Lawyer Dulce Valdes-Barangan is the new president of Ilocano association of N.Y.

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She wants the language to be a vibrant part of Ilocano American life. Photo by Troi Santos

She wants the language to be a vibrant part of Ilocano American life. Photo by Troi Santos

By Cristina DC Pastor

In the Barangan household in Long Island, the children of Caesar and Dulce Valdes-Barangan speak English as well as the Ilocano language of the northern Philippines.

Somewhere in New York State’s multicultural quilt of young Americans, there’s Zack Barangan, who works in an advertising agency in Manhattan who speaks Ilocano, and his younger sister AnnaRosa who studies Brain Cognitive Science at the University of Rochester who is just as fluent.

Culture is best taught through language, said Dulce, the incoming president of the Ilocano-American Association, Inc. in New York (IAAINY). The language – familiar to non-speakers through the immortal courtship song, “Pamulinawen” — is long forgotten. Her wish is for the younger generation Filipino Americans who descended from Ilocano elders to learn the language and make it a vibrant part of their lives.

“In my own house, my children speak Ilocano,” she said in an interview with The FilAm. “When I meet with members of the association, I conduct my meetings in Ilocano and English .”

Dulce, 61, a lawyer, comes from San Nicolas, Ilocos Norte. Ilocano is her first language. She has neither forgotten it nor consciously blocked it from memory as some immigrants tend to in their attempts to assimilate.

Her husband Caesar, who works with the Adults and Children with Learning and Developmental Disabilities organization in Long Island, helps enforce the rules. “We make sure to keep the dialect. We need to keep it going.”

Dulce came to the U.S. in 1987 after she earned her law degree from Ateneo de Manila and passed the bar. She is currently a per diem attorney who handles cases in the areas of Personal Injury, Family Law, No-Fault, Foreclosure, Art. 81 Guardianships, Credit Collection, and Arbitrations. She volunteers to handle some cases pro bono through the Queens Volunteer Lawyers Program in Queens County of New York.

Although the IAAINY was founded in the 1980s, Dulce herself became active only in the last three years. She was invited by her family friend, Brenda Talisaysay, a long-time member. She became the public relations officer shortly after joining.

“I have heard about the group and attended some of their affairs. I’ve known about them through some of the people close to me,” she said.

Like hundreds other Philippine regional organizations in the New York area, the Ilocano association has served members who want to keep their connection with a culture and people known for their hardy and frugal ways. The IAAINY gives back through fundraising and tuition assistance programs for the youth.

The group’s website states how it “aims to promote and preserve our rich culture, beautiful customs and traditions, and strong work ethic and family values of Filipinos, in general, and Ilocanos, in particular, among Filipino-Americans, particularly the youth.”

“I am typical Ilocano American, a hardworking immigrant,” Dulce said. “We Ilocanos are very mixed, we are professionals and also blue-collar workers. We are teachers, nurses, doctors, lawyers, corporate people mixed with people working in construction, restaurants.”

Ilocanos, she added, are a mobile people who have moved around a lot, “from the farthest north to the farthest south of the country,” in search of a quality of life that may be modest yet steady enough to raise a family. Coming to the U.S., some of them initially settled in Hawaii, others moving to the mainland for better opportunities in terms of jobs and education for their children.

What many may not know is that the association owns a building in Jamaica, Queens, which for many years it had leased to the Filipino American Human Services, Inc. or FAHSI. Lawyer Reuben Seguritan, who founded FAHSI, is the legal counsel of IAAINY.

Association members come from the northern provinces of Ilocos Norte , Ilocos Sur , Abra , La Union , Apayao , Cagayan , Isabela , Nueva Vizcaya , and Quirino. Those who may not have originated from these provinces but speak the language are encouraged to join. Among its noted members are Reuben and his wife Cora Seguritan, doctor Emilio Quines, PIDCI’s Angie Molina, marketing executive Grace Labaguis, and Handang Tumulong’s Ave Pimo.

With the same passion that the association wants to revive the language, the members also want to make known another cultural distinction: its culinary specialties.

“Our ‘pinakbet’ has no squash,” said Dulce smiling at the thought that this classic Ilocano vegetable stew may have been misappropriated and mislabeled over the years. “Pinakbet, which is very Ilocano, has a lot of vegetables in it, okra, patani, green beans, bitter melon, eggplant, ginger and garlic, but no squash. The Tagalogs put in the squash.”

And the Ilocano adobo? “Ours is dry, has very little sauce, but lots of ‘mantika!”

The group counts about 30 families in its active roster.

Did she say “families”?

Laughed Dulce, “We’re getting young people more involved. That’s our thrust right now. The older generation wants to retire.”

Turning serious, she underscored how young people can infuse new ideas and move the association forward into the New World.

Said Dulce, “Slowly we’ll get there.”

With husband Caesar: They were childhood pals in San Nicolas, Ilocos Norte. Photo by Randy Hernando

With husband Caesar: They were childhood pals in San Nicolas, Ilocos Norte. Photo by Randy Hernando

Members of the Ilocano association have a summer picnic at Cunningham Park.

Members of the Ilocano association have a summer picnic at Cunningham Park.

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