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.

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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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Just rummaging around some old files…

Look what I found in the archives of the Círculo Hispano-Filipino Yahoo! Groups of Mr. Andreas Herbig of Germany! Here I received a welcome message from Mr. Ramón Terrazas Muñoz of México. I just realized that I was only 22 years old when I became an online activist for the Spanish-language cause in my country. And now I’m 40 years old… time flies so fast!

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¡Miren lo que encontré en los archivos del Yahoo! Groups Círculo Hispano-Filipino del Sr. Andreas Herbig de Alemania! Aquí recibí un mensaje de bienvenida del Sr. Ramón Terrazas Muñoz de México. Me di cuenta de que tenía sólo 22 años cuando me convertí en activista en línea por la causa del idioma español en mi país. Y ahora tengo 40 años… ¡el tiempo vuela rápidamente!

Our country’s history and identity are in Spanish

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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.

Want to ace English? Then learn Spanish

I found this textual meme in the Facebook group Oficialización del Español en Filipinas (Officialization of the Spanish Language in Filipinas). It compares the various inflections of the English verb do to that of its Spanish counterpart hacer. As you can see, the verb forms in English are not as numerously expressive compared to their Spanish versions.
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This is just one example why learning English is a piece of cake among native Spanish speakers. Picture this…
José Rizal, a native Spanish speaker, taught himself English. And he aced it.
Manuel L. Quezon, a native Spanish speaker, learned English in only about three weeks. He learned it on a steamship while traveling to the United States for the first time.
Claro M. Recto, a native Spanish speaker, mastered English in only three months.
The first Filipino short-story in the English language was written by a native Spanish speaker, Paz Márquez de Benítez of Lucena, Tayabas (where I was also born). That story, “Dead Stars”, was composed during the early years of US occupation. And when you read her story, its masterful language will make you stop and think how today’s Filipino fiction in English pales in comparison to hers. And to think that we’ve been learning English for more than a century while the English of Benítez’s era was still quite young.
José García Villa, our first National Artist in Literature who is also considered as one of the finest (if not indeed the finest) our country has ever produced when it comes to poetry, was another native Spanish speaker. He was highly acclaimed by critics not just here but also those in the United States.
And of course, there’s the one and only Nick Joaquín, the greatest Filipino writer in the English language, hands down. And, you guessed it, he was also a native Spanish speaker. A fact not known to many.
Why is this so? Because Spanish and English are both cognates. They have so many words that are similar or even identical. In layman’s terms, Spanish and English are “cousins”.
It is no wonder why our grandparents and great grandparents who received good education during the US occupation of our country spoke and wrote better English than us. And that is also why most of our literary greats in the English language (Joaquín, Villa, N.V.M. González, Trinidad Tarrosa, Paz M. Latorena, etc.) usually come from that epoch when Spanish was still the language.
Had we allowed the teaching of the Spanish language to continue in our curriculum, and had our government supported its usage, we would all be writing and speaking English much better than our North Américan invaders.

The day Princess Sarah burned Miss Minchin

Esto fue ese día famoso en que la Princesa Sarah Crewe dejó atrás a la Señorita María Minchin con su excelente español. 😂

I saw this video clip making the rounds in Facebook lately: an angry Miss Minchin got burned upon discovering that Princess Sarah was a native Spanish-speaker. The rather humorous video clip is from that famous 1995 Filipino family-drama movie Sarah… Ang Munting Prinsesa (Sarah… The Little Princess) which starred Camille Prats in the titular role (she was 10 years old at the time). The movie itself was adapted from the 1985 Japanese cartoon series Princess Sarah which was then a huge hit at ABS-CBN during the 1990s. The said cartoon’s high ratings prompted the media giant to make a movie out of it through its film outfit Star Cinema.

In the video clip, Miss Minchin, portrayed by the ever-effective Jean García, got miffed when she noticed that Princess Sarah was the only student in her Spanish language class who was not taking up notes. The little princess tried to explain that she already knew the language, but to no avail. Miss Minchin started scolding her. Enter Señor Francisco, portrayed by the late Tony Carreón, a Spanish language teacher who then inquired what the commotion was all about. That was when he found out that the protagonist was half Spanish after all.

