Thursday, October 07, 2010

"La Leyenda Negra" Revisited and Our Hispanic Heritage (updated Oct 2010)

The Roman Amphitheatre at Merida (Teatro Romano de Merida, built 18 B.C.) - still used for concerts and other festivals

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WHAT WE FILIPINOS SHOULD KNOW: Many baby boomers like me have earned several college units/hours of the Spanish language. However, due to our learned or conditioned bias against Spain and the Spaniards, we have not built on this language; which in retrospect is our great loss. Spain surely carries so much history about us Filipinos, as a people and a nascent nation.

Personally, I began to appreciate the importance of learning the Spanish language only after I decided, given my years of conscious prejudice against anything Spaniard/Spanish, to visit Mexico City in 2001. It was a pleasant surprise, encouraging me to learn more about Spain, the former colonial master of Mexico, most of Latin America and our homeland. 

Thus during the winter of 2003, I did a 3-week backpacking trip to Spain concentrating on its southern/Andalusian region which for almost eight centuries was ruled by the Muslims (visited mainly Sevilla, Granada and Cordova),  It was a real eye opener about the Spanish people and their history, their relevance to our Filipino world. 

In September 2005, I again went backpacking for more of Iberia, and this time traveled to Portugal (Lisbon, Belem, Evora, Porto and Coimbra; and northern Spain (Santiago de Compostela and Salamanca). I saw myself returning for more of the Spaniards and Spain, 

In 2007, I swung back to Barcelona to search and take a picture of a hotel Jose P. Rizal stayed in 1882 according to a plaque on its main entry --which I accidentally, unbelievably and happily stumbled upon in 2005: before its present look, the now newly renovated and still elegant Hotel Espana at the city's Old Quarter [first opened in 1859].  

Hotel Espana is located on carre Sant Pau, just a few meters from the famous boulevard Rambla and Liceo Theatre. I also went to visit the beautifully situated Monasterio de Montserrat about 30 minutes from Barcelona by taking a train, then the 5-minute scenic ride on a  (1938 Nazi-built system) cable car up the mountain where it is located.  

Last February 2010 I went to check out the Extremadura region, specifically the [ancient Roman] cities of Caceres and Merida I feel like going back since I have spent only 2 weeks and was heavily rained out to go for more exploration BTW, this is one region that produce a reason for my daily love during my backpacking trips to Spain: the best of the jamon iberico.

This least developed and difficult southwest region of Spain gave birth to several of the famous Spanish conquistadors like Hernan Cortes, Francisco Pizzaro (and several Pizzaro kins), Hernando de Soto, Balboa, etc. I suspect the hardships of the time drove these men, who were mainly fighters, to seek adventure and riches outside the Iberia.

Pardon me for indulging. My point is that we so-called educated Filipinos, past, present and future ones, have and are continually kept ignorant of so much of our national history by not knowing the language of the Spaniards, who discovered our islands for their western world; -- set foot in the islands now known as the Philippines (phrase suggested by a reader) -- and ruled our homeland for almost 400 years. 

I think and believe that we gravely deprive ourselves of relevant historical and cultural knowledge; that not knowing much of our Spanish past --especially before our American colonization-- contributed greatly to our not knowing and understanding ourselves as Filipino individuals and ergo, failing to become a unified people and true nation.

A friend forwarded to me the below article, a very interesting and an instance of very rarely discussed topics. I agree with columnist Bambi Harper when she alluded that our former American master, through the imposed Americanized educational system --then and continued even now-- which along with the good the Americanized system gave us, also has created or developed in our Filipino minds an automatic distaste and bias against Spain, its language and our Spanish heritage.

In retrospect, of course, that our former American colonial master contributed to this biased conditioning is understandable; as all victors highlight their greatness or goodness that only give birth to their (American) self-righteousness, while they simultaneously highlight only the evils of their defeated enemies (Spanish).

It behooves every thinking Filipino, especially if given the opportunity, to learn the language, thus facilitate relearning our Spanish history, which by itself is personally, intellectually enriching; but most importantly to discover "hidden gems" in our Spanish heritage -- the good stuff from the Spaniards and Spain -- and to attain a better understanding of ourselves as a people in our struggle for true nationhood

“The HISTORY of an oppressed people is hidden in the lies and the agreed myth of its conquerors.” - Meridel Le Sueur, American writer, 1900-1996

“Colonies do not cease to be colonies because they are independent” – Benjamin Disraeli, British Prime Minister (1804-1881)

"During times of universal deceit, telling the truth is revolutionary." - George Orwell

'La Leyenda Negra' revisited
First posted 05:46am (Mla time) Dec 24, 2005 
By Bambi Harper, Inquirer

TEN years ago, Dr. William Summers made his first trip to Manila to conduct research on Filipino music prior to the American era. Since little scholarly research had been published in any language on this topic, he was naturally intrigued. Visiting the different archives, he concluded that "very little music survived and that no individual or team of individuals in Manila had any interest in this 333-year period."

Dr. Fernando Zialcita of the Ateneo de Manila University, in an e-mail on Dr. Summer's lecture on the subject at the university, said Dr. Summers had noted that the many achievements of Filipinos during the Spanish period were overlooked or denigrated and that there was "a nearly complete cultural erasure of music from this time."

Those of us who advocate preservation of architecture, like Zialcita, have a similar problem. Zialcita claims that churches are routinely depicted as "the product of slavery and forced labor" and ancestral homes of the 19th century are described as "Spanish" and not really Filipino, being "Spanish in style" and the home of the "oppressive elite."

