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Looking Back
Mexico under our skin

By Ambeth Ocampo
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 00:45:00 09/23/2009

Filed Under: history, Language, Places

Sexmoan used to be the most intriguing town on maps of Pampanga. With a chuckle and an American accent, the late Armando Malay would relate how GIs after the war asked him for directions to ?sex moan? and ?make-a-baby? (Macabebe), both in Pampanga. It is unfortunate that Sexmoan is not on contemporary maps anymore. The former Spanish-period spelling has since been changed to ?Sismuan? to reflect how how, according to Kapampangans, the town?s name is properly pronounced.

This reminded me of a pre-war rumor that Andres Bonifacio traveled to Albay and fathered an illegitimate child in a town appropriately called ?Libog,? which is Tagalog for lust. However, Bicolanos insist that the name of the town is not pronounced as ?LI-bog? but correctly as ?Lib-OG.? To end the argument, the town has since been renamed Santo Domingo.

Pampanga has place names that are similar to places in the United States. When you see signs for the Rural Bank of Florida, this is not an American bank but a local bank in Floridablanca. There is Los Angeles in the US and Angeles in Pampanga. Then we have Mexico, Pampanga, which has little or nothing to do with the country of that name or New Mexico, USA.

Kapampangans insist that ?Mexico? was the way the Spaniards spelled the ancient place name ?Masicu? which signified a place teeming with chico. Contrary to popular belief, this sweet brown fruit with the sharp black seeds is not indigenous to the Philippines. It was introduced to the country from Mexico during the 250 years of the Galleon Trade that connected Manila and Acapulco in a historical and cultural exchange that has left a lasting imprint on Philippine life.

While I learned about the Galleon Trade in history class, I did not realize how much was exchanged between our countries, especially with regard to language. After I finished my 12 units of college Spanish, I tried it out in Spain and was surprised when I went to a neighborhood store and asked for a box of matches that we know in Filipino as posporo or ?casa fuego? in Kapampangan. The grocer couldn?t understand what I was asking for until I used sign language and demonstrated, like in a game of Charade, striking a match and lighting a cigar. ?Ah,? exclaimed the shopkeeper, ?cerillas!? Then he asked me if I was from Latin America because fosforo was supposed to be the Mexican word for matches.

Browsing through a compilation of speeches and papers marking Ano de Amistad Filipinas-Mexico in 1964, I was drawn to a word list compiled by Jose Villa Panganiban, director of the Institute of the National Language, that showed so many everyday words of Mexican origin that came to the Philippines during the Spanish colonial period. Most of the words are names of plants, fruits or vegetables that have been around longer than we can remember, so we presume they are from the Philippines. Unless you are alerted to it you will not realize that acheute (Ixa arellana), achiti or asueti is an import from Mexico. The same is true of the following: anonas (Anona reticulata); balimbin (Averrhoa carambola) or balimbing, which is of the same family as camias (Averrhoa bilimbi), known here as kamias or kalamyas; avocado (Persea Americana); caimito; calabaza (Cucurbita maxima) or kalabasa or karabasa; chayote, which is better known as sayote; ciruela (Spondias purpurea) sinigwelas; casui (Cassuvium reniforme) or kasuy or balubad; guyaba (Psidum guajav) or bayabas; guayabano (Anona muricata) or guyabano; hicamas (Pachyrrhizus jicamas) or singkamas; maiz (Zea mays) or mais; papaya; pimienta (Piper nigrum) from the Indies but introduced via Mexico and known as paminta; and zapote.

It seems that a lot of the fruits and vegetables whose names end with ?te? originated from Mexico, including tomate (Lycopersicum escukentum) which we call kamatis; cacahuate (Arachis hypogaca) which is now cultivated for its pretty pink flowers and known locally as kakawate, madre kakaw or marikakaw; camote (Ipomea Batatas) which has the same name in Mexico and the Philippines although the name comes from the Aztec camotl; chico (Achras zapota) comes from the Aztec xicotzaptl; chocolate, which is known locally as tsokolate or sikulate but came from the Aztec zocatl; camachile (Inga punges or Inga dulcis), the plant not the cookies that are shaped like the kamatsili fruit from the thorny tree, and came from the Aztec Cuanhmochitl; cereza (Muntingia calabura), small, sweet and full of seeds and better known as aratilis, ratiles or datiles, but called saresa in Pampanga. Everyday plants or ornamentals of Mexican origin are: azucena (Plianthes tuberosa) which is cultivated for its white and fragrant flowers; cactus; calachuche (Plumeria acuminata), an ornamental that is also known as frangipani or kalatsutsi, kalasusi, karatutse, or kalanotse; chichirica (Catharanthus roseus), an ornamental plant that is also known as kantutan; pascuas (Poinsettia pulcherrima) which is often given away or displayed during Christmas so that it is sometimes called pasko instead of poinsettia.

How much of the vegetables in the nursery rhyme ?Bahay Kubo? actually came from Mexico? What was the Philippines really like before the Spaniards arrived? If the modern Pinoy is the product of many influences over a long and complicated history?Chinese, Spanish, Japanese, and American culture?maybe we should add Mexican as well.

Comments are welcome at aocampo@ateneo.edu

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