¿Bakwit ba?

As one of our city‘s consultants for historical and cultural matters, yours truly was invited last month to a meeting of top city hall officials who were preparing various activities for the month-long Buwan ng Wika (language month) which is celebrated every whole month of August. This year’s theme is “Filipino: Wikang Mapagbago” or Filipino: a language that changes (or causes change).

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Image: DepEd LP’s.

One of the activities that was being prepared was an essay writing contest for city hall employees. Me and my partner Tita Linda Sietereales (the Tagálog translator for my first book “Captain Remo: The Young Hero“) concocted several possible topics related to the language month’s theme as well as formulated the criteria for judging. We then passed it on to the department concerned for review and approval. I came up with three to four topics which Tita Linda then polished, she being an expert writer in Tagálog (she and her famous novelist friend Lualhati Bautista were colleagues in Liwayway magazine many years ago).

While I was conjuring up possible topics for the essay writing contest, the theme for the language month kept playing on my mind. Wikang Mapagbago. A language that causes change. Suddenly, the first word that popped into my head was a novel one which I heard only recently from TV reporters and broadcasters who have been reporting about the Battle of Marawi for the past three months.

I am talking about “bakwit“, a Tagalized form for an evacuee.

Since the terrorist attack on Marawi (or should I say Dansalán) in Lanáo del Sur Province, thousands of residents have evacuated to various parts of Mindanáo and beyond. Reporters speaking in Tagálog keep on referring to them as bakwit instead of evacuees. Perhaps these reporters refuse to use Taglish and found it appropriate to just Tagalize an English word that is often used in times of crisis. Much like the word “suspek” which was derived from “suspect” or a person who is suspected to be guilty of a crime or offense.

However, journalist Asunción David Maramba insisted that bakwit is not new. It is actually an old word that has been used since the end of World War II. In fact, he even used the word in a column that he wrote way back in 1991. This simply shows that the word has been with us all along for years, thus its usage as a Tagálog word should no longer be frowned upon. Besides, words like bakwit, suspek, and the like do not sound English anymore; apologists for Taglish (yes, there are such people) will say that they have become as Filipino as adobo.

Nevertheless, is the usage of such words correct? Are these neologisms even allowed by the Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino (KWF) or the Commission on the Filipino Language? It seems like it as this official regulating body of the Filipino language (based on Tagálog, if I may add) hailed last year a new Tagálog word called “fotobam” which is but a new English word form derived from photobomb. However, it can also be argued that while such neologisms can be deemed correct, they are not readily embraced by many who are still conscious and sensitive about deliberate language changes, evolution, and degradation. Many years ago, former Senator Francisco “Kit” Tátad found time to comment about this language phenomenon, nay, problem in his political book “A Nation on Fire: The Unmaking of Joseph Ejército Estrada and the Remaking of Democracy in the Philippines“. In it, he wrote that:

Filipino itself has not grown. On the contrary, it has been bastardized. The result is Taglish — an awkward and artless combination of street Filipino (which is Tagálog-based) and street English, unworthy to sit in the company of other national languages.

The good senator, himself a litterateur during his younger years before he dabbled in politics, had good reason for saying this as such (although consciously he may not have had it in mind). It is because Tagálog is a phonetic language, while English isn’t. For starters, a simple explanation would be this: Tagálog is written as it is pronounced, and vice versa. Cung anó ang sulat ay siyá rin ang bigcás, at cung anó ang bigcás ay siyá rin ang sulat. The same cannot be said for English.

So, mix them up together —a phonetic and unphonetic language— and what do you get? A linguistic abomination called Taglish.