Going back to Dr. Summers, during the next eight years that he was doing research in Manila and Bohol province (where he discovered the great 18th-century "Misa Baklayonan"), he had the distinct impression of a condemnation of the Spanish period. "The obvious and powerful elements of Hispanic culture that remain highly visible were never acknowledged," he noted.
Had he observed the older parts of our cities and towns, he would have seen that not only were they not acknowledged but the colonial layout and the ancestral homes were being destroyed.
"How could it be possible that no one voiced the fact that the Philippines is a Hispanic country?" he asked.

Music not being my field, I can only accept his conclusions that there is a definite view that holds that "Filipino music culture is indigenous, solely in the oral tradition, rural and perhaps tribal." If there is Western influence, it isn't Filipino.

Believing there's a deliberate attempt to erase Spanish culture from our lives, Dr. Summers decided to analyze the historical sources of this prejudice, which is known as "La Leyenda Negra" ["Black Legend"]: "the depiction of Spain and the Spaniards as bloodthirsty and cruel, greedy and fanatical, in excess of reality." ( Encyclopaedia) Of course, there is the opposite"Leyenda Rosa" that views Spain through rose-colored glasses. Both expressions are the results of thinking in terms of things being purely black or white, "and not propitious for a neutral historical analysis except of folkloric perceptions."

Whatever the reasons for rejecting this part of our culture, we've come out the poorer for it. In effect, we've thrown the baby out with the bath water.

In December last year, Summers presented a synopsis of his findings in a talk he gave at the Ateneo, which I unfortunately couldn't attend. He traces the prejudice back to the Propaganda Movement's"vicious, anti-friar propaganda, ca. 1880, and the second, the northern, Teutonic version imposed by the US invasion forces and occupation government after 1898."

(If we compare it to recent events, we would be able to see how the Ferdinand Marcos regime has been depicted as the most horrible in all our history while the succeeding one, led by a saint, was the coming of the kingdom. Using that kind of simplistic propaganda makes one administration look much better than it actually is and its failings are overlooked.)

The Americans systematically encoded the black legend in governmental and educational agencies. In this manner, people in general were brainwashed into rejecting the idea that both were basically exploitative colonizersMany feel that the US perpetrated the legend to justify their actions against Spain. 

Even up to the present, they say, evidence of the Black Legend exists in movies like Steven Spielberg's "Amistad." Even pirates of the Caribbean are presented as romantic figures (in the movie of the same title), when in reality they were incredibly cruel and no more than criminals. To this day, the legend lives on, "seriously distorting both the teaching of and research on the history of the Filipino people."

Summers believes that if this prejudice is unmasked "it will be possible to forge in the future a significantly revised historiographical model for use in teaching and research on the history of the Philippines and most especially the history of the Filipino people." (I can almost tell you now: Don't bet on it. Patterns of thinking have been so deeply inculcated that I cannot see how they can be altered in the near future.)

The Spaniards, by the way, were their own worst enemies. The Black Legend started in 1552, when Bartolome de las Casas, formerly bishop of Chiapas, published "Brevissima Relacion de la Destruycion de las Yndias," which has been described as "a powerful and lasting indictment of Spanish behavior toward Indian populations in the New World." (How the good friar could have described it as brief is weird; the work is 4,000 pages long.).

Naturally, the Protestants picked up Las Casas' condemnation with alacrity and used it to argue for a greater non-Spanish European presence in the New World and, of course, for their own imperialistic designs.

A word of advice to the reader then for the new year: Never accept anybody's word at face value. Always look further into their motivations, especially if they happen to be politicians!
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Comments at



Sojourner2009 said...

cool! your articles invite critical thinking which is so rare as the blue moon... nowadays.

Albert said...

Don't use the statement "...the Spaniards discovered the Philippines..." because you are referring only to the Western point of view. Philippines was not unified as one country then, but there were many territories and kingdoms in the Malay World.

The best word is "...the Spaniards set foot in the islands now known as the Philippines..."

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing this posting.It's just too bad that the colonization of the islas pilipinas was not for spices but rather the christianization of the islands by courtesy of the Roman imperial catholic church. It's too simple to acknowledge that Spain didn't share their spanish language with their 333 years occupation. Was it because they found traces of islamic influence in the islands? Or were they afraid of the likes of lapu-lapu a chieftain that killed Magellan?

According to a philippine reader, in 1898 there were only 15,000 plus spanish residence in the archipelago. Of course, the mestizos and friars bastard remain in the island since they didn't have any connection or spanish relatives to go back too.

Those who speaks spanish were scared to blatantly speak their language for by that time their proud ancestry didn't wield anymore power thus eventually speaking spanish was taboo.

My mother who speaks spanish didn't teach us to learn spanish, I wonder why? My guess was, it was easier to get along with her in-laws if she speaks their language (ilocano) since their was no one to speak with anyway.

Everytime during visit with her relative,, she speaks with them in r spanish, I felt insulted because I didn't understand what they were talking about, but I didn't even say anything about it.

Today, every time I had a chance to talk with hired help from Mexico, I try my best to speak their language, today, I would like to visit Spain someday and kiss the land of my ancestors.

It's just too bad, not much is written about the pilipino experience except the images of the execution of Fr. Gomez, Burgos and Zamora, and Dr. Jose Rizal.

This images engendered hatred, the colonial vestige of the RCC of Rome, the real culprit of making pilipinos docile, patience, complacent and submissive,

The American occupation again in cohorts of imperial RCC left a bad taste of Spanish colonial rule since a new culture of freedom and democracy was installed and taught their english language for pilipinos to assimilate to new realities of emancipation from Spanish rule by that time, the RCC and its imperial design was kept intact with the elite as we experience in imperial Manila even today.

Mark A.