Who’s Hispanic? Who’s Filipino? Part Two
by Emily Monroy
April 1, 2018
This article is a follow-up to “Who’s Hispanic? Who’s Filipino.” The gist of my original article: the Philippines and Latin America1 were both conquered and ruled by Spain for a period of roughly three centuries. However, Latin America came out of Spanish domination with a primarily Western culture, whereas the Philippines did not. The majority of Latin Americans speak Spanish as their native language. On the contrary, relatively few Filipinos speak Spanish as a mother tongue. While thanks to American rule English has eclipsed Spanish as a lingua franca in the Philippines, most Filipinos use one of the country’s many native languages (the most widespread one being Tagalog) in their everyday lives. Neither the US’ nor Spain’s rule appears to have usurped the Philippines’ original character.
The Philippines, in my view, serves as a powerful counterweight to the argument that Latin America is not Western but Indian (or a few might say, in the case of those countries with a large Black component, African) at heart. Interestingly, the two factions who subscribe to the view of Latin America as non-Western appear at first glance to be diametrically opposed to one another: White racists on one hand and left-wing romantics of all racial backgrounds on the other. White racists argue that because most Latin Americans are not 100% European genetically they can never be “like us.” Left-wing romantics dismiss Latin America’s “Europeanness” because they hate to think of an “oppressed” group having anything in common with the “oppressor” (that is, White Europeans and their descendants in places like the United States and Australia). Despite their differences, though, these two factions both tend to use vague, slightly undefinable terms like “heart” and “soul” to refer to what they claim is Latin America’s true nature.
The example of the Philippines seriously challenges the notion of Latin America as a pre-Columbian holdover. Some commentators on both the left and right try to get around this challenge. For instance, Chiqui Ramírez, a self-described “Mayan priestess,” describes Castilian Spanish as an “imposed lingua franca” resulting from exploitation by Spain. For the vast majority of Latin Americans, though, Spanish is not a lingua franca. A lingua franca would be English in India or in some former British colonies in Africa: a language that a certain percentage of the population knows but that is not their mother tongue. For most Latin Americans, Spanish is their mother tongue, so it is not a lingua franca.
As for Spanish being an “imposed” language in Latin America, one might ask why Spain never managed to impose Castilian in the same way on the Philippines, despite ruling over those islands for roughly the same time as the Spanish Americas (300 years). Obviously, the Spanish would have wanted to – and did – exploit the Philippines, but the fact that Spanish never established itself as a mother tongue there suggests something else besides exploitation or imposition was going on in Latin America.
Ironically, in a right-wing publication called, incidentally, View from the Right, commentator Howard Sutherland writes about Mexico, “The racial mixing that produced the mestizo happened a long time ago, and did not create a new breed of Westerner.” He also states, “The culture of rural Mexico… is more like the Philippines than Spain.” Then why, one might wonder, do most – not all, but most – Mexicans speak Spanish rather than a native language as their mother tongue while a majority of Filipinos do not?
I doubt very much that Ms. Ramírez and Mr. Sutherland share much in common politically or philosophically other than the view that Latin America is not Western. It is also worth mentioning that not all other right- or left-wing commentators share this view. For example, in The Pan-american Dream: Do Latin America’s Cultural Values Discourage True Partnership with the United States and Canada?, conservative writer Lawrence E. Harrison asserts, unlike Howard Sutherland, that Mexico’s culture today is in the main Spanish, not Native American.
All this evidence can lead to one conclusion: Latin America is Western. Perhaps the best evidence for this is the fact that another Spanish ex-colony, which was under Spain’s rule for the same amount of time, is not.
Emily Monroy is a professional translator and is of Irish, Italian and Norwegian descent. Born in Windsor, Ontario, she now resides in Toronto. Her articles have appeared in several publications, including Interracial Voice, Cats Canada, and Urban Mozaik. She welcomes feedback on her articles. You can contact Emily here.