As mentioned, Taglish apologists would be quick to defend this by saying that such a linguistic phenomenon is natural. They have a term for it: code-switching. But there is a flaw. Code-switching occurs when a speaker alternates between two or more languages, or language varieties. But one has to note why a speaker has to do so. In our case, we were colonized by the United States for almost half a century, and have been neocolonized by them afterwards. This only goes to show that this code-switching called Taglish is a by-product of colonialism and/or neocolonialism. I might not have any problems with code-switching had the U.S. WASP neocolonialist invaders themselves also speak Taglish (or Engalog for that matter) in their own turf. But they don’t. And they won’t.

One might question Tagálog’s purity (or impurity) even without having been invaded by the U.S. After all, there are more than five thousand Spanish root words in Tagálog. And we haven’t even tackled all the other indigenous languages —all of which are phonetic like Tagálog— that were also influenced by the Spanish tongue. In this regard, isn’t this Spanish-influenced Tagálog that we have been using for centuries also a form of code-switching? Not at all. First of all, Tagálog, which is phonetic, is a perfect match for Spanish for the simple reason that the latter is also phonetic. Both, therefore, are like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that reveals a beautiful picture upon completion. This is one of the reasons why in the introduction to my defunct Spanish-language blog, I wrote that the meeting between España and Filipinas in 1521 (then later on in 1565) was “una fuerza mayor increíble, una obra milagrosa de Dios.” It seems both nations, at least linguistically, were really destined to meet to fulfill some quirk of history that is beyond human understanding.* Secondly, Spanish words have been entrenched into our linguistic psyche more than English words ever did. That is why Spanish words such as aparador, barrio, Dios, pantalón, and thousands more sound very native to us compared to Taglish or English words. Finally, there is this sub-branch of linguistics called phonaesthetics which deal with the aspects of art and beauty in a language. Chabacano, said to be derided during its early years, cannot be considered as a mere pidgin or another form of code-switching. It is a Spanish-based creole language, another product of our country’s “phonetic identity” which has the blessings of phonaesthetics. Chabacano has produced its own body of literature that is respected and valued through the years. Taglish doesn’t (with the very rare exception of some of Bautista’s socio-political novels). What passes off today as Taglish literature is derided as gayspeak, if not salitáng canto (street language). And it will remain so for good.

Humorously, one should find it odd how some English nouns become Tagálog verbs in Marawi (“ina-armalite“, “sina-sniper“, etc.).

So what now with bakwit? If it is so phonaesthetically inappropriate for a Filipino to use it as a substitute for evacuee, then what should be the linguistically acceptable alternative? This is the rule: if no Tagálog equivalent is readily available, do not invent new ones (remember those awful words “hatinig” and “salipawpaw” of the 1940s?) nor Tagalize unphonetic words. Simply use that word’s Spanish counterpart. For bakwit, see below:

evacuado if the evacuee is male (evacuados for plural)
evacuada if the evacuee is female (evacuadas for plural)

If we aspire for a language that changes, we have to make sure that it changes for the better. And it changes not just for its own sake but for the betterment of the people that uses it. After all, a language is used not merely as a tool for communication but also as a means to elevate a people’s intellect. Language should evolve naturally, not deliberately. We are a phonetic-speaking people. As such, words derived from an unphonetic language (bakwit, suspek, most especially last year’s fotobam, etc.) will never effect any positive change that will augment our intellect.

*It should be noted that before 1521, our country was not yet formed as a state. It was only during the so-called Spanish colonization period beginning on 24 June 1571 that our country began to exist as a political entity. I simply wrote the above in such a way so as to prevent further confusion.

The secret of my name

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Image: TEXTGIRAFFE.

I. THE STORY BEHIND THE GIVING OF MY NAME

My real name is José Mario Alas y Soriano, but like everybody else, I prefer using my nickname Pepe. Pepe is a nickname for José, and I have zero idea as to why.

When I was born 38 years ago today, my parents were to give me the name Jomar. It was a portmanteau of Jo, taken from my father’s name Josefino, and mar from María Teresita, my mother. But my paternal grandmother (my father’s mother) interfered and suggested that I just be baptized as José Mario. I do not know my abuela‘s reason why she chose that name for me. I was thinking, perhaps, that she found the name Jomar odd since she comes from a Hispanic background. Her name, as well as the names of her parents, siblings, husband, and children were all in Spanish. Jomar just didn’t fit right.

