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Speaking in tongues

I am a rich ethnic blend of Chamorro and Filipino with a hint of Irish. I know—that sounds like the coffee special of the day. Sometimes I joke that I’m a boonie dog. A mutt. Exotic as that may sound, I’ve always harbored regret that I was never taught how to speak my native tongues. Most Chamorros my age don’t speak a lick of the language either, but many Filipinos my age grew up speaking their dialects and know them as fluently as they know english. I envy them. The fact that my parents were of different descents and didn’t speak each other’s language (other than the language of love, haha) is probably the reason why english was the only language spoken in my home.
Over the years, I’ve memorized a collection of chamorro and filipino vocabulary that I picked up through people, books, television and the internet. And although I am still nowhere near being fluent in any of my tongues, I’d like to believe that I know enough to at least get the gist of what someone is saying during those rare occurences when someone speaks to me in anything other than english.
Once I went to the movies with my friend Jeff. During the movie the power went out and everyone in the audience was instructed to keep their ticket stub for either a refund or a replacement ticket. When Jeff and I went back to the theater the following weekend to be readmitted using our stubs from the last time, we were turned away by the woman who was manning the door. After some heated insistence, the woman finally understood what was going on and let us in. Still within earshot, I heard her mutter something under her breath in tagalog (a filipino dialect) that basically translated to, “Stupid white guy.”
I froze. Maybe she didn’t realize I was part Filipino (a lot of people have a difficult time discerning what I am), or maybe she didn’t think we could hear her, or maybe she had just lost her mind. Whatever the reason, there was no excuse for her rudeness. I turned around, went right up to her and said, “I heard what you said. You should be ashamed of yourself and you’d better apologize to my friend or I’ll have your manager apologize for you.” Jeff, having no clue as to what set me off, stood off to the side. The woman mumbled an embarrassed apology and we walked away.
That happened a long time ago, but I was reminded of it today when a friend of mine told me he’d just been to the deli to pick up lunch. The guy behind the counter made a rude comment in tagalog when my friend asked for his order specially wrapped. My full-blooded Filipino friend understood every word of the insult. The only difference is my friend didn’t say anything. He just played dumb and pretended he didn’t understand. I wouldn’t have been so kind.

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