Filipinx students revive Tagalog language table at Oldenborg

Students smile for the camera around round tables in Oldenborg Center
Students at the newly reinstated Tagalog language table in Oldenborg Dining Hall. (Becca Choe • The Student Life)

Every Thursday at Oldenborg dining hall, the newly revived Tagalog language table is crowded with 7C students and staff members. Some are native speakers. Some are Pinoys who can understand the gist of the language but cannot participate in their tita’s (auntie’s) chismis (gossip). Most however, are still awkwardly trying to unlearn English vowel sounds as they introduce themselves in Tagalog to the group.

Here, participants flip through Tagalog language packets filled with conversational phrases and slang, Filipino dessert items and plot summaries of popular Philippine teledramas. In a game of Tagalog Pictionary, participants pass a small whiteboard around the table, trying to provide clues in Taglish (Tagalog mixed with English) so others can guess what they drew. Because many are still beginners, the game becomes a visual way to match objects to words — to match a picture of a dog to aso or a flower to bulaklak.

While the current iteration of Oldenborg’s Tagalog table is just a few weeks old, its history goes back over 10 years.

In 2013, Oldenborg began to offer a Tagalog language table after a push by the Filipinx-American Student Association of the Claremont Colleges (Kasama). According to Michael Manalo-Pedro, associate director of the Asian American Resource Center (AARC) and participant of the language table, Kasama began when one could practically count the number of Filipino students at the 5Cs on their two hands.

“The conversation started in 2012 when professor Todd Homna was teaching a Filipinx-based class,” Manalo-Pedro said. “Asian American Studies Pitzer [College] Professor Homna, had just begun teaching that year when his students recognized the need to create a space for Filipinx students to gather — a club that would eventually form Kasama whose first project was to establish a Tagalog language table.”

The table returned sporadically throughout the years but halted when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020. However, in October 2023, student organizing supported by Kasama revived the Tagalog language table at Oldenborg and the table has been meeting once a week ever since.

Zeean Firmeza PO ’26 was one of the student leaders active in the revival of the Tagalog language table.

“The language table was already started before, but there was a lack of initiative to follow through with it,” Firmeza said. “So I had decided I want to do this.”

For Firmeza, the table is not only a space for students to learn and be exposed to Tagalog, but also to provide Filipinx students and staff across the Claremont Colleges a space to connect with one another.

Still, Kasama co-President Analise Pugh PZ ’25, believes the language table is not enough. For her, there is a need “to make a space for people to come together and speak Tagalog, especially because there are no language classes.”

“Whenever I hear Tagalog, like, I feel like I’m at home, you know? I feel like I’m in my household and listening to my parents talk.”

Indeed, not one of the Claremont Colleges, situated in the state of California where the fourth most commonly spoken language is Tagalog, offers a course on Tagalog.

Firmeza, who wrote an op-ed for TSL earlier this semester titled “My language isn’t useless” addressing the lack of Southeast Asian language representation in higher education, called for the 5Cs to help change that.

For me, the biggest step is to demand for a Tagalog course to be offered here,” she said.

Firmeza noted how it is not an unrealistic task considering the wealth of the Claremont Colleges and how private schools like Harvard and public schools like UCLA offer Tagalog language classes.

As for the Tagalog language table, Kian Sogutom PZ ’27, a main facilitator at the table, explained the goal is to have the opportunity to meet more frequently.

“We’re hoping to expand it to two days a week,” Sogutom said. “We’re thinking of introducing Tuesday evenings at Collins or Hoch.”

Although Tagalog is often seen as the official Filipino language, there are over 170 dialects spoken throughout the Philippines. In fact, many students at the Tagalog table came from families who speak Illocano or Cebuano.

“Even if the native language [a student] grew up with wasn’t Tagalog, [but] … another dialect, for me it goes beyond just learning the language,” Theo Siasat CM ’24, the other Kasama co-President, said. “It’s also a really powerful way to build community.”

As many of the table’s participants don’t speak Tagalog fluently, the language table also becomes a space for students and staff members to connect with the local 7C Filipinx community.

For Manalo-Pedro, a child of Filipino immigrants, the language table feels like home.

“Whenever I hear Tagalog, like, I feel like I’m at home, you know?” Manalo-Pedro said. “I feel like I’m in my household and listening to my parents talk.”

Sogutom, who is also an international student from Cebu, Philippines, agrees and has found that this community has given him something invaluable.

“Whenever I go to the table, I feel represented,” Sogutom said. “I know that when I see that little flag on the table, it helps me remember and reassures me that I belong here.”

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