Filipinos in Nueva Espana (Guevarra 2011)

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  • Filipinos in nueva espaa

    Filipino-Mexican Relations, Mestizaje, and Identity

    in Colonial and Contemporary Mexico

    rudy p. guevarra jr.

    jaas october 2011 389416 the johns hopkins university press

    The Mexico-Philippines relationship created and managed by Spain from

    the 1500s to the 1800s was the first Pacific Rim association, especially to

    demonstrate that the cultural byproducts of the transcontinental ties

    deserve as much attention as their economic, political, and military


    Evelyn I. Rodriguez1

    In november 2004, I took a trip with a friend to Acapulco, Mexico, to embark on an exploration of cultural identity and history. It was then part of my dissertation research. I wanted to find out just how long and

    extensive the relationship between Filipinos and Mexicans was, which

    I knew predated those beginning in the early twentieth century in the

    United States, and in particular San Diego, California, where there is a

    large and growing multiethnic Mexipino population.2 I knew that the

    story of Filipino and Mexican interethnic relationships has a rich, complex

    history. During the course of this trip I came to find out just how rich

    and complex the history is.

    Walking down Calle Cinco de Mayo in Acapulco, I could not help but

    notice the Filipino-owned stores and shops, and hear the conversations as

    the proprietors spoke to their staff and clientele in Spanish and Tagalog. All

    over Acapulco there are other distinct signs of a recent Filipino presence.

    Many of the local residents have visible Filipino or Asian features.3 The

  • 390 Jaas 14:3

    cultural signposts along this journey spoke to the intimate relationship

    between Mexico and the Philippines, spanning several generations. The

    relationship was facilitated for 250 years during the Manila-Acapulco gal-

    leon trade (15651815).4 These transpacific voyages were responsible for

    one of the worlds most lucrative and long-lasting global enterprises, which

    included an enormous array of luxury goods, medicinal plants, agricultural

    products, and people.5 This essay addresses how these exchanges had a

    profound impact on both Mexico (Nueva Espaa) and the Philippines.6

    Indeed, the ways in which both indigenous and mixed-race Filipinos and

    Mexicans crossed a vast ocean to become part of each others social and

    cultural worlds and the mestizaje (racial and cultural blending) that oc-

    curred attest to an extensive historical connection with lasting implications.

    Luxury Goods, siLver BuLLion, and Brown Bodies across the Pacific

    Between 1565 and 1815, numerous goods from Asia, the Philippines, and

    other areas of the Pacific were highly coveted by the Spanish elite in the

    Americas and Spain. Manila was the entrept from where all goods were

    processed, readied, and shipped to Acapulco, Mexico (which was also

    known as the City of Kings).7 Trade goods such as silks, porcelains, agri-

    cultural produce, spices, teas, and other luxury and consumer merchandise

    from China, the Philippines, Japan, India, Borneo, Cambodia, Malay, Siam

    (Thailand), the Spice Islands (Moluccas, Java, and Ceylon), and other parts

    of Asia and the Pacific were traded for silver to Chinese merchants.8 In

    addition to silver, other goods shipped back to the Philippines included a

    wide variety of agricultural goods, medicinal plants, and other items that

    covered the necessities of the island population.9 This global exchange of

    goods and silver transformed the material and cultural lives of merchants

    and consumers in Europe, Asia, and the Americas.

    The Philippines provided key items in this transpacific endeavor.

