Tasty fresh bawang (garlic)
My first words and phrases in Tagalog were (not necessarily in this order): please, thank you, water, pee-pee, poo-poo, hungry, love you, full...and winged beans, tomatoes, garlic, and peanuts.
Our trilingual parents spoke their tongues to each other and to relatives, deftly code-switching from one conversation to the next. But in America, they were advised that teaching English only to their children would make things "easier," although the loss of their syllables felt far from easy for my sister and I.
But still, languages and stories won't be silenced completely. When I turned 8, my mom decided it was time for our family's first balikbayan - a cinematic-worthy return to the homeland after 25 year away. This meant that a little lesson in Tagalog was in order, all leading towards the inevitable talent show (you know, when the parents ask you to sing/dance/etc on command for anyone and everyone?).
And thus the gulay (vegetables) song. What better way to pass on the beginnings of a language. Remember this, anyone?
Bahay kubo, kahit munti
Ang halaman doon ay sari-sari.
Singkamas at talong, sigadilyas at mani
Sitaw, bataw, patani.
Kundol, patola, upo’t kalabasa
At saka mayroon pang labanos, mustasa,
sibuyas, kamatis, bawang at luya
sa paligid-ligid ay puro linga.
I remember twisting around the unfamiliar syllables, eager to learn, each one like a new taste in my mouth. I had a vague idea that the song was about a hut and various vegetables, but even translated, I wouldn't have known a winged bean from a cucumber.
Thankfully, I can return to this song with a new appreciation for what it was: a fledgling gift of a language, a lifelong love of vegetables, and a childhood recipe set to music.
My nipa hut, although it’s small
The plants are diverse
Turnips and eggplants,
Winged beans and peanuts,
String beans, edible pots, lima beans,
White melon, gourd, white pumpkin and squash,
And still there are more, radish, mustard,
Onions, tomatoes, garlic and ginger,
All around are lush sesame plants.
patola = loofah (in its ready-to-exfoliate-you mature stage)
More On Gulay:
Centuries of galleon trade between Mexico and the Philippines opened an exchange of languages, culture, people, and agriculture: check out this article on the origins of sayote