Looking back, I am thankful that my beloved grandmother (que descanse en paz) did interfer. Jomar ended up as a childhood nickname which I dumped later on when I started to become conscious of my Filipino Identity (close friends and relatives still call me Jomar, though). Another nickname of mine, Mómay, didn’t survive that long. It was how I was called by my mother’s family members when I was still a baby. Mómay eventually became the nickname of my eldest son, José Mario Guillermo II Alas.

When I got older, I realized that my grandmother named me after the earthly and saintly parents of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Perhaps in the hopes that she’d get to have a saintly grandson? 😇

II. THE MEANING/S (ALL THE POSSIBILITIES) OF MY NAME

To what I’ve gathered, José was derived from the name Joseph which originated from the Hebrews (יוֹסֵף). It means “the Lord shall add” or “the Lord gives”. On the other hand, Mario was derived from the Latin name Marius which in turn gave birth to the variant feminine name Mary. In Hebrew (מרי), Mary means “bitter” or “bitterness”.

My middle name Soriano pertains to Soria, a province and city of Spain or its inhabitants. Soriano, therefore, means someone who is from Soria.

My surname Alas is Spanish for wings. But for the indigenous Filipinos (Tagálog, Bicolano, Cebuano, etc.), they use Alas for playing cards (pronounced as /aˈlas/). Finally, in the English-speaking world, Alas means an expression of great grief, anxiety, and the like.

III. ONE OR TWO FAMOUS PERSONAGES WITH WHOM I SHARE MY NAME

Propagandist José Mª Pañganiban, singer José Mari Chan, and Mexican politician José Mario Wong are the famous names that I share my name with and the only ones I could think of.

IV. CREATIVE COMBINATIONS/RECOMBINATIONS OF THE MEANINGS OF MY NAME

José Mario: the Lord shall add bitterness.
José Mario Alas: the Lord shall add bitterness which will cause great grief, pain, anxiety, and sorrow.
José Mario Alas: the Lord shall add winged bitterness.

Based on my 1996 essay “The Secret of My Name” as partial fulfilment of the requirements to pass the subject Philosophy of Man under Michael Ian Lomongo.

Writing prolificity

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Image: FUCCHA.

“Write only when there is something you know; and not before; and not much later.”
—Ernest Hemingway—

Last month, US film company Universal Studios announced the title of the sequel to Jurassic World, that science-fiction adventure film which earned more than a billion dollars two years ago. Titled Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, it will be the fifth installment in the Jurassic Park film series, all of which were based on two best-selling novels by the late Michael Crichton (1942—2008): Jurassic Park, published in 1990, and; The Lost World, published in 1995.

Crichton was a very prolific writer. He had published 25 novels and 4 non-fiction books in his lifetime, not even counting several short stories that saw print in various magazines. So prolific was he that there were even times that he was able to publish two or three novels in the course of only a year. And even after his death, three more novels of his saw print. The guy was a virtual writing machine.

One other prolific writer from the US, also a novelist, was Stephen King, arguably more well-known than Crichton because many of his horror novels were adapted into films that played well in the box office. King, who is turning 70 in a few months, appears to be more prolific than Crichton; he has published 57 novels, 5 non-fiction, and several other publications (short stories, novellas, etc.).

Skeptics who have not yet read both Crichton and King might think that, with the rate that they publish books through the years, their works might had been hurried, thus robbing them of quality storytelling. But fans of both Crichton and King (myself included) will immediately tell them that it is far from the truth. Both novelists have crafted into each of their books the kind of entertainment that will glue readers to their seats for a prolonged period of time. Even in fast-paced scenes, readers will not sense any hurriedness in their writing. Each sequence, every subplot, is carefully crafted and well thought out. That’s how damn good these writers are. There is an apt adjective to describe their books: page-turners.

