The day I cried, “Foul!”
November 8, 2013 1 Comment
“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me”… so goes an old children’s limerick. True in most cases.
You see, we grew up being taught to disregard, ignore or avoid people who use foul language or “bad words”. But words can really hurt us sometimes, especially when someone uses hateful words against us or people close to us — it can hurt just as much as a slap or a punch. When people use obscenities with ethnic or racial slurs — even jokingly — it can push some sensitive buttons. There are instances where racial slurs have led to others using it in a condescending manner, which ultimately lead to hurt feelings and, in extreme cases, hatred.
But when does a word — or a phrase — becomes a slur?
When with my friends, no one really care much about the term “bisaya” — the word gets thrown back and forth in conversations, its meaning ranges from “baduy” or tasteless to “bobo” or grossly incompetent. “Bisaya”, by the way, is the vernacular for Visayan, an ethnic group of people living in or from the Visayas islands and some regions in Mindanao in the Philippines, which, most of us in the office were from. I really don’t know, however, how it got its derogatory meanings.
It’s like the “N” word. When used amongst themselves, African-Americans don’t give a fuss. But when a white man uses it to describe them, it feels different.
Today, on my usual route to the office, it started to drizzle. I saw that as an excuse to drop by my favorite coffee shop along Leviste St. After getting my usual brew, I settled comfortably in a corner table across three yuppies — two skinny guys and a well-fed girl. Instead of the usual pipe-in music, I can hear S. Leyte Gov. Mercado’s voice warning his kababayans to not underestimate supertyphoon Yolanda (international name: Haiyan) and prepare for the worst — all these he delivered in English. To get a picture of how the good governor sounded, think Manny Pacquiao, with better grammar.
It was here where my story turned, well, exciting. The three well-dressed folks suddenly burst into uncontrollable laughter — the object of their derision: the governor. They were mimicking what the guy on the radio’s been saying, adding their own ridiculous version. I can see some patrons of the coffee shop throw disgusted glances at the trio, which, I noticed, even drove their mockery to hyperdrive.
Suddenly, the skinnier of the two guys blurted out: “Mag-Tagalog na lang kasi gob! Wag nang TH! [Why doesn’t he just speak in Tagalog! He’s so trying hard!]”
The comment sent the other two in a frenzy, laughing their heads off. Then they started saying derogatory things about the Visayan people in general — oblivious of the others in the coffee shop.
I couldn’t take it anymore…
I stood up, approached them and in a soft, friendly tone, said: “Kayo na rin nagsabi na Bisaya si gob, tapos sasabihin nyo, mag-Tagalog na lang. Hindi man maganda pakinggan ang English nya, tama naman ang grammar… better than yours, maybe.” [You said it yourselves, the governor is Visayan, and you’re asking him to speak Tagalog. His English diction may not be flawless, but at least his grammar is correct.]
I know they weren’t expecting to be called out like that. They were quiet for a few seconds… the lull made me realize the folly of my action. But heck, I really have zero tolerance for ‘racists’. So I braced myself for a potentially violent reaction from the three. When the other skinny guy tried to stand up, I saw him catch a glimpse of a “bulge” on the right side of my waist as I adjusted my jacket. That stopped him. The trio then went silent… a good 5 or 6 seconds of silence. Then the girl muttered a semi-audible: “No offense meant po.” I nodded at the trio, winked at the barista, then calmly walked out of the coffee shop.
Outside, I heaved a sigh of relief, mumbling: “Me and my impulses,” while tapping the eyeglass case I tucked in the waistband of my denims.