an email exchange, topic: a hispanized philippines

Below is an email exchange between Elizabeth Medina and a group of expat ‘mestizos’.

Medina is a Filipina writer-historian living in Chile. She wrote the classic “Rizal According to Retana: Portrait of a Hero and a Revolution” in 1999.

I’ve been been corresponding with tía isabel for some years now. Through this correspondence I learned a great deal about our history.

And also, that she’s a Cañete like my father. This family traces their line back to a southern Cebuano town, Barili, famous for their stick martial arts.

The exchange below was a discussion about tía isabel’s essay “A Hispanized Philippines: A Good Option?“. First published on line in the Austrian-Philippine website and has since been making the rounds over the last few years in various cultural forums and blogs.

I thought the exchange presented the contrast between the brain-washed ‘Americanized’ Filipinos and someone who understands that our Spanish speaking heroes revolution has been truncated by the systematic removal of our historical memory.

The result was generations inflicted with this ‘forgetfulness’ that has long plagued our attempts to understand our true past.

Note: (1) Letter to the group from a certain ‘Danding’. No, not the guy that  just lost the coco levy money, (2) Medina’s ‘scolding’ loaded with logic

I asked tía isabel’s permission for this to be blogged here (‘Dale Arnaldo, te doy permiso’).



A Hispanized Philippines isn’t a valid option.  I doubt anyone but a small group of romantic hispanistas think it is possible.  The reason is language isn’t something one can just learn like one learns algebra.  Language is so much deeper.  Language is how we experience life.  Language is how we store our memories.  Language is how we woo and procreate.  Language is how we create arguments.  Language isn’t learned.  Language is lived.

To begin with in ther 300+ years of colonial rule the Spanish were not able to impose their language on the Filipino.  Partly because there were too many already extant languages, partly because Spanish and European migration to the Philippines nver reached the heights they did in the Americas where they came in wave after wave.  For obvious reasons the first big wave imposes its language over the remaining waves.

There are many more Germans in the United States than there English but the English were the first wave thus the new country adopted their langauge and only theirs.  There are no German speaking pockets in the US as there is an enormous French-speaking pocket in Canada that remains French because of a unique set of historical reasons.  Brazil and Argentina both have many, many more Italians than Portuguese or Spanish.  But Italian in both countries is now spoken in first generation homes and spoken very badly in some second generation homes.

The best the Spanish could do in terms of transplanting their language was to do so with the intelligentsia who didn’t believe in the Marlboro man’s adage:  I’d rather fight than switch.  These people switched rather than fight.  When the American military authorities expelled every Spanish Jesuit form the Ateneo to be replaced by American Jesuits, they switched with a forceful bang.  Because the Jesuits fought the order.  Papa was at the Ateneo at the time as an interno and sometimes talked with much pain about the change.

The other Spanish religious orders who also ran schools did not fight the ordered language change and made a few adjustments within their teaching staffs.  But the Americans did impose their language over almost all, as the Spanish had done in the Latin America.  But there were only 6 to 8 million Filipinos then versus nearly a 100 million today, making such a task a logistical and logical impossibility.

The best the Spanish could do during their 300 years of colonization was to create a series of different “pidgin langauges” called chabacano.  It’s remarkable that one of the main chabacano centers was in Cavite so close to the center of Spanish power.  They couldn’t impose real Spanish even there.

Then there is Tagalog, a small regional language but today an almost fully widespread national language.  Let’s not forget Cebuano.  Almost every Filipino in the Visayas and in Mindanao speaks Cebuano (or a dialect therof like Ilongo or Waray).  This extends all the way to Davao and into Surigao, etc.  Let’s not forget the other regional languages.  Ilocano, Kapangpangan, Bicolano, etc.

The Philippines is one of the most linguistically rich countries.  But it is losing languages to extinction at an extraordinarily rapid rate.  In the 1800s there were more than a hundred languages, perhaps closer to 200.  By the 1950s there were only 50 or 60.   Today there are more than a dozen native languages without enough native speakers, ensuring their extinction. Most of these are languages without a written form.  I think it is a much more importance task to save these languages than to impose yet another language on a nation that has no shortage of languages.

Love to all,




Hola Danding, Angui, todos–


No, you didn’t understand what I was trying to say. You are hearing what we have always been told:


1.  Spanish was never the language of the Filipinos.

2.  It’s impossible for Filipinos today to learn Spanish.

3.  Spanish is irrelevant for the Filipinos.

4.  What we see today as the Philippines and the Filipino nation is all that has ever been, all that ever will be.




1.  Spanish is now once again an official Filipino language.

2.  A lot of young Filipinos would want to learn Spanish if they had the means. In fact, a lot of young Filipinos are now studying Spanish because they realize that it is an asset.

3.  A young Spanish historian told me that in Mexico at the time of independence, Spanish was not the lingua franca. In no former Spanish colony, practically, was Spanish the only language. It was in the course of the development of the new republics that the education system was developed and Spanish was spread.

4.  Spanish has been irrelevant for the Filipinos, we have been taught that it is irrelevant — as you yourselves, who should be the first to debunk this fallacy, as “tisoys” should have done, but have perhaps wanted to keep it a language for the kitchen and the family gatherings, but have not bothered to cultivate it in order to write in it and defend it, as many of your great-grandparents did while they knew that it was inevitable, that their own descendants would turn their backs on Spanish and embrace English, nay, even aspire to become estadounidenses.


