Spanish and the Filipino Identity

The blogpost that I wrote about Andrés Bonifacio received too much backlash (even from a writer friend whom I thought has already freed herself from Hispanophobia). But it was to be expected because the Supremo has been highly revered for many decades as a freedom fighter who went up against “tyrannical Spain”. In the said blogpost, I also took the opportunity to include how Spain virtually created our country, that we were united under one language which is Spanish. That line also triggered another emotional comment from a well-known academic whom I also thought to know better than I do.

No, they’re not united under one language!” he said.

Time and again, I have always contended that the Spanish language is the basis and the foundation of our Filipino National Identity. Why? Because it is the language that united our various ethnolinguistic groups, forming themselves into one “Filipino nation”. To begin with, one must first understand that the term Filipino is merely a concept; there is no such thing as a Filipino race because our country, even up to modern times, is made up of several “races” or “tribes” (anthropologist Jesús Peralta would rather call them ethnolinguistic groups) such as the Tagalog, Cebuano, Bicolano, etc. Secondly, the early history of our country, much of it written in Spanish, serves as basis for my views. In our history under Spanish rule, these tribes became united under one umbrella group which we now call FILIPINO. To make a long story short, our identity was forged during the more than 300 years of Spanish rule, and not before nor after it. There were no Filipinos yet before the Spanish advent. And even if we were not colonized by the US, our identity was already in existence — created, completed. It was already intact. Buó ná ang paguiguing Filipino natin bago pa man tayo sinugod at sinacop ng Estados Unidos de América. There was nothing more to add to it.

La imagen puede contener: 6 personas, personas sentadas

A typical Filipino family during the Spanish times (photo supplied by the Biblioteca Nacional de España to ABC).

But to make it more clear, the Filipino Identity is the product of the Filipino State that began to exist in Spanish on 24 June 1571. The Filipino State was founded together with Manila on that same date, with the government having Spanish as its official language. Since then, the tedious process of cultural amalgamation among the more than 170 tribes / ethnolinguistic groups (particularly those who accepted the King of Spain as their rightful sovereign during the Manila synod of 1599) began. Cultural dissemination (which included Christianization and the Humanities) from the West assisted in this long process.

We Filipinos are essentially Hispanic —have become Hispanic— by virtue of History and Culture. And even Faith. And the Spanish language, more particularly its literature as embodied by the works of Rizal, del Pilar, Mabini, Guerrero, Paterno, Apóstol, Balmori, Bernabé, etc., proved to be the unifying thread in this development. No wonder former Senator Recto wrote that “el español ya es cosa nuestra, propia, sangre de nuestra sangre, y carne de nuestra carne“.

At this point, I should say that realizing the importance of our national identity will give us more dignity and nobility than this so-called “Pinoy Pride” that we have been harping around since the arrival of social media in our country. Let me just add that because of the Spanish language, together with the Culture and Faith it brought with it, I now know where I stand in the midst of the ongoing onslaught of neocolonization/globalization. 😉

It is, therefore, wrong and anachronistic to say that Islam arrived in our country first. What country? As mentioned above, there was no Filipinas yet when the first Muslim scholars, traders, and imams arrived. And they were not scattered all throughout. They were only in limited places such as those very few areas in Mindanáo. Even Manila wasn’t a practicing Muslim enclave (they were to some extent converted, but those who converted them did not stay long enough, unlike the Spanish friars who remained here and died with the natives). Also, and quite obviously, Islam did not unite our disunited tribes (that was one of the greatest errors of the Arab missionaries). Because if they did, then we wouldn’t have those heritage churches and bahay na bató that we marvel at today. Besides (then as now), the Moros were into looting and pillaging towns and kidnapping non-Muslims (most especially the Visayans) for their slave trade.

The foregoing is in no way anti-Islam but simply history. They really did it. And up to now, the Abu Sayyaf is still continuing that “legacy”.