    Indeed, probably the greatest item produced/built and exported from

    the Philippines were the galleons themselves. The majority of the vessels

    were built in the shipyards of Cavite, but galleons were also constructed

    in Acapulco, Natividad, Zihuantanejo, and other port towns in Mexico.10

    In the Philippines, most of the workforce used to construct these mighty

    vessels was managed through a forced system of labor called polo, which

  • 391Filipinos in nueva espaa guevarra

    was considered the most oppressive phase of the Spanish domination on

    the islands.11 Countless Filipino indios (Indians) were worked to death in

    the construction of these galleons. Seen as a dispensable commodity, these

    workers were underfed, mistreated, and worked to the point of exhaus-

    tion and death. Though there were skilled Chinese and Filipino indio and

    mestizo artisans who helped construct the galleons, the majority of the

    hard labor was done in the shipyards by indigenous Filipinos.12

    The shipbuilding process was very labor intensive. Filipino indios cut

    down the abundant teak and other hardwood trees and hauled them from

    the jungles to other workers who were waiting in the shipyards to construct

    the galleons.13 The hardwood trees were desired for their durability and

    strength to withstand canon fire. So important were these hardwoods in

    the construction of the galleons that they were considered the best that

    can be found in the universe, and if it were not for the great strength

    of the galleons and the quality of their timbers . . . so dangerous a voy-

    age could not be performed. Given the durability and strength of the

    completed galleons, they were often referred to as castles in the sea.14

    Yet once completed the galleons generated a new form of forced servitude

    for many of the workers. Filipino indios (who were also known as chinos)

    were forced to board the galleons alongside Sangleys (ethnic Chinese) and

    mestizos de Sangleys (Chinese mestizos) and work as seamen, servants, and

    slaves. Slaves were sold upon arrival in Acapulco to the highest bidders.

    Slaves were part of the galleon cargo, despite restrictions by the Spanish

    Crown. At first, a 1626 law levied a tax of 4,000 reales, or 500 pesos, per

    slave brought from the Philippines. By 1700, a royal order was implemented

    prohibiting the trading of Filipino indio slaves altogether, yet slavery was

    not the focus of the wealth that Spain depended upon.15

    Though not in numbers comparable with other European powers in

    the transatlantic slave trade, Spain nonetheless brought slaves as part of the

    galleon cargo.16 Pacific ports such as Acapulco were used as docking sta-

    tions to deliver these slaves into Mexico and other parts of South America.

    Slaves were also used in conjunction with other local and mixed-race

    populations to replenish the local supply of Mexican indios who, not even

    fifty years earlier, were decimated by Spanish diseases. Filipino indios and

    Chinese and African slaves were thus brought in to supply the demand for

    indentured labor in what became known as the Acapulco slave trade.17

  • 392 Jaas 14:3

    Filipino indio women suffered other indignities. They were used as concu-

    bines for Spanish nobles and other officials, who often times impregnated

    and abandoned them once they reached port. This practice became such

    a problem that the Spanish Crown wanted to avoid it altogether; thus a

    decree was issued in 1608 to put an end to this custom: One prominent

    official had carried fifteen of these women with him on the voyage. Several

    were delivered of children by him, while others left the ship at Acapulco

    in a pregnant condition, which made a great scandal.18

    For Filipino indio men in the galleon trade, their fate had multiple

    outcomes. As previously mentioned, there were thousands who served as

    laborers in the building of galleons, both in the Philippines and Mexico. As

    underpaid sailors and slave labor, Filipinos were also used to navigate the

    galleons. The navigating prowess of the Filipino seamen and their knowl-

    edge of the Pacific Ocean assured that many of the galleons touched port

    in Acapulco. Their history of inter-island and long-voyage trading with

    other Asian countries made them invaluable navigators. The experience

    of these Filipino indios across Pacific waters forced the Spanish to rely

    heavily on them. For most galleon crews, Filipino indios outnumbered the

    Iberians by five to one.19 A Spaniard later praised these seamen as follows:

    There is not an Indian in those islands who has not a remarkable

    inclination for the sea, nor is there at present in all the world a people

    more agile in manoeuvres [sic] on shipboard, or who learn so quickly

    nautical terms and whatever a good mariner ought to know. . . . They

    can teach many of the Spanish seamen who sail in those seas. . . . There

    is hardly an Indian who has sailed the seas who does not understand

    the mariners compass, and therefore on this trade route there are some

    very skilful [sic] and dextrous [sic] helmsmen. . . . When placed upon a

    ship from which they cannot escape, they fight with spirit and courage.20

    Despite the contributions Filipino indios made to the galleon voyages,

    their Spanish masters and employers treated them inhumanely. Various

    complaints were made regarding their condition, which included mis-

    treatment a