Chinatown Chow and Friends

June 27, 2014

Tag: Instituto Cervantantes Manila, Carlos Madrid, Guillermo Gomez Rivera, Chinatown Manila

Driving around Binondo on a regular day is a torturous errand. There’s nothing like it. Forget Makati and EDSA, in this part of the country traffic takes on a whole new meaning. But Manila is Manila and if you’re a history nut like me it makes going through the capital’s abyss of vehicle and smoke worth it.

And so when friends, Pepe and Don Guimo invited me to eat lunch and catch up in Binondo I said yes!

The new director of Instituto Cervantes, Dr. Carlos Madrid, upon the invitation of Don Guimo also joined us in that mall in Calle Reina Regente in Binondo. It took me around 2 hours to reach the place from Makati. There’s another person that was supposed to there but didn’t make it, Ms. Sony Ng, a historian for the Locsin clan. Gomez said that the new IC director is keen on knowing more about the Locsin clan (Gomez and I are related through this family). My impression of  Carlos is a guy that’s historically inclined and intellectually curious about Filipino history. The first question he asked me was about my last name which he recognized. He recently published a book about the political history of the Marianas Island’s from 1870 – 1877.

Carlos, Arnaldo, Pepe and Sr. Guimo

I could see good things happening at the Instituto under Carlos. It’s about time we get someone passionate about Filipino history at the Instituto. Expect projects geared towards engaging Filipinos to take another look at their Spanish past – an essential part of our identity as Filipinos.

When I was studying Spanish at the Instituto a few years back, my first professor, erudite in Hispano culture, would find time in his class to talk to us about Hispanic culture in Latin America. Of course, these Hispanic traditions are all too familiar — surprising was that many students commented and has showed interest on the subject (after all, these so called ‘hispanic’ traditions are all under our noses). I would talk to some of these students too. Their interest to know more about the language and our hispano-filipino memory is like that of a child’s genuine curiosity to understand more by asking more.

And so I thought it a good idea to speak with then IC director, Pepe Rodriguez to share my ideas. I waited for him in the staircase and approached him one afternoon. Pepe’s a proper looking fella but very accommodating. He used to be a correspondent for a Spanish news agency and in the process has met most of our past and present national leaders. I told him about that interesting class and how it can be improved. I asked if it was possible to discuss Filipino traditions our Spanish past gifted us in our class, for professors to present (as that professor of mine did with the Latin American tradition he adores) these Filipino traditions having strong ‘hispanic’ influence. I firmly believe that this would have a deeper impression on the young Filipinos and would make them look back with a profound appreciation of our Spanish past.

Well, the meeting didn’t last long. Mr. Rodriguez said “it’s interesting that you thought of that, I agree with you…”. While I appreciate his response I wasn’t under the illusion that he’s going to act on it. Nothing came out of that short exchange of course, but I felt I needed to share. It was here that I realized that the Spanish government’s cultural arm real mandate is to teach Spanish as a foreign language and its culture (and that of the Latino countries) as lessons in people and geography.

There must be changes but this is easier said than done because such foreign institutions are cautious in involving itself in controversies. I could understand why presenting some parts of our past as hispanic or ‘Spanish’ would certainly ruffle big feathers in the country. But I remain a believer that the Instituto must be a vehicle that counteracts a century of miseducation that started when the Americans landed in our shores. We’re dealing with generations of Filipinos conditioned to see Spanish, both the past and the language, as nothing more than small insignificant blips in our historical evolution.

Still, I appreciate our Instituto Cervantes and I’d recommend it to everyone. The past few years has been fruitful for researchers, historians and students — it truly is a place for learning, not only language, but Filipino history and culture. I’ve met some of the most interesting lecturers and experts in its halls. Dr. Madrid said that the school’s programs now are aimed at making the institute more of a community for people interested in Spanish language and culture. The cultural programs are worth seeing (visit their official site for what’s goin’ on there here).


Like what I always say, history is a strong incentive for the young to learn Spanish. It was for me… once young Filipinos could relate to the historical importance of Spanish as a language they would embrace it for life.

June 2014

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