Being Tagálog and a self-identified autistic woman, exploring my autistic way of being has been a joyful way for me to be part of an authentic community of neurodivergent people who genuinely respect and learn with each other. Even though autism as one form of neurodivergence is a Global North concept, it resonates with me as it embodies a pursuit of social justice that intersects with my pursuit to reclaim my Tagalog identity that I have been deprived of due to the erasure of authentic Tagalog culture by the Spanish and American colonists in the archipelago that is now called the Philippines. On official documents, I have no choice but to identify that I am from the Philippines. I am uncomfortable identifying myself as “Filipino” or even name my home country when I introduce or describe myself to those who are outside my corner of this world. This is because the “Philippines” was named after King Philip II of Spain from when Spain colonised us. The term “Filipino”, along with most of the words in our local languages, evolved to have some traces of Spanish. In more formal contexts, I have to use these “official” names; but in contexts that involve personal levels of interaction, I identify as Tagalog. Tagalog people are one of the many indigenous people who have inhabited the islands that make up the Philippines.
I speak Tagalog but not as fully as how my parents and older relatives would use Tagalog because our education system teaches and values English more. Hence, academically, English has taken more space in my repertoire. I probably can but would really struggle to write a full academic paper in Tagalog. I am more comfortable and would actually prefer English for practically anything now because the society I grew up in shaped me this way. As much as I want to feel more confident in identifying as Tagalog, I also feel like an imposter because of how colonialism deprived me of developing my authentic Tagalog identity. My maternal family also has Chinese roots as my maternal grandmother was Chinese and came from a long line of Chinese immigrants who probably came to the Philippines way before Spain colonised us. I feel like I am part of two or more different cultures but at the same time, I also feel like I have no “home” in either of these.
Now I also identify as an autist, a European and Anglo-American concept that still struggles to get the social justice it deserves. It is still unclear to me how I can integrate my autistic identity with my Tagalog identity. I do not know how to translate or if I can even translate how being autistic is in Tagalog. It is not a matter of disliking that the emancipatory concept of being autistic came from the Global North. I accept it and I acknowledge how it is now one of the conceptual tools that help me understand myself. I just feel at a loss on how to relate this with my local identity that will not erase my Tagalog identity. English and American influence already did so much damage to our collective Tagalog identities here in the Philippines. I do hope that as I continue connecting with autistic and neurodivergent communities who can relate with these issues in their local contexts, I will discover more about what it means for me to have Autistic ways of being.
2 May 2022