Breaking the Language Barrier: Taking Tagalog to the Next Generation

Breaking the Language Barrier: Taking Tagalog to the Next Generation
Posted on 07/08/2019 . 6:00am

By Chris Velasco

“ In America, most of us were never taught the language in fear of not being able to assimilate”

Tagalog Class at San Jose State University


Tyrell Malonzo is a Bay Area native that attends San Jose State University. He is a 3rd year Economics major with a double minor in Sociology and Applied Computing. He’s been a leader in the Filipino community since high school and has been apart of many organizations. These organizations include: FYC (Filipino Youth Coalition, AkbayanSJSU, LEAD Filipino, APIDA (Asian Pacific Islander Desi American) Task Force, NCPASA (Northern California Pilipinx American Student Alliance), and Anakbayan Silicon Valley. Tyrell advocated to get Tagalog classes at San Jose State University (SJSU) in the San Francisco Bay Area. We talked to him about his journey in advocating for Tagalog classes in the educational system, what obstacles he faced, and what this means for the future.


What was your experience in high school in regards to understanding Filipino culture?

In high school, I was able to attend the KP (Kilusan Pilipino) Conference at the University of the Pacific. The activity that took place resonated with me a lot, because it was a privilege circle. In this privilege circle, facilitators asked us to step forward if we didn’t understand the language of our own heritage, and then they us asked to step forward again if we felt ashamed. At this point at least 80% of the room had stepped forward. I realized that cultural assimilation played a huge role on how first generation Fil-Ams grew up. In America, most of us were never taught the language in fear of not being able to assimilate. In the Philippines, students were punished for not speaking English. Because of this, I enrolled at SJSU already knowing that I wanted to have a Tagalog class. I joined AkbayanSJSU, and later got involved with LEAD Filipino. In the Spring semester of my first year, I moved forward with the idea of creating Tagalog classes.


tagalog at san jose state university

What was the process of creating classes at SJSU?

In the Spring semester of my first year, I met department chair of World Languages, Dr. Damian Basich. I told him, “I want Tagalog classes. What do I have to do?” He replied, “I need to know that students want this class.” To gauge student interest, I reached out to the linguistics department, resource center, and Fil-Am organizations.  I created a petition, and by the end of the semester I was able to amass over 150 signatures from students. with the support of APIDA Task Force, AkbayanSJSU, and LEAD FIlipino. I presented the signatures back to the department chair, and he gave me the yellow light. He said, “To ensure that the class is approved and the curriculum is complete, we will present the information to the necessary committees, when they come back from summer break.” All I had to do was reach out to potential people to teach the class. Although, It was difficult to find a teacher to teach this Tagalog class, because they either didn’t have the knowledge to teach the class, or they didn’t have the credentials. I was also, in a bit of a time crunch, because I was presented with this information at the end of my fall semester, and I had to find a professor by March. I was able to reach out to potential professors, and with 2 days before the deadline, I was able to find someone find a professor for the class.


Can you tell us what it meant to you, when these classes were approved?

It was reaffirming, because when I think back to the privilege circle, and to all the people that stepped forward for those 2 questions, it was a beautiful moment for me. Knowing that I’ve done something for the community, and that I secured that knowledge for future generations. For me, this is like planting a seed for future generations, and even though this class isn’t where I want it to be right now. It’s a start. I hope that I’m able to inspire other Fil-Ams to fight for Tagalog/ cultural classes in the future.

When asked to expand a little bit on what he meant when he said “it’s not where he wants the class to be right now, he said.

I wanted to ensure that the class was established. To make sure that It can improve as time goes on, as this is only an introduction to Tagalog class. I hope that years down the line, we will be able to have intermediate, and advanced Tagalog classes. Maybe even a whole department dedicated to the Filipino culture. As of right now, this is an adjunct class. Meaning that if SJSU deems it not necessary to the curriculum, they can get rid of the class, and remove it from the course catalog completely. That is what I’m scared of, because student interest is unpredictable. Although the class was able to achieve maximum capacity, and there is currently a waitlist. Whose to say that it’s going to happen again in the following semesters.


So now that the classes have been created at SJSU, what do you think that means for the current and new students at SJSU?

I hope that they can use this class to regain the connection to the older generation of Filipinos. I grew up not being able to communicate to my grandparents, and that part sucked. Before they passed away, I could never communicate to them how much I loved them… and I would never want that for anyone else.


What plans do you have for the future in terms of the Pil-Am Community?

As a first generation Pilipino-American, I feel that it’s our obligation to maintain  and preserve the connection to the generations that made this possible for us. With these classes, I believe it’s a step in the right direction to achieve these goals. In terms of what I have coming up for the Pil-Am community. I’m currently in a collegiate alliance called NCPASA, which is the Northern California Pilipinx American Student Alliance. This is a network consisting of 14+ Pil-Am Collegiate organizations in Northern California. I’m planning the First Northern California Summit which will be taking place in the Spring of 2020, and I hope to see y’all there!


Do you have any advice for anyone who wants to advocate for Tagalog or other cultural classes on their own campus?

If the fact that I fought for these classes resonate with you, don’t be afraid to act upon it. There’s going to be people that support you, and some that disagree with you, simply because the community isn’t big enough. At SJSU I was lucky enough to have a diverse faculty, that was supportive of what I wanted to achieve. Take advantage of the network, and the resources that your campuses have to offer. Best of luck to you all! 


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