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Monday, July 19, 2010

When Speaking In Filipino Becomes A Crime

By Gel Santos Relos


Kasalanan bang magsalita sa sariling wika kapag ikaw ay naninirahan na sa ibang bansa katulad ng America?

"Balitang America" reported on the case of four Filipino nurses who were fired from their jobs at a Baltimore hospital for allegedly speaking Tagalog during their lunch break. They insisted their rights were violated after Bon Secours Hospital terminated them. The Bon Secours Hospital imposed its English-only language rule last November, which covered only the emergency department, where the Filipino nurses worked.  Some hospitals impose this rule to protect patients.

However, these Kababayans said they did not get any warning and felt they had been singled out. One of them said  the termination was a bigger surprise because she worked at the human resources department as a secretary who is not at all involved with patient care.


Migrant Heritage Commission Executive Director Atty. Arnedo Valera  filed a discrimination complaint on behalf of the nurses before the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.  Valera argued  the hospital’s imposition of the English-only rule violates the nurses’ civil rights.  “There was no business necessity, no rational justification, no direct relationship between their speaking in Tagalog and the performance of their duties.  In fact, in almost all incidents cited, they did (speak Tagalog) not while they were performing their duties, but during their break time.”   

                 Bon secours

These nurses believe this sets a dangerous precedent for all foreign health care staff in US hospitals.  They seek the support of nurses groups as they pursue their discrimination complaint against Bon Secours Hospital.  “We got terminated because we were talking in our native language which is unfair to all Filipino nurses and I’m making an appeal to the nurses association that with this incident, I think we need to let them know that we didn’t harm any patient when we were talking in our native language.”

This case is a classic example of one of the struggles faced by Filipinos in America. We strive hard to assimilate into American culture and society but it seems there is that special place in our heart that is and will always be Filipino.

While we pride ourselves of  being one of the few immigrant communities who can effectively communicate bilingually in both English and our native language,  English just remains to be our second language. We still think in Filipino, and our brain just translates the thoughts from Filipino to English. This can really be a complicated process because sometimes, words and phrases in our native tongue do not have a direct translation in the English language.

Even the syntax, conjugation, and idioms are totally different, making our expression in English an even more challenging task. We sometimes even find ourselves blurting out some phrases in Filipino even when we are talking to Americans. I catch my self saying, “Di ba?”..or “Talaga?”, ”Sige”…among many other words and phrases! 

For some reasons, our tongue just seems to have a mind of its own when we are in the midst of our kababayans. The use of the Filipino language just seem to come out naturally and automatically. Maybe it is because it feels so liberating not to have to translate our thoughts from Filipino to English anymore. We need not worry about the right grammar, right pronunciation, right diction and inflection. Nakakapagod din!  
Secondly, it just feels better when we speak in Filipino when talking to our kababayans because we just can express our minds and feelings better. Masarap magsalita sa sariling wikang kinagisnan at kinasanayan na natin! Maybe this is also our way of connecting and re-connecting to our roots even when we are oceans away from the Philippines!

We are fully aware that when we decided to immigrate to and work in America, we have also implicitly agreed to the need and propriety to speak in English. This is America and English is her national language.In fact, this is one of the requirements to be imposed by the proposed Immigration Reform Bill---undocumented immigrants must learn how to speak in English or they lose the pathway to citizenship.  Hard as it may be for many of us, we just have to learn how to write and speak in English in order to be more productive residents and citizens of our adoptive country.

This is just basic courtesy for other non-Filipino speaking people whom we do not want to alienate when we are so deeply into our own world as we speak in our native tongue. We ourselves feel “lost” when we approach a group in our workplace or community organization they just continue speaking in their own language or dialect despite our presence, making us think “Ako ba ang pinag-uusapan nitong mga taong ito?”.

        Nurse at work

This just breeds paranoia and fosters distrust among different sub-groups and cultures. Even as America is “land of the free”, a melting pot of culture where diversity is respected, it is still important that we all communicate in  one language that will help us better understand each other and "unify us all as one America".


