Comprehension and writing in the Diaspora

Updated: February 24, 2021, 8:12 PM

The cultural importance and taboo of storytelling

by Mildred German

Vancouver, B.C.

Growing up in the Philippines, it was customary to do storytelling. Disasters after disasters have taught us to get customized to the blackouts (or brownouts as referred to in the Philippines), and to gather in a circle around a home-made “lampara” (oil lamp) or bright candlelights. 

These moments of candlelight and oil lamp circles, sharing many stories and legends have shaped many of us. The Philippines is rich in these kinds of practices and literatures as many dialects withstood the colonial erasure of the archipelago’s indigenous peoples and cultures. Yet, colonial influences remain present to further colonize the country and to prolong its rule.

The many stories of the Filipino people, from historical accounts, to the many fairy tales, creation stories, fables and legends were passed from one generation to another.

In particular, fruits in the Philippines have been subjects of many legends: the Legend of the Mango, Legend of the Pineapple and the Legend of the Banana are some that were taught in elementary schools in the Philippines and I still remember. 

As a Filipino growing up in the province, seeing the farmers’ hard work in planting our food, witnessing the flowers of the trees turning into fruits, for us communities graced to eat these staple crops in the Philippines, the exposure to such grace and wonders can’t help but to entertain questions such as, “Why is the mango shaped as a heart?”

I learned many stories surrounding the existence of the mango. Many different versions. Stories of love, losses, colonial rule, class oppression and heartaches are often reflected through storytelling. It  is not surprising how mango shapes our stories – with it’s heart shape, sweet plump fruit, distinct flavour and medicinal properties.

Philippine storytelling and our people’s stories have long existed. That they endured to these days testify to the power they hold.

A recent report on the Philippines as a country with the lowest reading comprehension among 79 countries seems to contradict the tradition of storytelling.

The Philippines has been hailed as one of the globe’s major resources of migrant labour. Many Filipino and foreign media, ads, popular culture, political campaigns, research bodies, and marketing enthusiasts and opportunists alike benefit from the overseas Filipino community, their hard work, and their stories. 


However, many Filipinos’ stories of migration and struggles in over 170 countries and territories globally remain taboo. There are numerous cultural expectations in the Philippines and overseas on the life-changing journey of going abroad.

Stories of selling cows, farms, and properties to afford going abroad and finding better pastures, true to life stories which are beyond gambling stories, but are ‘do or die’ situations. 

Stories of being the breadwinner, the milking cows, the new modern heroes, and the outside force propping the failing Philippine economy are common knowledge. The reality of the country’s worsening poverty and the plunder of resources are stories of many Philippine-born Filipinos.

The Filipino diaspora is truly expanding the chapters of our people’s history.

Ever since the beginning, the Philippines has been bombarded with the implementations of colonial levels of comprehension and ways of governance, affecting the indigeneity of Filipino culture.

Higher education is usually associated with accomplished writing, arts and research work. Historically the Philippine’s style of education is inherited from foreign systems, particularly from the U.S. The U.S. trained and hired Filipino nurses and workers to work in the U.S. and resulted in adopting the English language as one of the national languages of the Philippines. While education brings opportunities to some, many graduates in the Philippines remain unemployed or in debt or not practicing their professions. 

Is the cost of higher education still worth it?  Or is it not to advance or exploit the people? 

It is not surprising that comprehension results are poor. It is an indication that the  current education system is not working and not fully beneficial for the majority of the Filipino people. To date, foreign languages are being taught in the Philippines, alongside other courses needed to pass to get that education certificate. Meanwhile, Pilipino or Panitikan, and indigenous studies remain a lower priority and are not required for college graduation.

Foreign language studies were developed to prepare and train Filipinos to cater to foreigners arriving in the Philippines. These studies are mandated to make Filipinos easily adjust to foreign lands and cultures. French, Korean, Japanese, Cantonese, Mandarin, and other foreign languages are currently being taught in the Philippines in addition to the English language.  The implementation of the K-12 program serves to catch up with the foreign levels of studies, but has been financially challenging for the youth and their families. 

For the diaspora, it raises the question of who measures our education as a people? Who measures our comprehension and our achievements under a white-nationalist, oppressive, misogynistic, colonial system? 

While we are reputedly the most highly educated,Filipinos are for the most part, deskilled and deprived of accreditation by Canada’s systemic racism. Many upgrading courses cost money and time, and benefits mostly the educational institutions.

Comprehension is very important – reading proficiency and communication are vital in many aspects of life and survival. Learning and understanding is beyond what is being taught and who teaches. Belonging, respect and dignity are also considerations to fill the gaps in education.But in a colonial system, it remains unequal, if not lacking or missing.

The struggle to keep our native languages, to put justice and value in our labour, time and energy are core to our cultural expressions, growth, and learning.

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