Journalist Karen David asked the 2018 Miss World Philippines winners one loaded question during their guesting in GMA7’s “For the Record”: How can you represent the Philippines properly if you don’t speak the language?
That is today’s blog topic. Should being able to speak Filipino or Tagalog be a requisite for all Philippine representatives?
This topic on language, and to a certain extent culture, is a heated topic of discussion among Filipino pageant fans. I remember clearly criticisms on Mister World Philippines winners John Spainhour and Sam Ajdani on how can they represent the country when they don’t even speak the language. And that was way back in 2014. That is the same question that we are pondering now as a number of our reps in international pageants this year are ‘halfies‘.
TOO CAUCASIAN LOOKING PHILIPPINE REPS?
While Filipino reps who grew up in the Philippines are questioned whether they are ‘intelligent’ enough to speak English fluently, today’s question is hurled to Philippine reps who are halfies. *Note that language intelligence is just one aspect of the entire intelligence spectrum (as there are different kinds such as intra-personal, interpersonal, musical, logical-mathematical, spatial, etc…).
In recent years, there is a rise in the number of Filipino halfies winning national pageants that other countries are questioning why do we always send ‘foreignays/ foreignoys’ (a play on the words foreigner and Pinoy/ Pinay) in pageants abroad. Most notable are our recent reps in MW. From 2011 to present, almost all of our reps have been halfies with non-Filipino/ Spanish sounding surnames(Ruais, Rehman, Young, Weigmann, Gray, Lehman, Wolff, Spainhour, Ajdani…) vis-a-vis Hillarie Parungao and Katarina Rodriguez. Our reps in Miss Universe on the other hand seemed to be more diverse in terms of both looks and heritage (Raj, Supsup, Lastimosa, Tugonon, Arida, Wurtzbach, Medina, Peters & Gray).
ENGLISH versus FILIPINO
The question of knowing how to speak the language is deeply rooted on Filipino pride of his/her heritage, not just of its people and its language. Filipinos by heart are a proud race who take pride in their cultural identity but could stand shoulder to shoulder to the rest of the world. It explains why most of us would question halfies if they know our culture and language… because if we are to be represented by one who don’t look like the majority of our population, they damn-well be able to know about the country on a level that is more than just skin-deep.
Language is a manifestation of our identity and culture and that is why I understand why most non-pageant fans ask the question: can our reps speak Filipino. While we would argue that it’s the ‘Filipino at heart‘ that matters in the end of the day, we do have more affinity (generally speaking) to those who knows our culture, our food, and more so our language.
SASHES&SCRIPTS’ TAKE ON THE ISSUE
If there is something I would like to add to this debate is that reps who have grown outside of the country should take a page from Miss Universe Philippines Catriona Gray’ playbook. I admire Catriona for extending out to a Philippine historian for lessons to know more about the Philippines deeply. Not only that, she also took Tagalog lessons prior to joining Binibining Pilipinas in preparation for criticisms on her ability to speak the language. Now, even with an accent, Catriona is able to communicate in Tagalog in an effort to go to the level of the fans who aren’t comfortable speaking English. That is what you call Major Major effort!
As far as I could remember Valerie Weigmann and Andrew Wolff were also conversant in Filipino to which endears them to Filipino pageant fans. Something that is deeply admirable. Knowing the Filipino language isn’t a requirement in pageants but it is a must to win over Pinoy pageant fans. After all, it will be the fans who will be showing you support in your campaign for a title.
To all Filipino pageant reps, whether born and raised in the Philippines or foreignoys raised abroad, get to know the country that you are representing at a deeper level of understanding: its people, the culture and traditions, it’s own brand of pop culture, and language even more importantly. Once you get that appreciation and the ‘feel’ of the people, only then you can say that you can adequately represent them in an international competition.