Kris-Crossing Mindanao

‘Ciudad de Latino’


Some years ago, Zamboanga City declared itself the “Latin City” of the country amid objections from some sectors. They argued that historically, it was the seat of government of the “Moro Province” that encompassed the entire Sulu Archipelago, Basilan, the Zamboanga Peninsula and mainland Mindanao. It was therefore “Moroland,” and through no stretch of the imagination could it ever be a “Latin City.”

On this issue I did write in this column that it was the city of Zamboangueños and they had the right to label it or rename it as they wished, which they did through a city ordinance.

Having spent part of my early childhood in that place (it was not a city then, it was known officially only as Zamboanga, which included Basilan and the two provinces of the Zamboanga Peninsula), I remember very well that its population, Christians and Muslims, spoke a “lingua franca” that sounded Spanish. It was called  Chabacano  and described as pidgin Spanish.

But the Chabacano that was then spoken among Zamboangueños in the upper social bracket was really more Spanish than pidgin. Court trials were argued in Spanish, and many of the official documents like birth certificates and land titles were in Spanish. The songs sang during social gatherings and even during drinking sprees in tuba joints were Spanish serenatas and, best of all, the dialogue in movies shown (usually from Mexico) was in Spanish.

Also, the food served during family gatherings and celebrations was usually Iberian/Mexican:  paella,  lengua  estofado,  caldereta,  morcon,  callos, etc. So was the daily fare. And  sarciado, endulsao, sopas, tamal or tamales, arroz caldo, leche flan, polvoron, yema, pastillas, empanaditas, and many other Spanish   foods were ordinary fare. Processed fish of Mexican origin, like  bacalao  and  salmuera  (salted fish) were common, too.

And the men (including  calesa  drivers, vendors, etc.) were all addressed as “Ñor” (short for “señor”) and the women, of course, were “Ñora” (short for “señora”)  and either term was prefixed to their names accordingly.

The wonder of it was that while Chabacano/Spanish was the  lingua franca, the different ethnic tribes that made up Zamboanga’s population kept and spoke among themselves their own language: Samal Bangingi, Yakan, Bahasa Sug, Hiligaynon, Sugbuanon, Subanen, Tagalog, etc. It was, beautifully, a multiethnic, multilingual society.

And then came the predominantly Bisayan refugees of the Mindanao conflict. Before the influx, such ill-thought-out government policies and laws in the name of “nationalism” had been instituted. Both developments combined to sound the death knell for the Spanish language.

But then Spanish seems to be emerging as a “universal” language these days. This I first noticed on the bilingual labels of food and beauty items sent to me by my daughter who is working as a nurse in Los Angeles, California, where Latinos are becoming the dominant population because of California’s proximity to Mexico and other South American countries. Of course California and Texas (remember the Alamo?) were just land-grabbed from Mexico by the Europeans.

In Zamboanga, the good news is that there are now efforts to make the much-“mongrelized” Chabacano sound more like it was before. At least one Zamboangueño (of Bangingi descent), veteran journalist Felino Santos, has just published an updated Chabacano-English dictionary; a Zamboangueño Tau Sug is working on another one.

And the best news is that Maria Isabelle (Beng) Climaco has been elected mayor of Zamboanga City. A niece of the famous Cesar Climaco, several times over the mayor of the city, it is expected that Beng will turn the vision of a “Latin City” into a beautiful reality, not just a meaningless mantra. With her qualifications and her characteristic verve and enthusiasm, it will not be difficult for her to conceptualize policies and programs for Zamboanga City’s total rebirth.

If it has not done so yet, the city could arrange a “sister city” agreement with Mexico, make Spanish subjects mandatory in all academic levels, restore the original names of “Americanized” streets like those formerly known as Guardia Nacional, Calle Pilar, etc., show Mexican movies regularly, and introduce Spanish literature—like the works of Miguel de Cervantes (“Don Quixote”), Isabel

Allende (“La Casa de los Espiritus”), Gabriel Garcia Marquez (“Amor en los Tiempos de Colera”), Paolo Coelho (“El Alquemista”), the epic “El Cid,” the poetry of Pablo Neruda, and, of course, Jose Rizal (“Noli Me Tangere” and “El Filibusterismo”) in their original Spanish versions, as standard and supplementary reading in the collegiate level.

During celebrations like the “Dia de Zamboanga” and the week-long “Fiesta Pilar,” the city could hold various contests—featuring Spanish songs (singing), Spanish essays (writing), Spanish/Mexican cuisine (cooking), even stage plays in the Spanish language.

My son and daughter now speak the language well enough to qualify as bilingual employees, the highest paid in the BPO industry. It is my hope that enough young Zamboangueños will study the language as seriously to attract a bilingual BPO agency into establishing at least a branch in the city.

And maybe it’s about time we brought back “Ñor” and “Ñora” to Zamboanga’s everyday life. Maybe this could turn those ill-mannered and opportunistic tricycle drivers there into civilized human beings.