Click on the screen grab below to watch the video clip.

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This scene was a departure from the cartoon series because in the latter, the students  were learning French instead of Spanish (I should know because I was a follower of the cartoons at that time, so feel free to laugh 😂). I don’t know whose idea it was to change the language setting, but it was a good move considering that this is a Filipino film anyway. French is too foreign compared to Spanish. Besides, the late Tony Carreón himself was a native Spanish speaker. Another one of the actors in this movie, my famous friend Jaime Fábregas, is also a native Spanish speaker. I could just imagine how they gave pointers to Camille Prats on how to speak the language. Also, I do remember a former office mate of mine (Tina Jocson, another native Spanish speaker) telling me that she personally knew Camille’s grandparents (father’s side if I remember correctly). The grandparents themselves were also native Spanish speakers. So I imagine that perhaps Camille knew a smattering of the language.

You might notice how I kept using the adjective “native”. Let me continue reminding the very few readers of this blog that Spanish is a Filipino language. It is not a foreign language. Many Filipinos such as Carreón, Fábregas, and Mommy Tina grew up speaking it as their cradle language. That is why local movie scenes like this really put a smile on my face (with apologies to Thanos).

Enjoy the rest of the day! ¡Un buen día a todos!

Rizal Day trivia: “Mi Último Adiós

RIZAL DAY TRIVIA: José Rizal’s valedictory poem had no title. It was his friend and fellow propagandist Mariano Ponce who first gave it a title a year after his death. It was first called “Mi Último Pensamiento“, but it didn’t become popular. Then the following year, in 1898, Ponce’s Mi Último Pensamiento was replaced by “Mi Último Adiós“. The new title, this time ascribed by Ilocano priest Fr. Mariano Dacanay, first appeared in the patriotic newspaper “La Independencia” which was edited by Antonio Luna.

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¡Adiós, Patria adorada, región del sol querida,
Perla del mar de oriente, nuestro perdido Edén!
A darte voy alegre la triste mustia vida,
Y fuera más brillante, más fresca, más Florida,
También por ti la diera, la diera por tu bien.

En campos de batalla, luchando con delirio,
Otros te dan sus vidas sin dudas, sin pesar;
El sitio nada importa, ciprés, laurel o lirio,
Cadalso o campo abierto, combate o cruel martirio,
Lo mismo es si lo piden la patria y el hogar.

Yo muero cuando veo que el cielo se colora
Y al fin anuncia el día tras lóbrego capuz;
si grana necesitas para teñir tu aurora,
Vierte la sangre mía, derrámala en buen hora
Y dórela un reflejo de su naciente luz.

Mis sueños cuando apenas muchacho adolescente,
Mis sueños cuando joven ya lleno de vigor,
Fueron el verte un día, joya del mar de oriente,
Secos los negros ojos, alta la tersa frente,
Sin ceño, sin arrugas, sin manchas de rubor

Ensueño de mi vida, mi ardiente vivo anhelo,
¡Salud te grita el alma que pronto va a partir!
¡Salud! Ah, que es hermoso caer por darte vuelo,
Morir por darte vida, morir bajo tu cielo,
Y en tu encantada tierra la eternidad dormir.

Si sobre mi sepulcro vieres brotar un día
Entre la espesa yerba sencilla, humilde flor,
Acércala a tus labios y besa al alma mía,
Y sienta yo en mi frente bajo la tumba fría,
De tu ternura el soplo, de tu hálito el calor.

Deja a la luna verme con luz tranquila y suave,
Deja que el alba envíe su resplandor fugaz,
Deja gemir al viento con su murmullo grave,
Y si desciende y posa sobre mi cruz un ave,
Deja que el ave entone su cántico de paz.

Deja que el sol, ardiendo, las lluvias evapore
Y al cielo tornen puras, con mi clamor en pos;
Deja que un ser amigo mi fin temprano llore
Y en las serenas tardes cuando por mí alguien ore,
¡Ora también, oh Patria, por mi descanso a Dios!

