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Mabuhay, the Philippine word translates to “may you live,” “cheers,” “welcome,” and all three meanings encapsulate the sentiments of the 115th celebration of independence and the 11th year of friendship between the former colony and Spain.
Senator Edgardo J. Angara drafted the Philippine-Spanish Friendship Day Act in a political move unprecedented between colony and former imperial power. Indeed, no other colony has ever taken such official steps to reconcile with their former mother country nor would they ever use the word friendship to describe their relationship. It is unavoidable that influences from the mother country remain once a country wins its independence, but how a budding state keeps those traditions varies. What I found surprising and somewhat enlightening was the graciousness with which the Philippines embrace their historical past. There is neither bitterness nor
need to rid themselves of all that is Spanish. Instead they accept Spanish culture as their own. Some would say this was a perverse denial of the colonization, that instead of being proud they should strive to uncover true Philippine culture before it was tainted by Spanish rule. However, the Filipinos have decided to take a different route in their postcolonial years.
After 300 years of Spanish rule and assimilation, they absorbed language, architecture, style, and perhaps most importantly, religion. The Philippines remain the only Asian Pacific country that is Catholic, which I find fascinating as their closest neighbors, like the Vietnamese or the more western influenced South Korea and Japan, for the most part either do not believe in God or practice religions such as Buddhism and Confucianism. It represents a striking difference in a region that is so often lumped together, especially by the less culturally aware in the United States.
The Friendship Day Act serves as a catalyst to Philippine prosperity. And this begins with what the Philippines want most, which is recognition. As friends united in common culture, religion and hopefully future commerce, Spain and the Philippines may consider each other equals. Recognition, sovereignty, international respect, however, are all things that the United States was reluctant to give them once they declared their independence from Spain. In words most representative of the time, then President McKinley stated “that we could not leave [the Filipinos] to themselves. . . They would soon have anarchy and misrule over there worse than Spain’s was.” (Read McKinley’s full account here: http://historymatters.gmu.edu/d/5575/) Whether it was pure racism or the desperation with which the U.S. needed to secure a path to China and Chinese commerce, it is clear that the U.S. did not see the Philippines as anything but a tool, sparking the three-year Philippine-American War. The Filipinos are a people who will fight to keep their freedom no matter the odds, and since winning their independence a second time, they have surpassed any misguided conceptions the former U.S. president had. However, with this historical perspective in mind, it was a bit awkward to be from the United States at such an amicable celebration. But like the Filipinos, I have also accepted the history of my country.
Of course this did not distract me from marveling at the mix of Spanish and Filipino that revealed itself in both the dress of the guests and the food and beverages provided. Women wore slim fitting evening gowns called Ternos with exaggerated shoulder pads known as butterfly sleeves. They are beautiful and slightly reminiscent of flamenco dresses. Men wore traditional Barongs, which is a somewhat translucent garment embroidered and worn untucked over an undershirt at formal affairs. This garment actually predates Spanish colonization. Waiters presented guests with trays of traditional Spanish tapas of jamón and breadsticks, tortilla, as well as traditional Filipino Kataifi (shrimp wrapped in shredded dough and then fried), grilled shrimp on skewers, fried spring rolls, and empanaditas. There was also a buffet with grilled pork skewers, the traditional noodle dish Pancit Bihon Guisado, sticky rice balls reminiscent of rice pudding, and small mugs of warm chocolate.
By the sounds that filled the ballroom of the Intercontinental Hotel, everyone seemed to be enjoying the conversation and gleefully eating the fruits of the mixture of cultures. I myself enjoyed a wonderfully unique and international experience. As we left the festivities that evening, we were given gifts of hand made coconut coasters and placemats from the Philippines, truly representative of the hospitable nature of the Filipinos. In light of the current economic crisis that plagues Europe and the U.S., perhaps Filipino innovation will rise to the occasion.
Drew has a BA in International Relations from Trinity University. She loves to write and travel, “finding new things to do in a city no matter where.”
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