Saturday, June 24, 2006


This picture was taken one night after having dinner with balikbayan friends over at Aristocrat Restaurant at Roxas Boulevard.

I took it with my phonecam and while tweaking the picture (with Picasa, Google’s free image editor) the other night, a particular memory from my teenage years while living in New York City suddenly dawned on me.

With nothing better to do one summer, my friend Murphy suggested that I sign up for a class at Herbert Bergoff Studios down in Manhattan’s West Village. Murphy is about six years my senior and someone other friends my age and I would run to if we had any question pertaining to dating, clubs, trendy stuff and whatnot. In short, he was our designated big brother.

Herbert Bergoff Studio, otherwise known as HB Studio, is a legendary school for aspiring stage actors. Murphy highlighted it as a cool place to meet other young people who came from various parts of America and Canada to attend the school's summer workshops. I had no desire to learn the craft of acting, but the speech classes interested me so, I signed up.

Towards the end of that summer, my instructor gave me a pat on the back for doing well and predicted by the final week of the class that any trace of foreign accent in my speech would be completely erased. Hence, I could be mistaken as American born altogether. Although I finished the workshop in its entirety during that summer, I chose to continue speaking with my usual Filipino accent.

In New York’s highly competitive business arena, there are those who may find even a slight trace of a foreign accent a disadvantage, unless of course, you’re Henry Kissinger or Arnold the governor. I did, however, compensate by constantly developing my vocabulary and being mindful of proper grammar. Even New York's men in blue (NYPD) would wave off minor traffic offenses when you communicate with them with a slightly above average choice of words (but without being disconcerting, of course).

And as I got older, although I process and articulate my thoughts quicker and more coherently in English than in Tagalog, the cadence of my speech still denotes my being a Filipino. I prefer it that way. Somehow I consider my speech a significant aspect of my identity in which I had no intention of letting go as I had regrettably once done with my name.


This entry was inspired by myepinoy’s recent and evocative blog post, which features a picture of a button that says, “I am a Filipino."

Highly Recommended Reading:

Culture in the Nationalist Struggle: A Sense of National Identity
By Manuel L. Quezon, Jr.

Labels: ,

posted by Señor Enrique at 8:35 AM


Anonymous melai said...

Wow!! So you were once an aspiring actor?
But bingskee wish you could be a very nice writer instead :)
She likes your style of writing.
I saw that when i peek on her del.ic.ous links.

June 24, 2006 4:05 PM  

Blogger NeiLDC said...

Wow,what a great artist my friend. Yeah we are really proud of who we are and where we from despite the fact that we have gain the citizenship of the other country yet we are still proud. Stay tune for my post because THE FILIPINIANA exhibit was feature here in Madrid and ill post for it. another filipino pride!

June 24, 2006 7:41 PM  

Anonymous Major Tom said...

I always knew that you are very artistically inclined.

I had thought of being an actor before--on stage that is--and I've auditoned a few times in some plays back at my college but shyness seems always to overcome me. But once I wrote an original play for a school requirement and I've got some good pat in the back.

About the accent, I've always thought that the Fiipino accent, when they are speaking in English, is one of the most commendable as an expert study had once concluded. It is clear and easily comprehended. The study even further stated that is is even better than an American speaking the English word coz sometimes--or many times it seems---you can't decipher what that American guy was saying all along.

June 25, 2006 12:59 AM  

Blogger Senor Enrique said...

No, MELAI...I was never an aspiring actor. The extent of my acting career dealt with pitiful attempts to fake illness whenever uninspired to go to work :) And very much like Major Tom, I'd be too embarrassed if not outright scared out of my wits at the thought alone of having to get up on some stage to act. I'd probably be too nervous and only fumble my lines. But that was rather kind of Bing. Actually, I'm very much impressed by her writings as well, especially by her poetry, which I'm embarrassed to admit, know nothing about.

You're right, MAJOR TOM ... friends and co-workers often praised how well Filipinos enunciate the English words. I, too, still have a hard time understanding some American-born folks speak, especially those from the deep south. They tend to either slur or eat their words altogether. BTW, I'm indebted to my two best friends in NYC who not only encouraged me to get into sports (tennis, skiing, long distance bicycling and etc.) but in things cultural and artistic as well, which the city has an abundance of.

