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Reclaiming our ties with Mexico

/ 05:07 AM October 29, 2021

Colima, Mexico — Two years ago, the fact that there is a “Mexico” in the Philippines—specifically, a municipality in Pampanga (incidentally where, according to my Lolo Basilio, our patriarch Gavino Lasco originated)—went viral in Mexican social media, causing fascination among its netizens, many of whom are not familiar with our two countries’ past connections.

News outlets took it as an opportunity to challenge the popular view. As El Universal put it (translation mine): “For most Mexicans, the name of the Philippines is synonymous to a distant country, the customs and traditions are radically different from ours; but we couldn’t be more wrong as we share far more than we imagine.” Among the examples the paper furnished were the similarity between our barong and their guayabera, the many Nahuatl words in our languages (e.g. tukayo), and the fact that, thanks to Mexican telenovelas, some Filipinos born in the 1990s are named Thalia and Marimar.

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Today’s circumstances, I believe, are favorable for these connections to be renewed and deepened.

Thanks to writers and scholars all over the world, we now know more about our shared past than at any other time in history. I have already mentioned some of the Mexico-based scholarships in my previous column. On the Philippine side, notable examples include Floro Mercene’s “Manila Men in the New World” (2007), a collection of essays edited by Ricardo Soler entitled “Mexico and the Philippines—An Unwritten Story” (2015), and the works of the historian Jaime Veneracion.

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Mexicans and Filipinos that have been traveling to each other’s countries are also embodying and reanimating these connections. The former beauty queen and tourism secretary Gemma Cruz-Araneta, for instance, has frequently written about her 18 years in Mexico. Bar the pandemic, the relative ease of traveling today has made this country more accessible to a growing middle class, and even now I have met, or heard of, Filipinos here—from digital nomads seeking temporary refuge from (alas) the country’s failed pandemic response to artists like the sculptor Eduardo Olbés and the late painter Romeo Tabuena who have found permanent homes here.

Conversely, I have also met Mexicans in Manila, including travel bloggers who wanted to climb our mountains or, as in the case of my friend Lenin, learn about our martial arts. Surely, at least some of these travels are informed by a desire—one shared by Filipinos like myself—to broaden their cultural universe and go beyond the usual Europe and America.

To build on these efforts, we will need more investment in cultural and academic exchanges that further unearth our shared past and create opportunities for a more connected future. We also need to revisit the kind of history we teach and, in doing so, correct the erasure of various exchanges that make up the plurality of our identity, one that encompasses Asia, Austronesia, and Latin America.

While decentering Spain in our history, however, I think we need to rediscover Spanish not as a colonizer’s language, but that of the colonized and the decolonizing. Much of our people’s literature and history risk being lost if we do not recover them—whether in the libraries of Mexico, the archives in Spain, or in our own institutions. Given how much our vernacular has been shaped by Spanish, it will also enrich our appreciation of our local languages. And, of course, it will allow us to better connect with an entire continent that we could very well have been culturally part of. “Despite their shared history, Filipinos generally do not identify as Hispanic or Latino,” writes Anthony Christian Ocampo in “The Latinos of Asia” (2016). “Nonetheless, history tells us that this possibility cannot necessarily be ruled out.”

Beyond our historic ties, contemporary Mexico can teach us so much about various issues and can serve as a mirror of our own experiences—from Church-State relations and indigenous struggles to the ongoing drug wars in very different contexts. And it can inspire us in areas like urbanism and inclusive transport (I will write about Mexico City’s emergent bike culture in another column), gender equality, and—beyond Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo—the arts.

By recognizing the value of reclaiming our ties with each other, we may yet partake in what the scholar Rudy Guevara Jr. (2011) calls a “multicultural experience,” one “that is deeply Mexican yet also Filipino.”

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TAGS: culture, Diplomacy, Mexico, Philippines
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