Señor Julio Camarena, Mexico’s ambassador to the Philippines, told us about things we did not learn in school. Last Tuesday, at the Ateneo amphitheater, he spoke before the Museum Volunteers of the Philippines (MVP) and the Filipinas in that group were wondering why our history books do not contain what Ambassador Camarena talked about. If I were to give his speech a title it would be “More Mexican Than You Think.”
The Philippines was not ruled directly from Spain, it was administered by the Viceroyalty of New Spain (Mexico) and was called the Capitania-General de Filipinas. That is why I call her our older sister. Mexico sent a yearly subsidy in silver to finance the Spanish colonial administration here in the Philippines. My MVP friends swore they were not taught that in school but I do remember it was sort of mentioned in the Zaide history books (for Catholic schools), but no enlightening details were given; everything was about Spain.
When Ambassador Camarena said that 10 percent of our language (Tagalog) is derived from Nahuatl words, I heard very audible gasps. He said most of the agricultural products brought by the galleons still bear vestiges of their original Nahuatl names—camote, sayote (chayote), achuete (aziote), maiz, and tomate. Domestic terms like nanay, tatay, objects like petate (banig) come from Nahuatl, and markets are also tiangguis and palengke (palenque, a Mayan word). But of course, we gave them the mango, which they call “de Manila,” coconut trees and tuba, the distillation of which they adapted to make their famous tequila. To this day, tuba is sold in Acapulco.
Then Ambassador Camarena had to clarify between revolution and the anti-colonial movement against Spain. We had the latter, but in Mexican terms, we Filipinos have not had a Revolution, meaning a social revolution akin to the one they had from 1910-1914. We have heard of Pancho Villa and Emliano Zapata, protagonists of the social revolution, not about the heroes of the Mexican anti-colonial war against Spain.
Sr. Camarena answered a lot of questions about religion — are Mexicans devout Catholics like the Filipinos? He showed film clips about the religious processions and fiestas in Mexico, which looked all too familiar to the Filipinos in the audience. However, because of the social revolution, religion has become more of a personal thing, priests and nuns are not allowed to wear religious habits in public. The State had taken over Church lands and properties, including churches, convents, and places of worship and turned a number of these into museums. Only recently were ties with the Vatican re-established.
What shocked us most was when he said their anti-colonial movement (revolution to us) was led by priests like Fr. Hidalgo whose monument is located outside the walls of Intramuros. He said, one day, during Holy Mass in a church filled with people, Hidalgo said, he was not going to celebrate Mass because they were all going to take up arms against Spain. Ironically enough, Our Lady of Guadalupe was the patroness of the anti-Spanish movement; her image was placed on Fr. Hidalgo’s flag and all other war standards. Mexico became independent in September, 1821, 40 years before Jose Rizal was born, 51 years before the Cavite Mutiny, and 48 years before the opening of the Suez Canal. After 1821, the Manila-Acapulco galleon trade stopped and Spain had to rule us directly; that aggravated the Philippine situation.
For almost two centuries, Our Lady of Guadalupe was also the patroness of the Philippines. There are stories about her appearing at the border of Pagsanjan to protect the town against marauders; the stone arch built to commemorate that miracle has survived the ravages of real estate developers. However, when Our Lady of Guadalupe became the “virgin guerrera” she was too subversive for comfort and was replaced by the Inmaculada Concepcion.
The Mexican ambassador said that the Escuadron 201 came to Manila in 1945 to help liberate the city and that was the first time the Mexican Air Force ever participated in combat outside Mexican territory. President Avila Camacho had to ask Congress for special permission. There is a marker honoring Escuadron 201 behind the monument of Fr. Hidalgo.
Then he showed us tourism clips “Mexico, Live it to Believe it,” a most original campaign without a hint of plagiarism. “We are proud of what we have,” Ambassador Camarena ended.
It suddenly dawned on me that that is the great difference. Mexicans are proud of who they are and what they have so that is one of the reasons why they have 38 million tourists.