Can't wait to see your post on The Filipiana exhibit, NEIL. Incidentally, my nephew was pleasantly surprised to have met more Filipinos in Madrid and Barcelona than in his hometown in New Jersey. He spent his senior year in college in Madrid as an international business major in Georgetown. He went there barely speaking Spanish and came back with a rather impressive command of it. He has been vacationing in Spain quite regularly since then.

June 25, 2006 7:30 AM  

Blogger BW said...

Nice to know that you dabbled into arts pal. Hope you find some success in get into stage one day.

With regard to accent, it is true that accent can make or break your success, depending on what type of work you do. I've always tried to get rid of my Pinoy accent not because I abhor my being Pinoy, but for the sake of blending and integrating myself with society and speaking in the same manner as they do. I have scored quite a few points on this matter and when I see people come in to my office not expecting to see a Pinoy ( i could see a bit of shock, there's still quite a few WASPS left in this world you see) I kind of chuckle deep inside of me. It's a coincidence that my parents named me with a French sounding name and with my spanish sounding last name, they're a little bit confused as to my ethnic origin until they see me personally. Many suspect that I am latino because of my last name.

People in this part of the world are quite discriminatory when it comes to accents sad to say, unless you're Ivana Trump who's being backed up by The Donald. They way you speak matters a lot, perhaps even more than what your education has to offer. This is an absolute counterpoint to the proverbial Pinoy saying " magaling lang yan magsalit subalit wala gaanong alam". Fact is, you can't peddle your PH D around when you can't speak like you know it.

June 25, 2006 9:19 PM  

Anonymous myepinoy said...

First, let me thank you for putting my name here. I am flattered and honored. I never expect that a simple picture of a button would transport you back down memory lane. You really are a born writer.

Anyway, this post reminded me about the communicator and the talker. The communicator speaks to communicate while the talker talks without communicating. What is important therefore is you know how to communicate and not just talk.

Like you, I would stick to the Filipino accent. That represents me, a Filipino. If Britons, Americans and the Australian have theirs, why can’t I.

Lastly, (without bragging) if my Filipino accent is a problem to the Americans and the Swiss whom I deal with every trading day, then I should have lost millions of dollars by now. (Or probably they decided to understand me for business sake, hahaha)

Again, thank you so much.

June 26, 2006 2:05 AM  

Blogger Senor Enrique said...

Every now and then I get a chance to watch "That '70s Show" on cable, which I enjoy mainly because it reminds me of myself and a group of friends during that era. I, of course, sort of identify with Fez, because of his foreign origin and accent, as well as being in the midst of a group of American born kids. But there was a TV show that was actually broadcast during the '70s, "Welcome Back, Kotter," in which one of the sweathogs was named Juan Epstein.

Now, if some people had mistaken you as a Latino because of your name, BW, in my case, some assumed I was a Spanish Jew much like Juan Epstein because of my Spanish first name and a biblical last name. But it worked to my advantage, because the Jewish business community is extremely influential in NYC (the WASPS was already losing their stronghold, except in some tony suburbs where you might intend to buy a piece of real estate).

And since my two bestfriends -- one whose mother was a holocaust survivor in Poland and the other whose father was a Hungarian Jew who was able to leave for America just before the Nazi occupation -- I was automatically assumed a Jew myself whose ancestors were Sephardic Jews who left Spain to start a new life in the Philippines.

I also got a chance to work in the financial arena, Myepinoy, but not as a trader, though. It was an environment wherein the major players do not pay attention to one's accent, but rather on his business acumen; and not for his weekly paycheck, but rather on his annual bonus which could amount to several million dollars. One woman I know received $17 million. And that was just for that year alone. Obscene, huh? :)

But there are indeed certain areas of employment in which the manner one speaks (as BW underscored) and what and how you say it (as Myepinoy argued) could be significant factors in one's career.

June 26, 2006 7:33 AM  

Anonymous niceheart said...

