On being a Filipino in Mexico

For sure it will take more than a day’s visit to truly understand the culture, the nature and the essence of a nation, but there is something about Mexico and Mexicans that can make a Pinoy feel “at home” upon setting foot on America’s southern neighbor.

My first visit to Mexico was back in 1981  when I was asked by the Malacanang press office to join a group of media, advertising and public relations professionals who made up the official contingent of then President Ferdinand Marcos for the North-’South Summit in Cancun.

Except for the dominance of beans in the meals and the total close-down of businesses for mid-day siesta, I sensed something very familiar about the environment in Mexico that was almost deja vu. Even the proliferation of good-looking femininity was so reminiscent of Metro Manila

“Ang daming tisay!”(So many mestizas), my advertising colleague, Emil Misa gushed as we watched the girls go by at a Mexico City street corner. Emil, along with fellow ad men Greg Garcia III, Louie Morales, Tom Banguis, and myself, were jestingly called the Cacun Boys because of that trip.

In fact, to make ourselves “useful” at the Cancun Summit, another ad executive, Tony Zorilla, and our group decided to put out a supplement in the leading Mexican English language and Spanish language dailies, highlighting the remarkably tight bond that make Mexico and the Philippines virtual utol or kaputol (a Tagalog idiom referring to siblings cut from the same umbilical cord).   

I wrote almost all of the articles for the supplement around the theme of shared Spanish colonial history, religion, culture and even language, going back to the Manila-Acapulco galleon trade. 

But it was in the early 1990’s, on a subsequent visit to Tijuana, the northernmost Mexican city bordering the US (in San Diego), that the similarity between the Philippines and Mexico really struck me. The streets of Tijuana looked so much like Cubao or any Manila commercial area, store fronts, dusty streets, traffic and all – even the people.

This week, I have just made a quick trip to Cabo San Lucas and Puerto Vallarta, a favorite playground of America’s rich and famous, and I have become even more convinced that a Manileno would have no difficulty integrating into Mexico’s mainstream. 

While the general impression is that the Latin American countries, chief of them Mexico, were so dominated by the Spanish conquistadores that nearly everyone looks Hispanic, the fact is that the indigenous Indio populace have managed to maintain their presence and brown continues to be a dominant race in these countries.

The fact that Columbus Day, a US holiday, is observed in Mexico and other Latin American countries as Dia de la Raza (The Day of the Race), not with joy and fondness but with bitterness and horror, is a testament to the massive and forcible Hispanization of the Indios, often through rape.

This, observes one historian, is where the Spanish colonization of the Philippines and the Latin American countries has differed. The Spanish conquistadores in Latin America committed genocide, decimating the indigenous population and siring thousands of half-breeds who became the dominant mestizo class.  

This was not the case in the Philippines, although the Spanish friars did help themselves to Filipina womanhood, thus leaving Hispanic seeds throughout the islands, particularly in the major cities in the Visayas, Mindanao and Luzon.

Dr. Jose Rizal underscored this in Noli Me Tangere, with the tragic character of Maria Clara, sired by Padre Damaso. But even Rizal’s hero, Crisostomo Ibarra, belonged to the elite mestizo class himself.

While the US, mainly through the Thomasites, succeeded in obliterating much of the vestiges of Spain and displacing them with Americanish, the Hispanic physiognomy is still apparent among many Filipinos. 

And because the Malayan race is very similar to that of the Indios in Latin America, the

non-mestizo Pinoy could be mistaken for a native Mexican, and those of who have some Spanish in their blood, even with dominant Malayan features, could pass for a typical brown-skinned Mexicano.

Needless to say, the mestizos and mestizas who populate the Philippines’ entertainment industry could well be mainstays of Univision, the leading Hispanic TV network in  the US.  

Between 1565 and 1815 Spanish galleons braved the Pacific Ocean manned by crew members forcibly taken from the local population. According to one article, entitled, For the Love of Mexico, an estimated 100,000 Asians from Malaysia and the Philippines were brought to Mexico as slaves on the galleons. One can safely assume that at least half of them were natives of Las Islas Filipinas since most of the galleons set off from the Visayas, mainly Cebu. 

To this day there are communities in Mexico where many families trace their roots to the Philippines. These are obviously the descendants of the natives of Las Islas Filipinas who sailed to the New World on the galleons.

Many of these Filipino crewmen managed to settle down in Mexico, particularly in Acapulco, While a number jumped ship and escaped to the marshes of Louisiana (journalist Lafcadio Hearn wrote about them, calling them Manila Men), there were those who settled in Mexico, married Mexican women and raised families.  

One of them was Antonio Miranda Rodriguez who became one of the pobladores sent to found El Pueblo de Nuestra Senora de los Angeles de Porciuncula, which we now know as LA. But Rodriguez could not make it to the founding of LA at Olvera Park because he had to attend to his dying daughter in Baja California. He subsequently became armorer at the Presidio of Santa Barbara, where he died of an illness.

Some of the galleon crewmen established themselves in Mexican society with remarkable success. The book, “Race Mixture in the History of Latin America” by Magnus Morner, in the archives of Mexico City, contains an entry about the marriage of one of the more prominent Filipinos to a member of Mexican high society: “Don Bernardo Marcos de Castro, Indian cacique and native of the City and Archdiocese of Manila in the Philippine Islands, and now resident at this Court…and Doña Maria Gertrudis de Rojas, Spanish and native of this City, legitimate daughter of Don Jose and Doña Rosa Clara Montes…”

The footnote to this entry is equally revealing: “Archivo del Sagrario Metropolitano,

Mexico City: Libro de matrimonios de españoles, vol. 41 (1810-1811); Libro de

Amonestaciones de los de color quebrado, 1756-1757, 13 v. 

Also in the archives is an account about a certain General Isidoro Montesdeoca who was reported to be of Filipino descent. Montesdeoca was a Lieutenant Governor of Guerrero, the state named after VIcente Guerrero who became president of Mexico following the  war of independence from Spain.

While the bond between Filipinos and Mexicans deserves to be celebrated, there is a shadow hovering over this relationship in the era of President Donald Trump. Trump has unfairly demonized Mexicans (he does not bother to distinguish between Mexicans and other Latin Americans), calling them rapists, criminals and terrorists. 

I hope my fellow Pinoys do not use this demonization as a reason to distance themsleves from our Mexican and Latin American brethren. The Trump era is just a fleeting phenomenon and will soon be but a bad memory, while our ties with Mexico, which have lasted hundreds of years, will last centuries more.

(gregmacabenta@gmail.com)

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