Discussions on the State of the Spanish Language during the American Occupation

I spent the whole morning talking with Pio Andrade and GGR about the true state of the Spanish language during the American occupation in the early 1990’s [and some other historical stuff].

Below are some of what they had to say about the topic:

PA: The Americans forbided the teaching of Spanish when they came yet the Spanish capability of the Filipinos increased because the Thomasites had to learn Spanish for them to teach English effectively. Instead of decreasing the speakers of Spanish, they increased it.

A number of English publications in 1903 compared to the number of English and Spanish publications of 1918 shows the latter increasing. Almost all English publications had to dedicate Spanish sections in order to be widely read. Agoncillo’s claim of 2% [Spanish speakers in the 1900’s] have no reference. It’s a big  lie.

GGR: It’s a lie to you, to me and to all Filipinos [that Spanish was never spoken by Filipinos]. That’s why they’re [the US] here, to lie. The exploitation was unbelievable since the beginning.

You should have a copy of the book “Rizal’s Unfading Glory”, written by Padre Jesús María Cavanna y Manso. Its the most exhaustive research on the man. Its all there. They try to wishy washy Rizal. Trying to justify American colonialism by promoting the Americanized version of this hero. If they want to get serious about Rizal then they should study his poems, novels, songs and plays in Spanish!

The brave women of Malolos wanted to learn Spanish. Rizal supported them. The message was clear. A lot of people appears to be afraid of the true Rizal but the true Rizal must come out! People just want to repeat the same stories about the man.

WOP: I’ll never forget the stories of my adopted grandmother about Spanish [language]. Having been born in prewar Manila she grew up around people who spoke Spanish. Her father was Irish, having stayed in the country for so long learned Spanish. Her mestiza mom, part Swiss, also spoke it. Intramuros  exclusively spoke Spanish. This includes according to her the servants and the Chinese merchants!

She saw it as something very Filipino. She’s so proud that her generation spoke “the language”. She succeeded in teaching it to her children and grandchildren. And this is an American citizen.

My biological great grandparents, and this came from those who lived with them, spoke the language. My maternal great grandfather was said to be a strict disciplinarian [he evicted my grandpa from Dumangas] exclusively spoke Spanish at home. He was Aglipayan.

Its just strange that we all remember our grandparents speaking Spanish and yet we believe what was taught in school. That it was never widely spoken by Filipinos.

Pio and GGR posing with the newspaper interview ( ¿se retracto Rizal?...¡si!) showing Trinidad Rizal admitting that Jose indeed retracted before he died. GGR here commenting and having fun on the printed shirt (waikiki) of Don Pio!


All other text enclosed in parenthesis is mine.


10 responses to “Discussions on the State of the Spanish Language during the American Occupation

  • Tsinelas

    I would like to learn it but for economic reasons – not because of anything else

  • Petty Mon

    Spanish was once a Filipino language. That is if you read, observe and in my case, had the opportunity to speak with elder town people. Yes, it is not as widespread but it was used until 1950’s. The last people in the family to speak it were my Filipino Chinese grandparents. They were from CEbu city.

  • Bogs

    This is not to defend the Americans or the Spaniards or to favor one colonial master over the other.

    In some of the on-line forums that discusses Philippine history and heritage, I have pointed out the importance of acknowledging our Hispanic past and its great contribution in developing our people into one nation (as the Spaniards are the ones responsible in creating our country and in uniting the diverse group of people.) Also in arguing that we are disconnected from our past because of the language barrier; wherein most of our written history up to this time, is in Spanish. It is unfortunate that the Spaniards were painted in a bad light due to the black legend. But one of the theories is that the black legend stemmed from reports of fellow Spaniards about the abuses by the newly arrive conquistadores in the New World. Notably, the report and complaints by Bartolome de las Casas (whom I think should be made into a saint.) His accounts were said to have been used by the British to promote their own agenda. Hence, the black legend was born. In addition, I believe the efforts of de las Casas benefited the Philippines when it was made into a colony. This is something that a former Mexican colleague whose ancestors were Spaniards, could not understand. I think he was not aware of the difference on how the New World was colonized as compared to the Philippines. I was even accused of defending the Spanish policy of colonization (it was not my intention, just a point of comparison) which he detested (come to think of it, he speaks Spanish and is of the same ancestry.) Some Mexicans bunch the Spaniards with the British as being both exploitative.

