Spanish here in IL & our Forgotten Spanish

The increasing number of Spanish speakers here in America is not a new phenomenon. It is the second most spoken language in the country with a 200% increase in number of speakers since the early 80’s. Relatives working in medical facilities told me that the older generation of Latino immigrants only spoke Spanish at home which obligated the next generation to learn it.

I find the case of Spanish here interesting because other immigrant languages does not share its success. I have relatives whose children could barely speak Tagalog. Some could speak a smattering of it but far from fluent—I wouldn’t leave them alone in Manila for one second. When they mispronounce Tagalog or Bisaya, they’re applauded for it—that’s cute but a native Bisayan‘s heavy accented Tagalog back home is funny and stupid! Wrong, of course, but we have this bias to this day. I know this because I have Bisayan parents.

I’m an admirer of the Filipino generation that fought to retain Spanish as language in the Philippines. Some believes that these men were on the wrong side of the history—fighting a losing battle. It was an important political and cultural struggle that is forgotten now. The problem was they were up against a big machine—the new American public school system. But interesting is that Spanish usage actually increased during the early American years. What’s given is that the Americans would not help spread it—they even placed measures to limit its use but they never banned it completely. What ultimately ended Spanish was when those who spoke it abandoned it.

(1) The Mexican adobo is a chili-based sauced that is also known for its preservative qualities which is what our adobo is all about—cooking in vinegar to make prolong the meat and chicken shelf life. But aside from the name and these two’s preservative qualities, there’s not a lot of similarities. (2) Is a curious photo I took while doing grocery. Why in the world would there be a Coca-Cola branded as Mexican Coca-Cola? These people are spending crazy loads of money to make their soda business global. There must be a reason, and I wonder what that is….

How often do you hear Filipinos tell stories how their grandparents gracefully spoke Spanish and yet Filipinos of today accepts that Spanish was never used as a language. A Spanish speaking congressman from Parañaque in an interview last year said that he considers it a failure on his end that he did not taught his children the language. It was this generation that abandoned the language for reasons  they alone knows.

The writer, Liz Medina, scolded a Spanish speaking Filipino (who considers Spanish immaterial to present day Filipinos) in a forum with these words, “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.”

And I couldn’t agree more.

We have to remember that in Mexico, Spanish was not even the official language before its independence. It happened after the Spaniards left. Our first republic did the same in Malolos. Only those who appreciated its historical and practical value fought for it in the early 1900’s—all the rest was willing to let go of the past and start over anew with English.

I wanted to cook Filipino dishes to impress my relatives here—I was told to go to the Asian section to look for spices. I found almost everything I needed but the ones I could not, I found in the Hispanic section. While I already know that adobo for Latinos here is a kind of sauce I could not help myself but take pictures of the numerous ready made bottles and cans of chili-based Mexican adobo. It does not share any similarity with our adobo except its name.

Not far from where we are is a local carneceria—a Hispanic meat shop. Here you can buy good meat variety. They remind me of our local meat stalls back home. Not too long ago, a friend who had visited Mexico said to me that their local markets reminded him so much of our frenzied palengke. I told him that it should, aside from the typical tiendas, the name palenque is Mexican. Palenque they say is a precolonial Mexican word that refers to a fair or some kind of gathering. How we ended up using it instead of the Spanish mercado is a mystery.

Before I left for the US I met up with my friend, Pio Andrade, a historian who studied imported plants from Mexico. He reminded me of the crops that averted famine in the Visayas like maize and camote. How araro, a simple wooden plow, revolutionized the planting of rice. How so many of our medicial plantswere brought here by the Friars.

But these exchanges are two way. To this day there are Mexicans who drink tuba, or palm wine. Thanks to our sailors who brought their alcohol with them to Acapulco.



11 responses to “Spanish here in IL & our Forgotten Spanish

  • Jemuel

    Arnie, I remember reading an article before regarding Coca-Cola, there is a difference between an American Coke and Mexican one, they use distinct sugar variety. In the US they use cane sugar while in Mexico they use corn syrup.

    • De AnDA

      Yes. You’re right. ‘Mexicoke’ have a wikipedia entry. I should have checked it. Coca-Cola de Mexico uses sugar cane sugar, US Coke, including our back home, corn syrup. They say Mexicoke taste more natural, and I believe it does.

