Agsalog, Nagtalon, Agdeppa, Bareng, Dumlao, Bumatay, Dacquel, Lomboy, Agatep, Galut — these are just some of the surnames that bespeak an Ilocano lineage. Ilocanos are the original dwellers of the lowlands and coastal areas of Northern Luzon; they speak Ilocano, the third most spoken language in the Philippines. Ilocanos are known to be hardworking and simple in lifestyle. The popular pinakbet (a vegetable stew in shrimp paste or bugguong) and inabraw (a vegetable soup with fish leftover) reveal the frugal characteristic of an Ilocano.
Many Ilocanos have migrated to other parts of the country. They are also spread all over the world. In major cities abroad like Toronto, Vancouver, Hong Kong, Singapore, Taipei, Tokyo, London, Venice, Rome, Riyadh, Dubai, Frankfurt, Sydney, among others, tracking down an Ilocano connection is not difficult. In several states in the US like California and Hawaii, you can come across Ilocanos in many places (restaurants, offices, hospitals, churches, airports, buses, Disneyland, etc.) The dead giveaway is the lingua franca of Northern Luzon with the distinct dragged “r”, as in ngarrud, but spelled ngarud. Finding bugoong, marunggay, balatong, saluyot, kardis, kilawen a kalding, and other Ilocano favorites is no sweat. Same is true when you’re in need of an Ilocano to bring you to places. Warm hospitality is another quality typical of the Ilocanos.
Ilocano literature like burburtia, daniw, dallot, pasion, comedia, dung-aw, and the popular pre-Hispanic Ilocano epic poem, Pedro Bucaneg’s Biag ni Lam-ang, indicate a rich Ilocano culture. The Ilocano cloth, abel Iluko or inabel, reveals the Ilocano creativity. Next to Tagalogs, Ilocanos have great musical artistry. Immortal original Ilocano compositions like Duayya ni Ayat (Dungdunguenkanto), Ti Ayat ti Maysa nga Ubing, Bannatiran, Manang Biday, Pamulinawen, etc., always bring pride and joy, and a sense of nostalgia to Ilocanos in foreign parts. These songs accompany Ilocano gatherings and continue to be lullabies of some Ilocanos both here and elsewhere. To this day and age, an Ilocano birthday party is wanting without the flower-gifting ceremony to honor the birthday celebrator while Padapadakam is being sung by all.
When I’m introduced as an Ilocano from Ilocos Norte to other fellow Filipinos, the common reaction that I get from them would refer to my complexion. Contrary to the typical description of an Ilocano, I am fair-skinned, chinky-eyed and my family name is Chinese-sounding. I explain that history proves the Filipino race is a mixed race; it follows that like other ethnic groups (Visayans, Bicolanos, Tagalogs, Kapangpangans, etc.), the Ilocanos are a mix of different colors; and that there are Ilocanos of Spanish, American, Chinese, European or Japanese descent as well. Being an Ilocano from Ilocos Norte, I also can’t escape queries like “Is Pres. Marcos buried?”, “How’s Bongbong?”, “And Imee…?” The 10th President of the country, serving from 1965-1986, is probably the most famous Ilocano ever known to this generation; he has made Ilocos Norte major, so to speak.
Like the Philippines, even the United States is not a pure race. President-elect Barack Hussein Obama is apparently not white like his predecessors, but he won the hearts and trust of the majority of Americans making him the first African-American to hold the office. The Governor of Ilocos Norte, Hon. Michael Marcos Keon, is of mixed ancestry. His mother, the late former Governor of Ilocos Norte, Elizabeth E. Marcos-Keon, a sister of the late former President Ferdinand E. Marcos, was an Ilocana mestiza herself with Malay, Chinese and Japanese genealogy. The Governor’s father was of Irish descent. Aside from Gov. Keon’s Ilocano lineage, his desire to serve Ilocos Norte, something he shares with his Marcos relatives, make him, without doubt, an Ilocano.
My husband was born in Laoag, Ilocos Norte. His mother’s parents were Chinese immigrants like my husband’s own father. In the US, being born there gives one the right to an automatic American citizenship based on the principle of jus soli (right of soil). In the Philippines, our law, based on the principle of jus sanguinis (right of blood), states otherwise; being born here doesn’t make one an automatic Filipino citizen. It states that one has to have one or both Filipino citizen parents to be a Filipino citizen himself. In acquiring Filipino status, the law offers other options, however. Even if my husband eats pinakbet and speaks Ilocano better than me, his “Ilocano-ness” cannot make him a legitimate Ilocano because in the eyes of the law he is not a Filipino national.
In a quest for greener pasteurs, many Ilocanos have left home. A number of those who left have kept the Ilocano language and customs, and continue to revisit Ilocos; the rest have completely forgotten their roots. On the contrary, many non-Ilocanos have come to Ilocos to settle; they have grown to like what it can offer — a simple way of life, a more peaceful existence, a greener environment, the natural beauty of the place and its people, etc. Perhaps, these are the very same reasons why other Ilocanos remained home, and why there are also Ilocanos who left home, but eventually came back to their birthplace.
A multitude of Ilocanos brand themselves as the real McCoys or GIs. They refer to themselves as genuine Ilocanos. Where does that put me and the jillion others who are part Ilocanos or have become “Ilocanos”? I guess it results to marginalization instead. Whether we like it or not, the Ilocano community is now intertwined with other ethnicities; the changing times ask us to make a conscious effort to be politically correct. Getting stuck in the G. I. thinking harms us rather than benefits us. After all, we all belong to the Filipino race.
At the end of the day, an Ilocano can be found in the heart.