    As regards to the Spanish language, it is indeed a shame that it is not widely spoken in the country on the same level as English. But Spanish was never really widely propagated in the country on the same level as in the New World (the Americas) and just to compare, on the same level also as Portuguese in Brazil. I have watched documentaries of British and American jungle explorers who had guides and interpreters who spoke with the native tribes in either Spanish or Portuguese. This took me by surprise. Even the endemic tribes can converse in these foreign languages even if they seem hundred of miles away from civilization. My point being, if Spanish was widely propagated here, then the common Filipino would have spoken it too.

    Another point is, I believe the missionaries took it upon themselves to learn and study the vernacular instead of teaching Spanish. Hence, some of the earliest printed works are dictionaries. Even the Doctrina Christiana has baybayin texts in it (unless the Americans have added this to re-prints.)

    I did not know that Spanish was forbidden to be thought in schools during the American period. But Spanish was still used even during the American period. This assumption can be supported by legal papers or government documents/forms with both English and Spanish texts (e.g. cedulas.) If you checked your parents or any of your elders birth certificates, those born during this period, it would have most likely been both written in English and Spanish. Even up to the late 1960’s I have seen trans de ganados that were still used and were indicated in both languages (probably old government forms that were not yet revised.)

    Now, I am not sure about this, but my perception was that Spanish was taken out as an official language in the present constitution. As I entered college a few years into Pres. Cory’s tenure, Spanish has been removed from our curriculum (our school was established by Spanish monks.)

    Again, I believe Spanish was not largely propagated in the country. If it was, we would be closer to Latin America in language. And the Women of Malolos would not have made a petition that they be taught Spanish, if the language was widely instituted. It was taught and learned most likely by our ancestors through the school system. Another way was probably by being employed or married to a Spaniard. But with regards to it as being disseminated to the general population, that I doubt. As to the Chinese who speaks Spanish, this isn’t far off since as we know, they are very good and pragmatic business people (even in religion, they have a Sto. Nino and a Buddha in their altars.) It’s probably no different from an Indian (Bombay) who speaks good Tagalog in order to do business.

    De Anda, you’ll have to forgive my long reaction and ramblings to your blog post. I would just like to point out, that the decline of Spanish was not the fault entirely of the Americans. It was marginalized but was not removed from general usage. As mentioned, chances are government forms or documents even during the Commonwealth period are bilingual.

    It declined because it was not a policy to teach it to the general population during the Spanish colonial period, the coming of the Americans further lessened it, but in most parts, it was deemed as unimportant by the government and the Filipinos in general.

    Unfortunately we still keep blaming others for our misfortunes (some Fil-Ams blame Spain, some Pinoys blame the Kanos.) Sino ang ating sisihin, yung nang-uuto o yung uto-uto.

    By the way, some areas in the US, are bilingual. Announcements, signs and even letters from both private and government institutions are both in Spanish and English.

    • De AnDA

      Of course, it would be erroneous to attribute it to them [Americans] alone. There were many factors that led to its decline. We have to focus our attention on the late 1800’s when it began to picked up because of the introduction of the Spanish public schools [though, widely considered a failure].

      We have the Statistics of 1903, the Ford report (1916) and Palanca’s documentation. American acknowledged this to be the case. The word for me is “discouraged”, for it matter less to Americans if you memorized the epic of Don Quixote in Spanish or if your a genius in literature, its English or else you’ll be at a terrible disadvantage. The bilingual newspaper was an adjustment because literacy in Spanish text was higher than English for the longest time. After all, Spanish is much closer to Tagalog, in pronunciation and adapted usage.

      No Filipino today could pass elementary and high school without learning English – that in my view is an unfair imposition. Is this condition present among the Chinese and Japanese educational system? I believe, no.

      We are all in agreement that the Friars never did spread their language for reason that they had already expressed, thankfully, (their sheer number would have not been enough to teach it), just imagine if they succeeded, many of our local languages would have already died. we must remember that it was directive from the Spanish King to teach the Indios Spanish. But even in the beginning, with Urdaneta and his crew, they never obeyed it. The logic was that it was easier to learn the language of a hundred souls and evangelized them using it than teach a hundred souls a new language before teaching them the rudiments of Catholicism. The Friars only discouraged Spanish after liberal ideas started knocking at our doors in 1800’s. To dismiss them outright for not teaching the natives Spanish because of their racist views would be unfair. A look at the Spanish missionaries ratio versus the population would tell you that they dealt with the situation the best way they could.

      You have good points and observations. I appreciate all of them. I’ll try to look for the figures on Spanish public school system to add here , I think those would be useful in this fora.