Ora por todos cuantos murieron sin ventura,
Por cuantos padecieron tormentos sin igual,
Por nuestras pobres madres que gimen su amargura;
Por huérfanos y viudas, por presos en tortura
Y ora por ti que veas tu redención final.

Y cuando en noche oscura se envuelva el cementerio
Y solos sólo muertos queden velando allí,
No turbes su reposo, no turbes el misterio,
Tal vez accordes oigas de cítara o salterio,
Soy yo, querida Patria, yo que te canto a ti.

Y cuando ya mi tumba de todos olvidada
No tenga cruz ni piedra que marquen su lugar,
Deja que la are el hombre, la esparza con la azada,
Y mis cenizas, antes que vuelvan a la nada,
El polvo de tu alfombra que vayan a formar.

Entonces nada importa me pongas en olvido.
Tu atmósfera, tu espacio, tus valles cruzaré.
Vibrante y limpia nota seré para tu oído,
Aroma, luz, colores, rumor, canto, gemido,
Constante repitiendo la esencia de mi fe.

Mi patria idolatrada, dolor de mis dolores,
Querida Filipinas, oye el postrer adiós.
Ahí te dejo todo, mis padres, mis amores.
Voy donde no hay esclavos, verdugos ni opresores,
Donde la fe no mata, donde el que reina es Dios.

Adiós, padres y hermanos, trozos del alma mía,
Amigos de la infancia en el perdido hogar,
Dad gracias que descanso del fatigoso día;
Adiós, dulce extranjera, mi amiga, mi alegría,
Adiós, queridos seres, morir es descansar.

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How Spanish is spoken in Filipinas

The following video shows how Spanish is spoken as an authentic Filipino language.

The recordings on this video (edited by Neptuno Azul) were made by Spanish scholars Antonio Quilis and Celia Casado-Fresnillo as they were interviewing native Filipino Spanish speakers. Their research resulted in the book “La Lengua Española en Filipinas” which was published ten years ago in Madrid, Spain.

The Spanish spoken in Filipinas is a variant of standard Spanish, or Spanish spoken in Spain, particularly in the capital which is Madrid. Unknown to many, there are several variants of Spanish (Colombian Spanish, Argentinian Spanish, Puerto Rican Spanish, etc.) as there are many variants of Tagálog (Batangueño Tagálog, Manileño Tagálog, etc.). Ours is very similar to the variant spoken in México because from there our country was ruled by Spain (México was then known as “Nueva España” or New Spain) from 1571 to 1821. During that period, there was much Spanish and Mexican emigration to Filipinas, hence the linguistic similarities.

As can be heard from the video, Filipino native speakers of Spanish do not speak the language as fast as other Spanish speakers from other countries. Perhaps the most obvious difference between Spanish Filipino and standard Spanish is that the voiceless dental fricative or /θ/ is not distinguished from the voiceless alveolar sibilant or /s/, a characteristic that we share with our Latin American counterparts (this lack of distinction between /s/ and /θ/ is called the seseo). There are other linguistic characteristics such as the yeísmo, the non-aspiration of the /s/, the shifting of the [ɾ] and [l] at the end of syllables, etc. These distinctions are best observed in a classroom setting (effectively provided by the Instituto Cervantes de Manila).

Another good example of Filipino Spanish can be heard right here, spoken by no less than our country’s first president, Emilio Aguinaldo.

While it is true that Spanish was not spoken as a first language by many Filipinos compared to other Spanish overseas subjects, it was spoken either as a secondary or tertiary language in our country. Add to the fact that schools during those days also taught French (back then the lingua franca of the international diplomacy), Latin, and even classical Greek and Hebrew. It is thus not surprising that Filipinos during those days were multilingual. A well-educated Tagálog spoke not just his cradle language but also Spanish and other languages taught to him in school. A Visayan wrote not just in Cebuano or Hiligaynón or Aclanon but also in Spanish. A Bicolano uttered his prayers in three languages: Bícol (Bícol Naga, Rinconada, etc.), Spanish, and Latin, perhaps even more. But it cannot be denied that the prevailing language back then was Spanish, the language that wove together both national unity and identity.