Kodiak is celebrating October as National Filipino American Heritage Month with cultural events and public recognition from the city and borough. The library joined in too, with its first ever Tagalog story hour for children. KMXT’s Kavitha George has more from the Kodiak Public Library children’s room.
Daisy Briones is reading a Filipino folk story in Tagalog. Her audience, on this stormy Saturday morning, is just two young listeners and their mother. But that’s not stopping Briones’ enthusiasm.
She’s reading a fable about how pineapples came to be. The lesson should sound somewhat familiar to anyone who’s read moralistic children’s books — basically, listen to your mother, or you might turn into a pineapple.
Later, as everyone is snacking on the pineapple she brought for the occasion, Briones asks 10-year-old Meagan and 7-year-old Liymo about the story.
“Do you think it has moral value?” she asks.
“What was the theme about it?” Meagan asks. “‘Listen to your mom’,” he suggests, before adding, “‘Don’t play with your friends’.”
Briones laughs. “You can play with your friends!” she says. “But after doing household chores.”
Briones says the idea for Tagalog story time came about for this year’s Filipino American History Month as a way to connect children to Filipino culture.
“I am sure there will be a lot of parents who would like the kids [to listen to Tagalog stories] — especially the Tagalog-speaking ones. It would be a lot easier for kids to understand Tagalog if they can hear a story and sort of relate with that story.”
The Filipino community makes up more than a third of Kodiak’s population today, according to the Alaska Humanities Forum. Filipinos began settling in coastal Alaska in the early 1900’s, working in canneries and on whaling ships.
Mary Gillis-Hawver, president of the Kodiak Filipino American Association highlighted the community’s legacy in Alaska during a recent Borough Assembly meeting.
“Fil-Am have a rich history of public and military services and and have contributed significantly to the entire spectrum of Alaska’s workforce from the mining, fishing and oil industries to health care, education, service industry and entrepreneurship,” she said.
Today, many Filipinos in Kodiak are second or third generation, but others, like Briones, grew up in the Philllipines and immigrated. She says speaking Tagalog is one of the ways parents are able to pass on Filipino culture to their children.
“When you’re in the Philippines, they’re definitely they’re going to speak in Tagalog,” she says. “Especially the older people, they would really appreciate it. Then you could understand them because sometimes they have difficulty speaking in English.”
At home, Meagan and Liymo speak a mix of Tagalog, English, and a regional language called Bisaya. Their mother, Lani Abayon, says sometimes multilingualism is just about being able to communicate better.
“Sometimes it’s hard for us to speak English fluently,” she says. “So we need to mix it, especially [because] they are in school right now. So some of the words we can’t understand. So it’s important that for example, they gotta go home in the Philippines [that] they know our language, too.”
Depending on scheduling, Brionnes says the library is trying to make Tagalog story time a monthly event going forward.