For sure, a lot of writers from the US are page-turners like Crichton and King no matter what genre they’re using. Many of their names are familiar to us (Judith Arnold, Sidney Sheldon, Danielle Steel, etc.) even though we have not yet read any of their works because they have become homegrown, always marketed as best-selling authors, which is always the case anyway. Back in college, I remember one brief chat that I had with one of our instructors about these amazing US writers. While our country has its fair share of excellent writers in English, how come almost none of them are best-sellers? Why couldn’t we produce such page-turners? His reply had stupefied me for years: those US authors absolutely do nothing anymore but write. And because they can afford to give 100% of their time towards writing, it is always expected that they can churn out some of today’s best stories and write-ups. On producing excellent writing, King has this to say:

“Read and write four to six hours a day. If you cannot find the time for that, you can’t expect to become a good writer.”

But here in our country, the Filipino writer is forever burdened with other tasks other than reading and writing. In his book The House of True Desire: Essays on Life and Literature, National Artist Cirilo Bautista perfectly describes the dilemma faced by his fellow writers:

“…the Filipino writers cannot live by writing alone, no matter how masterful they may be.”

“My magnum opus, The Trilogy of Saint Lazarus… took me thirty years… The enterprise begot another odd aspect by the fact that I stood to gain nothing monetary by its realization; indeed, it depressed me by its fruitfulness and drove me to misanthropy by its selfish demand on my attention.”

Most of our best writers today are those who use English. Young Filipino writers are always encouraged to hone their writing craft in this language. Even the English Division of the Palanca Awards is the most sought-after contest in the country’s biggest literary award-giving body. But up to now, even after more than a century of English education, the only writer we have ever produced to be of the same caliber as Crichton or King is Nick Joaquín, and only him. It’s because the Filipino writer is poor. His writings, if of any merit, will only give him fame, trophies, but not money which is needed to sustain him. Like Bautista, the Filipino writer is always faced with the dreaded reality that no matter how he strives to make his craft the best it could ever be, he couldn’t because his freedom is limited. The harsh reality of making both ends meet weighs more than art, thus jeopardizing the quality of their works. They could have done more, but employment is a necessity in order for him to physically survive. Crichton and King (and to some extent, Joaquín) didn’t have to worry about monetary problems; they were always assured of huge sums of money. That is why they have more time to focus on the creative writing process.

But the foregoing accounts may have not always been the case. In the last century, we have had prolific writers (and researchers) who have poured their everything into their works despite the absence of any promising monetary award. They may not have had published as much as Crichton or King or Joaquín, but the circumstances they were in will astound any aspiring writer today who are also faced with the dilemma of focusing solely on their craft for the sake of quality. Take for instance former diplomat León Mª Guerrero III who was able to translate Rizal’s memoirs and novels despite his political and legal chores. And then there was the daunting task of writing Rizal’s biography even as he was fulfilling his duties as ambassador to the Court of Saint James’s in London (that biography of his ended up first prize in the Rizal Biography Contest of the José Rizal National Centennial Commission in 1961). Years before Guerrero entered the scene, another nationalist, Teodoro M. Kalaw, wrote essays every single day for the newspaper La Vanguardia. He also wrote several books on history and politics despite his schedule as director of the National Museum and as a public servant. Dr. Domingo Abella was both surgeon and historian. Máximo Solivén was writing profound and up-to-date political commentaries in his column at The Philippine Star while serving as its publisher, making him a writer-businessman. So was Teodoro “Teddyboy” Locsín, Jr. who was able to helm those biting editorials that we now sorely miss in his defunct Today newspaper while serving as board of director for big companies, one of which was San Miguel Corporation (he rarely writes nowadays as he’s too busy with his tweeting engagements).