Better still, why not revive the  calesa  and have them ply the city streets, especially within the commercial center and Fort Pilar?

And that,  perdoname  (pardon me), my dearest  compoblanos  (townmates), is how you turn a city into a “Ciudad de Latino en las Islas Filipinas.”

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  • mchang1978

    Paulo Coelho is a Brazilian writing originally in Portuguese. Of course, his works are also translated into cognate Spanish.

  • mnlmad

    Me gustaria visitar su pueblo Zamboangeña. Gracias por su articulo.

  • Mamang Pulis

    at kung mararapatin lang sana ni Ñora Isabelle, isa pong request na malupit….mayora

    puede po ba ayusin at dalasan ang garbage collection.

    subukan mo dumaan mula kanto ng general hospital papuntang Arena Blanco–Sta Catalina pa lang…lintik ang tambak ng basura

    pumasok ka sa Kampong Islam…o sa looban ng Suterville; sa Southcom Village palabas ng Sn Roque; sa Malagutay…

    hindi nalalayo sa Tugas, Patikul, Sulu ang basura

    ang hirap kasi sa ‘prinsipyo’ ng tausug—‘laging tama’ kahit wala sa hulog–HINDI MO PUEDENG PAGALITAN…..

    • tra6Gpeche

      Ibig mong sabihin kabayan ay sangtambak din ang basura diyan sa inyo sa Zamboanga? Wala palang pinagkaibahan iyan sa Metro Manila? Marami din bang iskwaters? Ano bang nangyayari sa isipan at trabaho ng mga nahahalhal na Alkalde sa bayan natin? Muy malo y asqueroso, amigo! Sa amin sa Tanauan, Batangas, medyo malinis-linis pa.

      • Mamang Pulis

        may malinis na parte…marami naman.

        mahuhulaan mo na yun siguro kung saan yun marurumi—doon sa walang disiplinang mga tao…yun nga tipo bang mahirap paki usapan o utusan—yun hindi marunong sumunod sa batas kasi nasanay sa bundok na walang pumipiit sa kanila….at kapag pinag sabihan mo IKAW PA ANG WALANG RESPETO SA KANILA….

      • tra6Gpeche

        Thanks for responding. Good to know..many places are still clean! Have a great day, kabayan!


    saka el sandok, talya del dingding la kusina naka-suksok. alya kanamon mucho mamon! that’s the chabacano in zambo city.

  • Edgar Lores

    I think it is too soon to revive Spanish, the language of our oppressors. A little more than a mere century has passed for us to recover from 4 centuries of cultural domination that has bred much of the master/slave social stratification and attitudes that we suffer from. The ill-mannered tricycle drivers are as much an outcome of the class system wrought by the Spanish regime as are the seemingly mannered but uptight senores and senoras. And let me not mention the arrogant priesthood… oh, sorry, but I just have.

    • Mamang Pulis

      ill mannered tricycle drivers…..oh yes nadale mo!!—–mga bastos numero uno ,maro[wiseguy], mga ladron pa iba…. they drive without headlights or tail lights and they have the gall to tell you they are right if you figured in a traffic mishap with these cretins….i

  • manual47

    You can speak Spanish, chabacano, or Mexican for all I care. But don’t forget who you are……Filipinos.

  • stromboli67

    “Of course California and Texas (remember the Alamo?) were just land-grabbed from Mexico by the Europeans.”

    And who do you suppose did the original land-grabbing from the native americans (the Modoc, Miwok, Chumash, among hundred other tribes) who were the original inhabitants of California? The Spanish expansion to California was done through establishment of religious missions complete with military components, managed and organized by the Franciscans. And what do we know about the nature of this particularly land-grab? Here’s a quote from the California Native American Heritage Commission’s website.

    ” Despite romantic portraits of California missions, they were essentially coercive labor camps organized primarily to benefit the colonizers.” – Prof. Edward D. Castillo, (member of Cahuila-Luseno tribe). Sound familiar? Now, is California better off as part of Mexico or the US? Maybe it’s better had nobody done any land-grabbing to begin with. Better for people to be left alone to evolve their own way, instead of being dictated upon by colonizers who obliterate the native culture, and then have the arrogance to impose their “superior” belief-system – LOL.

  • Ferdinand Vidal Andrade

    Puede ustedes visita aqui bien vale el ciudad de zamboanga, mucho clase de cumida pwede escuhi..bien sabroso y barato pa…

    • Mamang Pulis

      Alavar, Palmeras, John’s grille….mom & pop carinderia = BusyBee

      Tausug food = Hamja—–Sta Cruz market

  • damon steine

    Latin City? What a joke. because there is nothing latin about zamboanga at all, be it the language or the continent…

    …but with being a lawless city..definitely.

    • Mamang Pulis

      o nga naman–mas maraming tausug/bisaya speaker dito

      • damon steine

        not just that, but ask a number of people what they understand about the slogan, and you will be surprised, not to mention amused, as to how it relates to the term “Latin” itself, as how the word is defined.

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