end, I’ll use everything I’ve learned from Global Citizen Year to take the driver’s seat, and help guide myself and others through our metropolis of lives.

John Villanueva