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Second Opinion

Lost linkages between PH and Mexico

/ 05:18 AM August 02, 2018

Mexico City—If only we Filipinos have a sense of history, we would see Mexico not as a distant land, but as one of the countries most closely linked to us. We were, after all, governed from Mexico City as part of the Viceroyalty of New Spain, and for 250 years the Manila-Acapulco galleon trade linked our two countries commercially and culturally.

These linkages brought a number of legacies, many of which have been forgotten. Words we consider local like pitaka (petlacalli), tiyangge (tianquiztli), and even tukayo (tocayotia) actually come from the Nahuatl language, and we have inherited from (or via) Mexico various agricultural products, from avocado (ahuacatl) and cacao (cacáhuatl) to chilli peppers (chilli) and tomato (tomatl). Though poorly documented, many Mexicans must surely have emigrated to the Philippines over the centuries, from sailors to colonial administrators.

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Meanwhile, here in Mexico, the Filipino legacy is likewise obscure, but significant. As Floro Mercene (2007) writes, there are indelible signs of Filipino migration in Mexico’s Pacific coast, from families with ‘Maganda’ as surname, to the barong tagalog and the bahay kubo influencing the region’s fashion and architecture.

Then there is the astounding but well-supported hypothesis that Mexico’s famous tequila actually has Philippine roots. The scholar Henry Newman (1956) wrote that Filipino sailors brought with them the skills to make coconut brandy (still known today in Mexico as “tuba”) and taught the locals how to make the liquor, possibly alongside the introduction of coconut itself. Because the Filipinos’ distillation technique was very simple, it was adopted not just for coconut, but for agave, leading to the modern-day tequila and the broader, increasingly popular, category of agave liquors: mescal.

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The Mexican War of Independence (1810-1821) ended Spanish hegemony in Mexico, cutting off the galleon trade. Still, the Mexicans recognized the Philippines’ significance. The historian Jaime Veneracion (1997) quotes a government memo as saying: “Should the Philippines succeed in gaining her independence from Spain, we must felicitate her warmly and form an alliance of amity and commerce with her as a sister nation. Moreover, we must resume the intimate Mexico-Philippine relations, as they were during the halcyon days of Acapulco-Manila trade.”

Unfortunately, our foreign outlook has since been oriented to America, Europe and our Asian neighbors.

Mexico may not be high on the Filipino traveler’s list, but there is so much here for us to explore, from archeological sites like Chichen Itza and Teotihuacan to regional hubs like Puebla and Guadalajara. Despite its huge population, Mexico City can serve as a great base, with its amazing food, museums, numerous parks and functional transport system—even if the traffic sometimes reminds me of Edsa. If nothing else, the city gives us a clue to what Manila may have looked like had its public spaces not been privatized.

One thing that impressed me is that Mexico manages to take pride both in its indigenous and Spanish heritage. Many of its intellectuals are sharply critical of colonialism and capitalism (as the murals of Diego Rivera and the writings of Octavio Paz show). Perhaps we can look at their works as we come to terms with our own Spanish legacy—and contemporary struggles.

Of course, the country has its own share of problems: the drug cartels remain a threat, and corruption continues to undermine good governance. As in many parts of the world, economic growth is undermined by rising income inequality, and the indigenous population is particularly vulnerable.

Will Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, the newly elected president, make a difference with his reformist, socialist, anticorruption platform? Will the forecast that the country’s economy will be the world’s fifth largest by 2050 be fulfilled?

Regardless of what lies ahead of them, I wish our hermanos the brightest future, and raise a glass of mescal to the hope that, two centuries after the last galleon, our bonds with their beautiful country will
finally be renewed.

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Follow @gideonlasco on Twitter. Send feedback to mail@gideonlasco.com

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