We were taught that it was irrelevant.


And today, what?  Look at that country today.  Look at it from your ivory towers in the States or wherever you are.


I’m ashamed of you.


Really, and find your shortsighted tisoy arrogance completely anachronistic, passé, proper to our parochial past.


I am speaking on behalf of your great-grandparents and great-greatgrandparents who never meant revolution to mean turning our backs on a rich culture and embracing a foreigner who wasn’t even interested in marrying into our race and spending the rest of their lives in our homeland.


Okay, please excuse me for the scolding.  You can do what you want with it.


But the tisoy culture of the Philippines made its contribution to making Spanish and the Spanish past hated, and giving the anti-Filipinos who were posing as nationalistic heroes more firewood for the bonfire.  Indigenism, Tagalog as the only Filipino language.  The moros and ethnic minorities as irrelevant.


It was Elizalde who discovered the Tasaday, who showed love for them. I had never before seen any Filipino acting as though the jungle folk were worthy of being loved or honored.


I don’t know what the story was behind the scenes, no doubt there will be Elizalde bashers.


But the descendants of the Spanish in the Philippines also have things to examine in their consciences.




We have a Hispanic Filipino memory and history that we alone — I believe — of all the former Spanish colonies — have not known how to value.


Instead, we have joined in with the idiots and dwarves — the midgets that were called midgets by our own Hispanic Filipino great-grandparents — who have thrown our Hispanic heritage into the dustbin, to emigrate to the United States.


Or to Australia, or to God knows where, and use the Philippines as their occasional residence, to “not lose their roots”.


Or the Sorianos and Zobels et al. who give away prizes to their pet artists and writers, good for them, at least they are paying lip service.


But oh!  What a shame, what a damn shame!  For all the good things that the United States of America did for the Philippines, that the U.S. trained bureaucrats and politicians have only learned to manage decadence and a culture of ignorance, as Pardo de Tavera described it.


OK, he dicho.


Por encargo de los difuntos.


I had to say this one day, and it’s out of the bag. 


You can dish it out now.  I really am interested in what you will have to say.

Un abrazo,

Isabel de los Espíritus



3 responses to “an email exchange, topic: a hispanized philippines

  • jose

    I think there is a kind of misunderstanding here:
    The Spanish of the Filipinas is not the language of Spain, like the Spanish of Mexico is not the language of Spain, albeit very similar.
    The diverse kinds of chabacano are not Spanish, they are other languages – very related to Spanish. These are languages in their own right.
    The Spanish of the Filipinas is the language of a nation with a culture of its own made from Malay, Mexican, Chinese, Spanish, Catholicism, local languages…in an unique blend, as anyone can see if compare the Filipines with the surrounding countries. Even more if we take into account the old pictures that portray the not so distant lost past..
    The destruction of this civilisation and the coming of the modern world (international culture, materialism, consumerism, lack of faith, lack of learning, vulgarism, hate of elitism -elitism as an effort to better oneself-…) can not erase what we know from History and from the heroes of the Revolution.
    For me the best example of this civilisation, a part from the Filipino bailes de corte, are the Filipino ivories.
    These ivories, which I am afraid are no one left in the Filipinas, are precious objects very sought after in Mexico and Spain, were made in China (and probably in Manila ) They are mainly religious items, like Santo Niños, in baroque style. They have oriental traits. Of course there is not ivory in the Filipinas, but still Manila was specialised in this craft and trade. This is the epitome of a culture that the American Mcdonal and Burger kIng won´t surpasse.
    The mission of Spain was not to spread its language. The local people already had their own languages. The only excuse to occupy the country was to convert the local population to the true faith, result of the moral problem created by the discovery of America. This was the condition imposed by the Popes.
    Actually the friars wanted to create an ideal christian society not polluted by the europeans which they deemed full of vices.
    Further more: When the Castilians found the moro, they were horrified to find their bloddy ennemies -then a huge problem in the Mediterranean shores-.The mission of a Catholic king should be to stop them. (eg: Cervantes was kept five years as a prisoner of the moros in Argel and only was freed against a ransom collected in the form of alms by the trinitarian friars ).
    I know that these days people do not give importance to Religion, but it was otherwise those days whether you agree or not with this faith.

  • Elizabeth Medina

    Hola a todos, unos años más tarde. Re-reading Danding’s words, I find these the most telling: “Papa was at the Ateneo at the time as an interno and _sometimes talked with much pain_ about the change.” The imposition of America rule was very, very painful for our great-grandparents, whose dream of an independent Republic was dashed in a million pieces. Think about this a little. They buried their pain in silence. But now we don’t have to keep depriving ourselves of what is ours. As Rizal said: Education, education, education. This means deep culture and heritage. It’s been there all along, brothers and sisters. We couldn’t see it, couldn’t understand it, couldn’t speak to it, so we believed it did not exist. But — oh alegría! — it’s never going to abandon us. Never.

  • Pepe Alas (@Pepe_Alas)

    But he never replied anymore, hahaha!

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