To cap this off: by not using Spanish, by not incorporating it to our daily lives, we are in effect betraying Rizal and those many other great personas from that bygone glorious past who we have either enshrined or accepted as our national heroes. Much of our country’s (true) history is written in that language. Moreover, it is one of the most widely spoken languages all over the globe and is even the second most spoken language in neocolonialist United States of América. Indeed, the Spanish language opens up not just a gateway to appreciate our oft-misunderstood past but also a path towards the opening of new trade horizons with more than a dozen Spanish-speaking countries that will surely enliven our economy.

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Our country’s history and identity are in Spanish

Flag of Cross of Burgundy.svg

La Cruz de Borgoña, our first flag.

The history of our country was documented in Spanish. Let me briefly count the ways…

The forging of our islands into one nation was done in Spanish, from the day it was founded to the day it was defended from rebels. The writers who asked for reforms from Mother Spain wrote in Spanish. The proclamation of our independence was read out in Spanish. Our first constitution (Constitución de Malolos) was written entirely in Spanish. The deliberations of our first congress (Congreso de Malolos) were in Spanish. The official decrees and correspondences of our first president (Emilio Aguinaldo) and first prime minister (Apolinario Mabini) were in Spanish. Our newspapers that fought against the US invaders were in Spanish. Our poets who decried US colonization (Claro M. Recto, Cecilio Apóstol, Jesús Balmori, Fernando Mª Guerrero, etc.) wrote their anti-imperialist verses only in Spanish. THE LYRICS OF OUR NATIONAL ANTHEM WERE ORIGINALLY IN SPANISH.

José Rizal’s final love letter to all of us was written in Spanish.

Think about it.

Un fragmento de la historia filosófica de Mabini

Mientras navegaba en Facebook me encontré con una página llamada “Kapisanan ng mga Mananaliksik sa Kasaysayan ng Marikina” que en español se traduce como la Sociedad de los Investigadores de la Historia de Mariquina. En su línea de tiempo encontré esto…

Es un fragmento de una carta de Apolinario Mabini, escrita poco antes de ser capturado por los invasores estadounidenses, que se incluyó en su libro La Revolución Filipina (con otros documentos de la época) que fue publicado en 1931 (se puede leer completamente esa carta en las páginas 104 hasta 107 del dicho libro). La carta fue dirigida a un tal “Sr. Remontado”. La versión original de este fragmento va así:

La historia nos enseña que la cultura echa raíces, no para perpetuarse en una localidad determinada, sino para florecer y fructificar, a fin de que el viento pueda esparcir sus semillas a las regiones más apartadas.

Apolinario Mabini sits outside his tent in Guam 1902

Mabini como prisionero de los invasores estadounidenses en Guam en 1902 (foto: Arnaldo Dumindín).

Este mensaje de Mabini vale la pena discutir porque es esclarecedor. En estas breves palabras, él nos mostró la relación intrínseca entre la cultura y la historia: la cultura como el creador de eventos, y la historia como el cronista de esos movimientos creados o causados por la cultura, de manera tal que podamos no sólo entender la difusión de la cultura sino determinar también el camino el cual esa difusión podría tomar. En esa misma carta, Mabini explica más…

Además, así como la tierra se torna estéril con el continuo cultivo, hasta el extremo de que el abono artificial apenas basta para dar savia y vida a las nuevas plantas, por tan superior manera, una sociedad, con vida regalada y la corrupción en las costumbres, que produce siempre el abuso de la cultura refinada a que está tan inclinado el hombre, se enerva y decae hasta carecer del vigor necesario para seguir avanzando por el camino de la civilización. En este instante surge, como por encanto, un pueblo virgen, dotado del vigor y de la lozanía de la juventud y se hace cargo de la preciada herencia del viejo y caduco para manejarla y comunicarla el mayor grado de desarrollo y prosperidad, hasta que le llegue, a su vez, el ocaso de la vida.

Sí, ciertamente hay mucho más que podemos aprender de la Historia de Filipinas aparte del heroísmo supuesto o no de ciertos personajes históricos, por no hablar las rebeliones que han causado. Sólo necesitamos ampliar nuestros horizontes intelectuales.