James Soriano’s SPAM

by Kiko Matsing

Image by freezelight

We used to think learning Filipino was important because it was practical: Filipino was the language of the world outside the classroom. It was the language of the streets: it was how you spoke to the tindera when you went to the tindahan, what you used to tell your katulong that you had an utos, and how you texted manong when you needed “sundo na.”

But perhaps this is not so bad in a society of rotten beef and stinking fish. For while Filipino may be the language of identity, it is the language of the streets. It might have the capacity to be the language of learning, but it is not the language of the learned.

(from Language, learning, identity, privilege, by James Soriano, Manila Bulletin, 24 Aug 2011)

I do not know what incestuous circles of affluence James Soriano orbits–I have lost track of the anemic stock of Philippine aristocracy–but there is certainly no indication of what he calls “learning” in his English prose. What is clear, however, in James Soriano’s writing is his monumental ignorance and the quaint provincialism of his ilk. I have met OFWs in various stations in life who have a much more cosmopolitan worldview than James Soriano. He will be surprised, when he travels around the world, that his proficiency in the speech of his former colonial masters does not really hold such high currency. His brand of snobbery would be considered crass, like the vulgar antics of Paris Hilton who is just white trash with money.

He touts his access to higher learning through English but does not indicate what he means by this except for examples from his basic education. I hate to break it to James Soriano, but that is hardly a mark of scholarship. If he is anything like the bores in the Philippine upper crust, what he considers high culture is really nothing but the dregs of imperialist culture. It would be ironic that he thumbs his nose at our street culture, if he himself bottom-feeds on the crumbs of middle-America. In this regard, he reminds me of the character played by Fides Cuyugan Asensio in Oro, Plata, Mata who, at the end of the film, proudly announced to her haciendero and American expat guests that she is serving SPAM for dinner.