I, for one, can't get rid of my accent, even if I want to.

I can relate to what BW said (we're both here in Canada) that people here can be quite discriminatory when they hear my accent on the phone. There are those that will decide right away that they can't understand me, instead of trying to listen. I have learned to talk slowly and that way they understand me better.

June 26, 2006 1:32 PM  

Blogger BW said...

Thanks Niceheart. It is only those who live here who understand what we are trying to say. Even Asians discriminate fellow Asians. The term FOB ( Fresh Off the Boat)is used by accent-less Asians to discriminate against fellow Asians with accent. Heck, girls wouldn't date a guy who's FOB.

I have no compulsion to speak with Pinoy accent on purpose just because I am Pinoy by heritage. I speak Tagalog to my wife and friends. I have become Canadian citizen, I live and work here, I pay taxes, I get my free health care, and my Filipino-ness had nothing to do why I got my job.
I see no reason why I would "showcase" my Pinoy accent here - to achieve what?

June 26, 2006 3:03 PM  

Blogger BW said...

Again, no offence to you Senor Enrique, and I am not tyring to negate your optinion -just a point of discussion . The issue is accent doesn't really make or break one's existence in this part of the world. As we live day to day, we get entangled into the flow of things here that we find ourselves integrated with the system - I'm sure you find that pressure too.

Many of us would like to be born as Filipinos again if we were to be reincarnated. I revel and delight in my being Filipino but there are times in the affairs of my pursuits and endeavors where I just want to be myself without feeling the pressure of justifying my uniqueness to anyone. This is a good thread by the way as we share our honest opinions about living abroad.

June 26, 2006 7:33 PM  

Anonymous bing said...

that is very discriminatory to alienate a foreigner because of the accent. but what Filipinos (and other nationalities maybe) experience with regards to the accent is also experienced by the Americans here. mind you, some find it funny to hear an American speak, and that is because of the accent. only that we Filipinos dont discriminate foreigners (especially the Americans), some do even go the point of almost venerating them.

June 26, 2006 11:36 PM  

Blogger Senor Enrique said...

No offense taken, BW. Actually, I do appreciate everyone's candor. That way, I learn from everyone's experiences.

New York has its own share of bigotry and xenophobia and the
kind of discrimination Niceheart mentioned can be a universal phenomenon as well.

Actually, here in Pinas alone, those who speak with provincial accents are seen in less light, so to speak, than their Metro Manila-born counterparts. But the same goes in France and England.

It is otherwise known as the "pecking order syndrome" -- in which some people feel better about themselves by knocking down others they deem inferior.

My blog entry, as a whole, reflects my intense desire to project my own identity. Since the youngest in a big family, I was always someone's brother, son, cousin and etc. It was only in NYC that I had the chance to present my unique individual self -- an identity that truly reflects my persona -- and to do so, I had to highlight certain unique traits and characters about myself and one of those happens to be my being a Filipino.

In every job I had in NYC, if I couldn't help increase the revenues of the company that hired me, as well as help them save some money while at it, I'd be out of the door faster than I could say Pinoy ako! That was basically the stark reality of the jobs I had in New York City.

As a trade-off, I could very well become whomever I wanted to be. BTW, not once was I ever fired from a job. And in one of the jobs I had, at a leading publishing company, my being a Filipino helped me land the job.

I, for one, appreciate knowing about some of my blogmate's experiences and in my site, I welcome everyone's opinion even though it may not reflect mine. That's the whole beauty of getting together and sharing.

June 27, 2006 12:08 AM  

Blogger Senor Enrique said...

Unfortunately, Bing, discrimination is sometimes directed not only against foreigners, but against one's own kind as BW had pointed out among the Asian community in Canada -- the Canadian born group against those fresh off the boat.

In America, violent deaths experienced by black Americans were most often perpetrated by their fellow black Americans.

Sad but true :(

June 27, 2006 12:29 AM  

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Life in Manila as observed by a former New Yorker who with a laptop and camera has reinvented himself as a storyteller. Winner of the PHILIPPINE BLOG AWARDS: Best Photo Blog in 2007 and three Best Single Post awards in 2008.


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