However, it should be noted that Guerrero, Kalaw, Abella, Solivén, Locsín, and a few others like them had the wherewithal to accomplish their tasks. They could afford to delegate mundane chores (cooking food, washing clothes, payment of bills, etc.) to other people so that they could go about with their writing/researching assignments without any hassle, unlike in the case of many writers and researchers today. Including myself. With five kids to raise (no nannies!) and a job that requires a rotating graveyard shift, it’s virtually impossible for me to focus on what I’ve always wanted to do: read, write, repeat.

Speaking of my kids, I remember one meeting that I had with novelist Joe Bert Lazarte in some monotonous fast food near his place in Bacoor, Cavite more than a decade ago. He was then helping me out to secure an employment with the company he was working for at the time. I can still clearly remember how he told me that when he had heard about the news of my unplanned marriage years before, he felt disstressfully sorry for me. There was, of course, no derision from his part. He was just aware of the travails of being a writer and a family man at the same time, and his being distressed was simply a show of concern. If I’m not mistaken, I only had one child back then. Now I have five. Just imagine (disclaimer: in no way am I blaming my family for my shortfalls in being a writer).

I also remember one brief chat that I had with poet Radney Ranario many years ago. Chancing upon him as he was exiting one of his classes, he mentioned to me that he was thinking of going on a hiatus from his teaching job to focus on his poetry, even if just for a while. With a frown on his face, he complained that his teaching job, even if it has something to do with literature, was also draining his creative juices.

The likes of Crichton, King, and many other US authors never had to go through such challenges. But Lazarte, Ranario, myself, and a host of other Filipino writers had to struggle monetarily just for our dreamy heads to keep afloat in this sea of unreality.

For my part, I’m trying my very best to follow at least part of King’s advise just to stay alive, to keep me sane, by reading during traffic jams on my way to the office and by blogging every day. That is why if you have noticed, I have been blogging every single day since the inception of this blog last June 24. Ideally, a blogger really has to post daily since a blog is considered as an online journal. But due to daunting challenges that I face (working as a wage slave by night, as a consultant for two local government units by day, and as a dad in between), I might not be able to keep this up. Most probably after this blogpost, I’d be able to blog only during weekends. Or during my free time. Or perhaps only if I feel the urge to write about something that I know (“and not before; and not much later”).

Nevertheless, at the end of the day, talent and discipline are the true accomplices of a prolific writer no matter what the challenges. Don’t give up on your dreams. The Filipino writer simply has to rally on no matter what the odds.

And those odds are not forever. This I believe.

América y los Estados Unidos de América: entérense de la diferencia

Image: Funpicc.

América es el segundo continente más grande del mundo. Pero debido a su gran tamaño y sus características geográficas, este continente se divide tradicionalmente en América del Norte (Canadá, los Estados Unidos de América, y México), América Central (Belice, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, y Panamá), las Antillas (Antigua y Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Cuba, Granada, Dominica, Haití, Jamaica, República Dominicana, San Cristóbal y Nieves, San Vicente y las Granadinas, y Santa Lucía, e incluye también el estado libre asociado de Puerto Rico), y América del Sur (Argentina, Bolivia, Brasil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Paraguay, el Perú, Surinam, Trinidad y Tobago, Uruguay, y Venezuela).

Por otro lado, los Estados Unidos de América (EE.UU.) es una república federal constitucional compuesta por cincuenta estados y un distrito federal que se ubica en el centro de América del Norte.

El gentilicio para los ciudadanos de este continente, desde el océano Glacial Ártico por el norte hasta el Cabo de Hornos por el sur, se llama “americano”. Pero hoy en día, ¿por qué se limita estrictamente este gentilicio sólo para la gente de los EE.UU.? Aquí en Filipinas, cuando se menciona la palabra “americano”, los filipinos piensan de inmediato del pueblo de los EE.UU. Estoy seguro que es lo mismo caso en muchos otros países. En realidad, no se debe olvidar que América es el nombre de todo el continente — y todos los que lo habitan son americanos.

