Response to the post “Filipinos Are Not Hispanic”
I stumbled upon this post by FIl-American Jon Torres over the popular site Associated Content. I would like to share my response to all my reader to some of his well intentioned subjects regarding his reaction as a Filipino to ‘being referred to as Hispanic’, something that is a common experience for those Filipinos who lives close to big Latino communities in the US. (All the italics are mine)
Filipinos Are Not Hispanic
A Few FAQ’s I Keep Having to Answer
By Jon Torres, published Mar 21, 2007
Yesterday I was making a remark to my friend about my Asian heritage and he replied, “Asian? But I thought you were Filipino!” I could only laugh (politely, of course) at his statement, not only because it sounded wrong, but also because I had heard it once too often. This cannot be dismissed away with some flippant remark I’m tempted to make, like “Don’t you ever wonder why there’s no Filipino food at Taco Bell? “
*This is quite common in the States, Filipinos – are being recognized as Hispanics, mainly because of the last name, facial feature & religion but Filipinos historically are Hispanics. Our Hispano culture makes us Hispanics. Mistake is made when hispanization is equated with blood relation and geography.
There seems to be an all-too prevalent belief among the many westerners I meet, which is the notion that Filipinos are Hispanic. While I can see (more or less) how this could be reasoned in a roundabout way, and make its own odd sense, it is nonetheless wrong. To someone who has grown up in the Philippines, it does sound plausible from a certain point of view, yet still very strange for a number of reasons. I will address some questions I frequently get asked on this apparently novel piece of information.
Where is the Philippines? According to Wikipedia ( as well as every single one of my social studies teachers) the Philippines is in Southeast Asia. At this point, I rather think this should end any further explanation. We are much, much closer to Taiwan, China, Japan, Indonesia and Singapore than any country in Europe or Latin America. The geographical neighborhood alone should clue you in to the probable ethnicity of the Filipinos. Perhaps it is simply this lack of awareness as to where the Philippines actually is, that causes many people to guess and consequently, make mistaken assumptions based on that.
Our location makes us Asian, but this does not undue our Hispanic roots for the simple reason that hispanization refers to history, language and culture. So if I were to answer the question “if Equatorial Guinea (an African nation) is a Hispanic nation?” my answer would be yes, not only because they speak Castilian but also because hispanization has taken root in their culture and society. Their geography, being a small state in the middle of the African wouldn’t nullify their identity. Same with ours and some of the pacific islands that were under Spain then.
If one is to travel to China, Japan or Thailand – a Filipino would almost immediately feel like in a different world, an alien, “Asia was never at home with us”, Nick Joaquin said and this is true, Manila is a city with little similarity with cities like Bangkok, Beijing and Tokyo etc etc – theirs is an oriental culture, ours is of Hispano origin. On the other hand, if you were to visit Mexico and all the other Latino countries – you would be awed how strikingly similar our culture is with them. So don’t be surprised if American’s see them in you.
How do you explain the 80% Catholicism, which is obviously from Spanish colonization of the Philippines? This is true. We were converted from mostly earth-based, ancestral worshipping spiritual beliefs, and baptized as Catholics in the 16th century. This was instrumental in Spain’s control over the Philippines for over three centuries as colonial property, by using organized religion along with political manipulation (without separation of Church and State). This had the effect of having Filipinos subservient to Spanish rule, without enjoying the benefits of being citizens. In short, we were the property of Spain, but we were not Spanish citizens.
Part of the reason why Americans looks at Filipinos as Hispanic is because of our religion. Most Asians are seen as Orientals in the US, Orientals for them practices Buddhism, Hindu or religions they see as unfamiliar and mystical. Since Filipinos are Asians in their mind, they would be surprised to see Filipinos practicing the religion of the immigrant Latinos.
Since hispanization is the process by which a place or a person absorbs characteristics of Hispanic society and culture. We are Hispanos more than asianos. Unfortunately, most are not aware of this fact.
“Property of Spain?” – I think this author never heard about the Cadiz constitution – anyway we were all subjects, under a monarchy that translates to citizenship. This is the reason why Filipinos with means then were able to study, live and travel abroad, they were Spanish by right. Could you imagine the Ilustrados, founding a liberal paper called La Solidaridad in the heart of Spain? If they were not protected by their right as Spanish citizens they could’ve been easily executed. In the days of the Yankees, anyone who stood up here and oppose them was blasted into oblivion, they only ceded leadership after they’ve been able to guarantee that they would still be in control, in terms of economic policies and the nations resources.