  • Bogs

    I agree De Anda with your comment. I believe the vernacular should be emphasized. Tagalog should not be imposed at the expense of the region’s vernacular or own dialect/language. This I believe is a cause in our decline in our education system plus prevents our culture from flourishing and discovering itself as well as expressing itself in its own native tongue.

    The imposition also of a “foreign” dialect or language, I think prevents us from writing in the vernacular. Writing that is, in correct or proper grammar.

    • De AnDA

      This is our language situation. The changes that our leaders imposed, from the American occupiers to the Filipino administrations, deprived us of developing our very own literature in our local languages. The Spanish was there for more than 300 years before it was uprooted and maligned. English has been taught (ineffectively in my opinion) for less than a century and where are we today in terms of fluency? And we are taught English from kinder to college. We have yet to produce a Jaena, a Rizal, a Jalandoni,a Bernabe or a Recto in English. And those we considered greats in English (Joaquin and Villa) had Spanish as their first language. My point is that we teach children the rudiments of education and language using their local languages or their first language, after that, we allow them to choose what foreign language they would want to adopt. No more imposition of English or this “Pilipino” they try to pass on as “Tagalog”.

  • Anonymous

    I remember my grandparents speaking Spanish. They never bothered to teach us their grandchildren, or I guess we never showed interest that’s why they never bothered or its possible that they did not want to confuse us. I now live here in Japan. We’re originally from Cebu.

  • Leandro D. Quintana

    I believe I’ve made this comment before: Acquring a new language, regardless the method, is a gift. The Philippines are doubly gifted in that it is the recipient of two languages, Castillian and English. Unfortunately, the leaders of our country over the past 65 years or so, have led us to squander these gifts. Driven perhaps by a sense of insecurity or a misquided sense of nationalism, these leaders (political, educational, social) have engaged in the mindless attempt to impose a “national” language to the detriment of instruction and usage of both Castillian and English. And we have been the poorer for it. Imagine for example a situation in the 1960’s thru the end of the century, when Japan was trying to expand and deepen its commercial ties to Latin America; would Filipino managers and sales executives not been in high demand ( and at high pay) if they were fluent both in Castillian and English? I am very glad to see that there are many who recognize the value of promoting once again the use of Castillian as one of our languages.

    • De AnDA

      I completely agree. language is a gift that open doors and expand horizons. The detrimental policy of advancing a solitary national language has proven to be ineffectual. Excellence in language are developed through the process of continuous usage. It took several generation of Spanish speaking Filipinos to produce literary geniuses. When Spanish was suddenly uprooted, we had to learn this language called English. But we can never fully claim fluency in English. Just go outside, in the streets and talk with the common people you meet. The reason for this is that our education in the country has been a sorry state of affairs — then we force the Visayans and all other ethnolinguistic groups to use “Pilipino”. Not considering their local languages, which has been in existence longer than the first recorded visits of westerners. I say, let them develop their local languages and give them the option what foreign language they want to learn. Put this “Pilipino” language among the choices…

  • Anonymous

    My mother was absolutely pro-U.S. until before her death, when she had become noticeably disillusioned with America, after living there for over 30 years.

    My father spoke Spanish, as did his entire family, siblings, parents. But the language is passed on by the mother in most cases, and my mother did not speak more than a few phrases. However, her father did, and so did his entire family. Her mother was poor and did not get a decent education.

    When I was five years old something happened that was very difficult for me to experience. My mother called me to her bedroom early one afternoon. She had a small booklet — an ABC in Spanish, and she started trying to teach me. But I was afraid of my mother, she was very temperamental and impatient. I was so tense and I didn’t understand what she wanted me to do. I tried to do what she wanted, but I couldn’t. She started to get angry and shout at me. Finally she told me to get out, because I was stupid, incapable of understanding or learning.

    Cut to 2003, when I lived with her in California for the last time before she died. Of course I was already fluent in Spanish, having lived in Chile for 19 years. She was so proud of that, and when we’d go to a store together, like a big hardware store, while we stood in line she’d talk to Mexicans and tell them “my daughter speaks Spanish” and she’d tell me, “Say something in Spanish!” — but of course, the Mexicans and I felt totally ridiculous and I wouldn’t say anything, just smile.

    But she would have wanted to have learned Spanish well, and she did try to teach me.

    I never got to speak to my Dad in Spanish. I’ll do it when we meet again in heaven. Not to mention my Grandfather. He must be so pleased.

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