Salvo la gente de los EE.UU., todos los americanos del norte hasta al sur, a pesar de ser americanos, tienen su identidad propia, con su propia cultura única. Por ejemplo, un americano de México se llama mexicano. Un americano de Bolivia se llama boliviano. Un americano que vive en Honduras se llama hondureño. Un americano también en Cuba se llama cubano. Hasta los canadienses son americanos. Etc, etc, etc…

Pero el ciudadano de EE.UU., un país que está conformado por varios estados, unos de los cuales fueron robados de México, ¿cuál es su propia identidad además de ser americano? ¿Cómo los llamamos?

Nada.

¿Y si “estadounidense”? Es algo artificial, usado con menor frecuencia. Es preferible pero el problema es los EE.UU. ya es crisol de muchas poblaciones: asiáticos, europeos, latinos, etc. Los blancos, el estereotipo de “americano” en la mente de mucha gente, forman parte de una minoría.

Sin embargo, esta minoría tiene la audacia de apropiarse para sí mismo el gentilicio “americano”. Y estos blancos ejercen tanto poder no sólo en los EE.UU. sino en muchas partes del mundo.

¿Quiénes son estos blancos en particular?

Se llaman WASP, el acrónimo en inglés de “blanco, anglosajón, y protestante” (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant). Ellos son los que detentan el poder neocolonial en el gobierno de Filipinas así como en muchos países en todo el mundo. Ellos son nuestros verdaderos enemigos.

Tenemos que poner un alto a esta simpleza “americana”.

Originalmente publicado en Alas Filipinas.

Filipinas, España: more than friendship

Today, June 30, marks the fifteenth time that we celebrate the annual “Día de la Amistad Hispano-Filipina” or Philippine–Spanish Friendship Day. Former Senator Edgardo Angara, a Hispanista, sponsored the bill which later on became known as Republic Act No. 9187 (An Act Declaring June 30 of the Year as Philippine–Spanish Friendship Day) which was approved on 5 February 2003. As stated in section 1 of the said law, the aim of the celebration was to “strengthen the relationship between the Philippines and countries with which it has shared history, values and traditions.” In this case, Spain —the country that, as observed by National Artist Nick Joaquín, gave Filipinos “the basic form, the temper, the physiognomy,”— was a good choice especially since it is that country alone that “did give birth to us — as a nation, as an historical people”.

Continued Joaquín: “This geographical unit of numberless islands called the Philippines — this mystical unit of numberless tongues, bloods and cultures called a Filipino — was begotten of Spain, is a Spanish creation.”

June 30 was chosen since it was a historic event that put that friendship to a test. On that day, then President Emilio Aguinaldo commended the few remaining Spanish soldiers who were holed up for almost a year inside the Iglesia de San Luis Obispo in Baler, Tayabas (now a part of the province of Aurora which used to be a territory of Tayabas) for their loyalty and gallantry in battle. After their defeat, instead of arresting or even executing them, Aguinaldo sent them home. They were accorded safe passage to Manila en route to their return voyage to Spain. To mark this memorable event in our history, Angara thought of a national holiday to give honor to the act of benevolence which has paved the way in bridging better relations between Filipinas and the former mother country.

But I respectfully question the use of the term “friendship” because Filipinas and España were more than friends. They are in fact blood relations by virtue of history, faith, and cultural dissemination of which our country benefited from, not the other way around. Spain never became wealthy at our expense. And throughout Filipino Literature, Spain has been immortalized and personified as our mother. As already shown earlier, no less than Joaquín, the greatest writer and Filipino thinker our country has ever produced, expounded on this subject. “For three and a half centuries we lay within the womb of Spain”, wrote Joaquín.