In the American years, it would be good to review that we never became citizens under their commonwealth, they never wanted us even with the noisy clamor of the federalistas. I’m sure all Filipino immigrants know that it is not an easy process to go there and work – this is how we were repaid. Our glorious stand with the Americans during WWII and all the service we render under their flag is all but forgotten now. While The Japanese and Germans, on the other hand, who fought against them, today, can freely travel in the US without being bothered by the process we usually face. Talk about history and how it is easily forgotten by this western power.
But don’t Filipinos speak Spanish? I get this question several times a year, almost on a monthly basis, and every time I want to say a resounding “No!”, they point out my own particular situation, because I happen to speak it passably well. In my case, as I believe is the same with many Filipinos living in the United States, I learned it here: both from Mexican friends and the local community college. The truth is, most Filipinos do not speak Spanish at all. Almost none of us do. From the 19th century American occupation, English has long replaced Spanish as the western lingua franca of the country, and has been for a hundred years.
We used to speak Castillan as a nation, but when the American’s came it slowly eroded but it is, as it was pointed out the ‘lingua franca’ back in the days. The American system then recognized literacy based on the use of the English language. Regardless whether you speak or write in Tagala or Castilian you would still be tagged as illiterate if you would neglect the use and study of this foreign language and since there is no way for someone to progress in the new American standard of education if one would not take up English, everyone had no choice but to learn it.
It certainly doesn’t help that Filipinos are generally adaptable, and being from a country with over a thousand local dialects, will be averse (or too polite!) to saying they do not understand, or are unable to learn a certain language. We eventually pick up enough of the local language to get by. True, our main dialect, like many others, is in fact peppered with Spanish words, making it fairly easy for us to learn Spanish if we tried. But what few Spanish words that we use in our daily colloquial speech are mostly pidginized and remarkably different from their original meanings (Get this: “leche” is a mild curse word in Tagalog!). Also, we have much more of the neighboring language groups in our vernacular: mostly Malaysian, Chinese, Arabic, and more recently, plenty of English.
It seems that the author of this failed to research on how many Spanish words there are in what most scholar’s claims as ‘pure’ tagala. Aside from thousands of Castilian words in the recognized national language, a study of the Spanish language would also highlight that some of the common words we use that we thought were ours were from the Castilian language. Adapted to suit local pronunciation.
I don’t even want to describe what “leche” means as a curse. 🙂
Why do you have a Spanish last name? Doesn’t that mean you have at least one Spanish bloodline? A Spanish surname is very common among Filipinos, and this understandably can lead to confusion. It’s like meeting a Japanese person named Park, or more commonly, a Caucasian person named Lee. It however, does not reveal a person’s ancestry automatically. In the case of most Filipinos, the mass-conversion also led to our being relabeled with ‘Christian’ surnames. Genuine intermarrying was probably quite rare back then. I can confidently say that I am no more Hispanic than your roll of “Scotch” tape has been anywhere near Glasgow.
Your last name has nothing to do with your identity. You could be Chinese and possess a name like Juan de la Cruz but you would still be Chinese when you wake up in the morning not unless you got that name from the history and culture of your people – only then that it would mean something. Ancestry and places of origin does not define an identity. Again, there is confusion in the definition of nationality, location, ancestry and identity.
It was not just “relabeling” – it was in effect, creating identity for the natives the aside from of course the benefits it would provide the Government then.
They say, your name says a lot of things about you, this is true, a Hispanized name tells the history of adapting to the Spanish ideals of society then, as it was enforced by Claveria, the fact that it was accepted (voluntarily or involuntarily) means our ancestors assimilated into a Hispanic society.
These are ‘Christian’ names as he pointed out goes back to the process of hispanization. The one thing that the author failed to study is the process of becoming a “Filipino” . The review of this would bring one closer to our real identity. The author already mentioned the Catholic religion earlier, that’s Filipino identity along with the culture and heritage.
Some backward thinking folks would elect to go back to the old tribes for which I’d rather not, what we have, we should keep and respect.
So I hope it no longer seems to you a bold statement to say that Filipinos are not Hispanic, not from Latin America, do not speak Spanish nor are even of mostly Spanish ancestry. I encourage you to look up even more information on sites such as Wikipedia, and if possible, find some Filipino friends and raise a discussion, which I have no doubt will be a lively one. And have share some Filipino food while you’re talking. We like to think it’s better than Taco Bell, anyway.
I think everyone would be in agreement that our dish is the best in the world!
By the way, thanks to Jon for improving my calligraphy. I happen to take interest in this old art, his on line videos were awesome.