Last May 28, singer-songwriter Will Jay (劉偉男), whose birth month coincides with Tulay’s 31st anniversary, released a new song entitled, “I Can Only Write My Name.” The song is in honor of Asian American Pacific Islander Month. As an avid fan of Jay’s music, I quickly looked up the song. Though I personally love his music, I was not expecting to be blown away. Little did I know that I was about to hear what would be Jay’s greatest masterpiece of all time.
As I watched the first few seconds of the video, I was taken aback by its overall simplicity. The music video is a lyric video with Jay’s handwriting down the lyrics to the song as it was played.
This simple but meaningful format stays the same for the rest of the video, but I was caught off guard when the lyrics switched to a Mandarin translation. The video progresses in this fashion, switching between English and Mandarin.
The title “I Can Only Write My Name” relates to the regrets and the pain that the songwriter feels about having lost a large aspect of his culture: language.
He mourns the fact that all that seems to remain of his knowledge of the Chinese language is how to write his name. As the lyrics unfold and the video progresses, I am flooded with sentiment and amazed at how much I could relate to the song.
The lyrics, so beautifully composed and sung by Jay, struck a major chord within me. Many of the first few verses talk about experiences I think many of us know all too well.
“Spent my life wishing my eyes were shaped a little differently” and “always answered back in English when my family spoke to me” are some that I found especially compelling.
In the Philippines, Chinese Filipinos are integrated and well represented in society and are not major targets for discrimination as what described in his song. Nevertheless, many people who have multicultural backgrounds find that they are constantly making an effort to fit in.
Being different is an attribute that one can consider as his or her own strength. However, one often loses one’s cultural identity in the pursuit of being accepted in society.
I grew up with parents who strongly value preserving Chinese culture. I also studied in a predominantly English-speaking school in Cebu. This brought mix experiences I am eternally grateful for, though there are certainly disadvantages as well.
As a toddler, all that matters is that you can communicate with the people you spend most of your time with. And for many, it means speaking in your native language or dialect.
Going to school, however, is an entirely different story. Being in my strictly English-speaking school for the majority of my waking hours meant that I have to communicate in English more often.
Speaking in another language besides English becomes second priority when all your friends and even the small sign on your blackboard, say speak in English.
The language struggle is real: I found it challenging to speak in any other language or dialect besides English, and at some point even refused to do so. I was slowly forgetting my roots for a simple reason: it was more convenient that way.
To me, what makes this song so beautiful (aside from the catchy tune and excellent vocals) is not only how deeply it resonates with people everywhere, but also how it tackles and brings to light several issues in a truly raw and straightforward manner.
In this age of advanced technology and globalization, the fast-paced world we live in brings people closer than ever. The world is even more a melting pot of cultures. With all these connections accessible to us, isn’t it time we make discrimination a thing of the past?
In the song, Jay says he is “ashamed” and “the only one to blame” for losing his cultural identity.
This line has truth in it because we are the ones who decide how we let what others say affect us. However, we cannot deny that society has and will always affect people’s mentality.
The line says it all: “I lost it all, when I was young, so no one would ask me where I’m from.” This goes to show exactly how much influence we as a society have on each other.
“Thought I’d be cool, if I could laugh too, even at my own expense;” comments, jokes, and stereotypes with racist undertones are so engrained in our culture that the line between acceptable and problematic is very, very blurred.
The issue that this song so beautifully and painfully portrays is something that is real. Asian American or Chinese Filipino, no one should have to go through any of the scenes depicted in the song.
The loss of our cultural identity is an inevitable and sad reality. Whether the cause of forgetting this significant aspect of our identity is due to fear of discrimination, lack of parents’ knowledge and/or direction in the matter, or simply the inconvenience and seeming lack of importance, such feelings of regret and shame won’t get us anywhere.
Ultimately, we really are the only ones to blame. However, it is not and will never be too late to stop running from who we are and write our own name.