In his narrative poem Filipinas a España, Manuel Bernabé (1890—1960), a well-known littérateur, academician, Premio Zóbel awardee (he won the prize twice: in 1924 and 1926), and politician from Parañaque (former Mayor Florencio M. Bernabe, Jr. is a descendant of his), described the motherly bond that Spain had with our country:

¡La dulce Hija, postrándose de hinojos,
dice a la Madre, a tiempo que sus ojos
leve cendal de lágrimas empaña:
—Dios ha impuesto el término del plazo,
y ya es la hora de romper el lazo
que nos unió tres siglos, Madre España!

The sweet daughter (“La dulce Hija“) referred to in this poem is Filipinas; the mother is already conspicuously addressed. Although the poem may have started on a sour note (“ya es la hora de romper el lazo que nos unió tres siglos” refers to the Tagálog rebellion of 1896), Bernabé extolled the deep love between mother and child —Spain and Filipinas— through the centuries, and even longed for that love to return: “En el curso del tiempo desenvuelto, / tú, España, volverás. ¿Qué amor no ha vuelto / presa en la red del propio bien perdido?” Bernabé ended his masterpiece by giving eternal praise to Mother Spain: “¡Gloria a la Madre España en Filipinas! / ¡Loor eterno a ti! Tú, no me olvides.”

Jesús Balmori (1887—1948), famous for his poetic jousts with Bernabé and for his prize-winning poems, including a Premio Zóbel in 1926 in which he was tied with his rival, described an even deeper bond between Mother Spain and her daughter Filipinas in his poem Canto A España: “¡Oh, España! ¡Porque en tu alma nos enlazas, / que te troven su amor todas las razas!

In an effort to rally the campaign for independence from the US imperialists, Rafaél Palma (1874—1939), the fourth President of the University of the Philippines, one of José Rizal’s early biographers, and elder brother of poet José Palma (the one who wrote the immortal poem Filipinas which eventually became the lyrics of our national anthem) wrote an essay that was published in 1900 which underlined the profound influence Spain had in our country in spite of the glaring presence of US troops all over the archipelago. In that essay entitled El Alma De España, Palma went as far as to say that Spain’s blood has been transfused into our veins. We merely took away from her her queenly cape so as to metaphorically use for a merry banquet to celebrate of our freedom:

Se nos ha trasvasado en las venas la sangre de aquella España decadente que nosotros despojamos aquí con un supremo de esfuerzo de ira, de su ancho manto de reina para tendernos sobre él a disfrutar del anchorozado festín de la libertad.

Realizing the debt of gratitude that we have towards Spain, the great Fernando Mª Guerrero (1873—1929), “el Príncipe de la poesía lírica filipina” (Prince of Filipino lyric poetry), wrote a laudatory poem entitled A Hispania.

¡Oh, noble Hispania! Este día
es para ti mi canción,
canción que viene de lejos
como eco de antiguo amor,
temblorosa, palpitante
y olorosa a tradición…

Guerrero’s daughters, themselves accomplished poets, also personified Spain as our mother. Like their illustrious father, Evangelina Guerrero de Zacarías (1904—1949) also wrote a laudatory poem to Spain entitled A España (“veinte naciones bravas, en concierto armonioso, / con los brazos del alma tus playas buscarán”) while her sister Nilda Guerrero de Barranca wrote ¡España, Madre Mía! (“Noble España, madre mía Desde estos mis patrias lares brindo a tu santa hidalguía la oración de mis altares.“).

In A España, Emeterio Barcelón y Barceló-Soriano (1897—1978), another internationally acclaimed poet in the Hispanic world, described Filipinas as a confused daughter who taught that she was enslaved by her own mother. But upon departure, Mother Spain made it known to her daughter Filipinas that she was leaving everything behind for her:

La hija se emancipó; sintióse esclava
de su madre que, al irse, le decía:
“Ahí te dejo entera el alma mía”
Y su habla y religión aquí dejaba.

