A shared past
By Ambeth Ocampo
Last updated 02:08am (Mla time) 11/17/2006
Published on Page A15 of the November 17, 2006 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer
IDEAS about Mexico differ from Filipino to Filipino and probably depend on the fast-food and television fare he indulges in. Those of my generation developed an idea of Mexico from childhood via television cartoons, so I learned about Mexican jumping beans and a mouse called Speedy Gonzalez, who taught what I originally thought was my first Mexican word: "Andale!'' In college, we were introduced to a place called Tia Maria that allegedly served Mexican food and margaritas that made our weekends happy. So you can see, my idea of Mexico was not properly informed.
Travel is meant to broaden our horizons. I thought I knew Mexico when our family was in the United States and decided to make a side trip to that hot and dusty border town called Tijuana. Tijuana reminded me of Divisoria in the armpit of Manila. My mother was upset when I refused to wear a grimy hat and poncho to pose for a souvenir photo beside a sad-looking burro. Again, that image of Mexico was not properly informed.
It is fortunate that a decade ago I stepped into the real Mexico, together with former Vice President Salvador Laurel and the newly appointed Instituto Cervantes Manila director Pepe Rodriguez, but then it was only an overnight stopover to break a long trip from Jakarta to Havana. Having seen the beach in Cancun where Ferdinand Marcos went skiing and realizing that Mexico was so different from what I had imagined it to be, I jumped ship on the way back to Manila and spent a few days in Mexico City. Ever since that first and brief visit, I have always dreamed of going back, not for holiday but for archival or museum research.
Fortunately, there is a conference in the National Museum that opened yesterday that brings together Filipino and Mexican historians in panels that are designed to help us rediscover our common past as a way of forging a common future. The seminar is open to the public, and we hope that this will be the first of many more to come, both in Manila and Mexico.
It is unfortunate that most Filipinos today do not know or remember that for a long time, the Philippines was actually ruled by Spain, not from Madrid but from Mexico. We also do not realize that some things we think of as part of the Spanish influence in our culture are actually of Mexican origin. We see this in language and, more importantly, plants that were exchanged between our countries during the famous Galleon Trade.
Food is one of the primary areas of mutual understanding. An encounter with the real Mexico will open Filipinos to a richer and more varied fare than the so-called Tex-Mex variety popularized in Manila by American food chains and products, like Taco Bell, Polo Loco, Nachos and Chili's. An assortment of chilis, sauces, sausages and even tamales in Mexican food provides not just familiar tastes, smells and flavors, but the realization of cultural exchange. Philippine mangoes are known and appreciated in Mexico as "mangas de Manila," while fruits, plants and vegetables that are so common in the Philippines and that we presumed to be indigenous, like avocado, corn and chocolate, are actually "immigrants" from Mexico. Some even retain their Aztec names: chayote, "kamote," "singcamas," and probably even "zapote." A number of the vegetables in the nursery rhyme "Bahay Kubo," which incidentally is not about a nipa hut but the vegetables around it, are actually from Mexico.
Cockfighting is believed to have been introduced in Mexico from the Philippines. But there is no doubt that the veneration of the Virgin of Guadalupe in the Philippines came from Mexico, and so we have two districts in Makati City called Guadalupe Viejo and Guadalupe Nuevo. The Black Nazarene venerated in Manila's Quiapo district is of Mexican origin and the miraculous black Virgin of Antipolo guided galleon voyages between the Philippines and Mexico, hence her Spanish name is Nuestra Seņora de Paz y de Buen Viaje or Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage. Many Mexican cultural and historical influences have been assimilated seamlessly into everyday Philippine life and we now have to revisit them for better appreciation.
The Galleon Trade is but a footnote in our textbooks, and for some people, it is something that should be forgotten as part of a colonial past. But revisiting this part of our shared past with Mexico is not merely an exercise in academic history or antiquarian taste; it reminds us that long before the word "globalization" was even coined, the Galleon Trade was the first real global trade. While globalization is a contemporary term, history shows that it began 400 years ago when the world became smaller and the meeting between East and West was made possible through the Philippines and Mexico, Manila and Acapulco.
Revisiting the roots of our long cultural and historic ties with Mexico is a first step not just in knowing the past but, more importantly, a way to accept, explore and appreciate commonalities that form the basis for mutual understanding and friendship in the present and a platform to guide us toward a common future. I'm glad we have the elegant Mexican Ambassador Erendira Aracelia Paz Campos in Manila and the new Philippine Ambassador to Mexico Antonio M. Lagdameo to make both ends meet.