  • ruben s. hernando

    Very very commendable piece of work. It is to be regretted that the Americans did their best to eliminate Spanish from our culture, thereby creating a bias against those who strive to retain the language as part of our culture, which should be the case from the start. Even my former professor, Sr. Gomez-Rivera lamented this fact, and often digressed from our subject matter when we discussed this in class. By the way, just in passing, I am not a fluent Spanish speaker, but my grandfather was. In the early 20’s, when he was working in Tabacalera, a VIP guest from Spain went to their offices, but the man spoke only Catalan, which only my grandfather spoke. Nobody else in Tabacalera spoke it, so my grandfather became the constant companion and interpreter of this VIP guest. My grandfather spoke Castillian fluently too. Not bragging, but this is a clear example of how things could have been had not the Americans in their program of “Benevolent Assimilaton” tried their damnedest to eradicate Spanish from our culture.
    Sad, sad but true. By the way, give my best and warmest regards to Sr. Guillermo Gomez-Rivera if you ever have the chance to speak to him.
    My best regards to you also.

    • Myles Garcia

      @Ruben Hernando. Well, it’s just the way things worked out. Spanish would’ve eventually died out in the RP anyway for 2 reasons: the old Spanish aristocracy left in the RP was already anachronistic; and whom else would the RP have Hispano-language relations with? NONE of its neighbors. A Hispanic Philippines would’ve stuck out like a sore thumb in an area dominated by Chinese speakers, ex-English, Dutch or French colonies. Maybe a Hispanic Philippines might’ve carried trade with Portuguese Macau or East Timor. But after that, what?? I come from a Spanish-speaking family (my dad’s side); and even they realized that it was great to keep it for nostalgia’s sakes but not much else. The action in Spanish is in Iberia and Central/South America.

      • Pepe

        1) the old Spanish aristocracy left in the RP was already anachronistic;
        Miss García, please take note that it was not just the “old Spanish aristocracy” that was left in the country. Some of them were poor, some of them were average. Admittedly, only the Spanish-speaking elite made an indelible mark on almost everyone. More importantly, the English language was imposed upon a hapless Filipino people by their US colonizers (remember the Thomasites?). Spanish was given a final blow during World War II, when countless Filipinos, most of whom were Spanish-speaking, perished.
        2) and whom else would the RP have Hispano-language relations with?
        Spain and Latin America. They really don’t have to be near in order for us to trade with them. That’s what ships are made for.

        • De AnDA

          Yes, it’s a mix and I’ve come to the conclusion that the number of speakers must have been bigger than what contemporary historians tells us. Understandably, it was elite who made it popular and it was them who abandoned it. Those who fought for it was fighting a losing cause. We Filipinos have very short memory.

        • Myles Garcia

          @Pepe. 1) I am a “he.” My name is a variant of “Miles” which is “foot soldier” in Latin. I agree/disagree with some of your points. Of course, Spanish is good for relations with Spain and Latin America — except in trade and your notion of ships — do we really trade copra, car parts, sugar, rope with countries halfway around the world — instead of other trading partners close by? I don’t know what school of business thought you follow, but I certainly would not enroll in your classes. And I am grateful that I grew up with Spanish in the house but your idea of “ships overcoming distance” is quite specious. Would you eat up the huge cost overruns of long-distance freight vs. cheaper closer sources?? Think about it.

          • De AnDA

            I’m not sure what ‘trade relations’ has to do with language and the blog subject in general. I guess I’m missing something there. If we learn Spanish then that opens up economic opportunities for us.

            • Myles Garcia

              It’s just that if there are trade relations between countries, there are stronger ties that bind them than mere exchange of scholars, or dance troupes or art exhibits — the frou-frou stuff. That’s all I’m saying. But you’re looking at it from another POV and I from another, so fuggedabutit.

  • Myles Garcia

    How “palengke” came to be part of Tagalog? Just as there is a Mexico, Pampanga, whose original inhabitants are indeed from Mexico, it was all because of the galleon trade. This was Spain’s main route of commerce with Las Islas Filipinas before steamships were used in the 1860s. Anything that came from Spain was routed via Cadiz to Veracruz on the Atlantic side; then transported across Mexico to the Pacific cost, for the galleon ships leaving Acapulco for Manila.
    In the 1860s and 1870s, when the Suez Canal opened up and steamships plied the Indian Ocean, relations with Spain were then carried on that way–via mostly British, French and Dutch steamers which plied the Aden, Mumbai, Kolkatta, Rangoon, Singapore route. From Singapore, the trade routes split into either the northerly route — Saigon, Manila, HongKong, then on to Tokyo…or south…from Singapore to Jakarta, then to Australia. But I digress.

  • Pepe Alas (@Pepe_Alas)

    Palenque is an ancient Maya city state that was abandoned sometime in the 8th century. How we adopted that proper noun to become a common one in referring to our public markets remains a puzzle. Perhaps the general design of our first batch of mercados resembled that of the ancient temples of Palenque?

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