When it comes to Rizal, our country’s most acclaimed national hero, there is a different take on how our country was referred to. In the first stanza of José Rizal’s famous A La Juventud Filipina, the word patria alluded to is Filipinas, not Spain:

¡Alza tu tersa frente,
juventud filipina, en este día!
¡Luce resplandeciente
tu rica gallardía,
bella esperanza de la patria mía!

It should be noted that during Rizal’s time, the concept of patria meant two things: the patria chica and the patria grande. The patria grande immediately refers to Mother Spain. On the other hand, the patria chica denotes one’s locality: this may refer to the barrio, province, or region of one’s birth. For example: the Basques, the Valencians, the Catalans, etc. all considered their respective provinces/regions as their patria chica. The Mexicans, Peruvians, Filipinos, etc. all considered their respective overseas provinces as their patria chica. But for all of them, there was only one patria grande — Spain.

How then do we know that the patria in this poem referred to Filipinas and not Spain? The answer is in the final line of the fourth stanza:

Ve que en la ardiente zona
do moraron las sombras, el hispano
esplendente corona,
con pía y sabia mano,
ofrece al hijo de este suelo indiano.

“Suelo indiano“, or native soil, is self explanatory. Nevertheless, the fourth line of the same stanza refer to the Spanish friars, those indomitable warriors of Spain, who were in charge not only of the Filipinos’ spiritual matters but also took care of their education and well-being. The “pía y sabia mano” (pious and learned hand) refer to the Spanish friars. And to those with an ear for history, it is easy to catch Rizal’s allusion to the escuelas pías, our country’s first public schools (it is not true that the US introduced public schooling to our shores). One such escuela pía, located within the walled city of Intramuros, even became the forerunner of the Ateneo Municipal, the hero’s alma mater which is now known as the Ateneo de Manila University.

While Rizal’s patria in this poem may point solely to his patria chica, i.e., Filipinas, it should be noted that his patria grande was not left out. In the final stanza of A La Juventud Filipina, Rizal used a common nickname for Spain, particularly its monarchy, during those days — Potente which means powerful. Here Spain was described as sincerely desiring the happiness  and comfort of Filipinas:

¡Día, día felice,
Filipinas gentil, para tu suelo!
Al Potente bendice,
que con amante anhelo
la ventura te envía y el consuelo.

 

And in his homage to Juan Luna and Félix Resurrección Hidalgo for having won international recognition for their paintings, Rizal called Spain point blank as our mother:

“Si la madre enseña al hijo su idioma para comprender sus alegrías, sus necesidades o dolores, España, como madre, enseña también a Filipinas…”

Even our bards in Tagálog were aware of Spain’s status as our mother country, as evidenced by poet Hermenegildo Flores’s Ang Hibic ng Filipinas sa Inang España (Filipinas’ Lament to Mother Spain). In this poem, Filipinas was speaking as an oppressed daughter, complaining and appealing to Mother Spain to get rid of those whom the poet, being a propagandista, believed were the cause of his patria chica’s deprivations: the friars.

España y Filipinas by Juan Luna (oil on canvas, 1886). Even in the visual arts, the deep regard that our forefathers had for Spain as a mother was not wanting.

I could go on and on with several other Filipino greats who all paid their respects to Mother Spain in spite of the Tagálog rebellion of 1896. But the point is this: whatever the results of that rebellion, we have to get rid of this warped view that Spain, or España, was merely a former colonizer, and that España is now just a friend. We were never colonized. Before the Spaniards arrived, there was no Filipinas yet. It was they who made us into becoming the three-stars-and-a-sun-loving people that we are today (Luzón, Visayas, and Mindanáo wouldn’t have been united if not for the Spanish advent). Between España and Filipinas lies a much more deeper bond than international relations, something that is beyond friendship. As has been clearly sung by our time-honored artists (“the antenna of the race”, said Ezra Pound), España is our Mother, not just a friend. Ella es sangre de nuestra sangre y carne de nuestra carne.