We know in our hearts our compassionate, efficient nurses meant well. Rightfully so,  a Maryland labor department judge has sided with the rationale of their argument when he ruled in favor of the Filipina nurse who was denied unemployment benefits because Bon Secours stated she was dismissed for grave misconduct.  

Administrative Judge Stuart Breslow declared, “Her actions were not intended to deliberately violate the directive, but were merely an inadvertent action on her part to greet and talk to a fellow employee in their native tongue. At no time during these encounters did any discussion about a patient take place and no patient was placed at risk as a result of her actions”.  

Judge Breslow ruled that the Employer has a right to expect that its employees will follow its policies and directives. However, he pointed out that while failure to abide by the directive may be considered misconduct, the one instance where the Claimant discussed a patient with another employee in her native language and the other incidents of inadvertently greeting an employee in her native language are not found to be a deliberate and willful disregard of standards that the Employer had the right to expect.

The four Filipina nurses’ lawyer Atty. Valera said they plan to introduce the Maryland administrative court’s ruling as additional evidence in the discrimination complaint they filed last month before the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
This case is but one of the many glaring examples of how Filipinos struggle and strive hard to blend in, get acculturated to their adopted country, while deep inside, their heart (and their tongue) cries,  “Aray! Pinoy pa rin ako—sa isip, sa salita at sa gawa!”.   



  1. Ouch, kakabwisit naman nyan hehehe.. Meron pala nyan ano sis Samantalang sa atin eh iniencourage lahat ng tao to speak in english, it's unfair huhuhu.. I don't really speak english pag pinoy kausap ko kasi di ba kakamiss magtagalog?

  2. It's unfair tlga, in or retail shop it's not allowed to speak Filipino also when I have filipino cutomer I told them to speak english as it's really rude if someone is listening even it's awkward to us. But to think it's their lunch time what a big deal, they're jealous coz they don't understand and don't have other language aside from

    I like your post, very interesting.

  3. pambihira, innocence of the law excuses no one... even if we are professionals, we have to obey to the directives of every company, obedience is better than sacrifice please remember

  4. At kelan pa naging kasalanan yun aber???? amf^&$^^%^%@

  5. oo nga ,ako din pag kaharap kapwa pinoy nagtatagalog pero as much as possible apg may kaharap na puti like my hubby ,english talaga kasi ayaw ni hubby ng hindi nya naiintindihan pinag uusapan .hirap din kasi mag english pag kaharap kapwa pinoy pero kailangan sumunod sa company policy.

  6. Dapt pinag multa na lang ng 5 dolalrs sa pagsalita ng Tagalog, bakit naman na terminate. Sa laht ng mga nationalities, tayo ang pinaka magaling at pinaka masipag. Mas masarap talagang makipag communicate sa Tagalog kapag Filipino ang kausap, naiilang ako magsalit ng english kapag Pinoy kausap ko, unless na di na sila marunong mag tagalog, kahit 2 years oa lang sila dito sa US, oha!

  7. Nakakalungkot naman yan mam tess... tsk..tsk. sana manalo sila sa kaso.

  8. mommy liz ,oha talaga ,2 years lang di na marunong magtagalog ,me ganun!

  9. The best way in learning another language is by practice. If you are interested in learning different language, I am willing to teach you English or Filipino. I am willing to learn any language as it will be an added knowledge.

  10. How would the English speaking Filipinos whom some perceive to be arrogant feel?

  11. What the heck? That is too unfair! Eh ang mga Chinese nga dito they can speak in their own language while we Filipino are not allowed to speak our language? Ang strikto naman nang hospital na nyan! I hope the four filipino nurses will win the hearing.

  12. It is not considered a hate crime as long as the manner in which you are speaking out is peaceful, free of hate speech and/or actions, and is geared toward working out a solution instead of propagating a long-standing opposition

  13. That is harsh naman sana maresolve or shall we say justice will prevail...Visiting from WW!

  14. Greeting a fellow countryman in your own language is no crime...there may be other reasons we will not know but for such a petty reason as greeting, it shouldn't have gotten as bad as this...


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