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Default Looking Back : Mexico, Under Our Skin (Food Facts Plus More)

Looking Back : Mexico, under our skin

By Ambeth Ocampo
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Posted date: May 28, 2008

“Bahay Kubo” is a nursery rhyme that Filipinos carry into their old age.
Passed on from generation to generation nobody takes the trouble to
think about the lyrics. The title is taken from the first line of the
song that has nothing to do with a nipa frond hut. “Bahay Kubo” is
actually a song about vegetables that grow around the hut. “Singkamas,”
“talong,” “sigarilyas,” “mani,” “sitaw,” “bataw” and “patani” are so
common Filipinos presume these are native to the country. Many people
are surprised to learn that many of the plants, fruits and vegetables
they grew up with were imported centuries ago. Many of the “native”
plants we know were vegetable and fruit immigrants from Mexico. Best
examples are “camote,” “achuete,” “sayote,” even chocolate—most of the
fruits and vegetables that end with “te” originated from Mexico. On the
other hand, through the galleon trade, the Philippines gave Mexico
mangoes that are now known there as Mangas de Manila. Globalization may
sound like a new word or concept but it is actually centuries old.

Look back at the exchange between East and West during the galleon trade
and you will see globalization at work early on in our history. Mexico
may not figure in our history like Spain, the United States of America,
or Japan but the cultural links run deep.

Taking a shortcut and avoiding the trouble of undertaking research in
our archives, museums and libraries, the Mexican Embassy in Manila was
smart enough to send a query regarding street names, landmarks and
institutions in the Philippines related to Mexico to our Department of
Foreign Affairs.

Their letter, following diplomatic channels, was transmitted to the
National Historical Institute that did research that yielded surprising
results. Naturally, the place to start is the province of Pampanga that
is famous for its version of tamales and a southern town called Mexico.
Though similar in look and intent, the Kapampangan tamales is a rice
cake with meat steamed in banana leaves; it is said to be of pre-Spanish
origin and only loosely related to the Mexican kind that is made of
cornmeal and is wrapped in corn husks.

There are many versions about how Mexico town in Pampanga got its name.
Local lore states that the town got its name from Guachinangos who
settled there from Mexico during Spanish times. Another story is that
the founders of the town—Spanish friars, military and civil
officials—had served in Mexico and finding some physical similarities
between the two gave it its present name.

The problem is that then as now Kapampangans do not pronounce Mexico as
written but “mispronounce” it as “maisicu.” According to Diego de
Bergano, who compiled one of the earliest Kapampangan dictionaries and
grammars in the early 18th century, “maisicu” is an archaic term that
means “abundance.” Could Maisicu be the pre-colonial name of the town
then Hispanized into Mexico? Well, the “Libro de Gobiernos” [Book of
Governments] of the Augustinian order states that the town from the
earliest records was known as Nueva Mexico, or New Mexico.

New Mexico in the United States has a town called Santa Fe; well, there
is a Santa Fe street in Tondo, Manila, that is named after the original
Santa Fe in Mexico. Then there is a street in Manila that connects
Tayuman street, Sta Cruz with Lacson street in Sampaloc called A.
Mendoza, a rather common name in the Philippines that leads residents to
ask who is the historic Filipino honored by that street. The street was
named after Antonio de Mendoza, first viceroy of Mexico (1535). Finally,
there is a municipality in Northern Samar called Capul that is not named
after anyone or anything local; rather, Capul is from Acapulco, Mexico.

There are three monuments or historical markers in the Intramuros area
that are related to Mexico. Somewhere by the Pasig river, on the same
street as the Bureau of Immigration, is a memorial to the galleon trade.
On the other side of the walled city, along Bonifacio Drive, there is a
small memorial to Mexican Air Squadron 501—Mexican pilots who served in
the Philippines during World War II.

Close to this is the statue of Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla (1753-1811),
the National Hero of Mexico whose cry for independence is often lost
among Filipinos who do not know him.

Then of course in Makati we have an old and new Guadalupe—Guadalupe
Viejo and Guadalupe Nuevo—churches that trace the origin of their
patroness to Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe or Our Lady of Guadalupe in
Mexico. This image is a symbol of Mexico and the shrine that preserves
the image is supposedly the second most visited Catholic church after
St. Peter’s in Rome. In 1835, Pope Pius XI made Our Lady of Guadalupe
Patroness of the Philippines.

Finally, some words in our languages that we presume are Spanish like
“gafas” for eyeglasses and “casafuego” for matches are actually Mexican.
Spaniards use “lentes” or “anteojos” instead of “gafas” for eyeglasses.
Spaniards use “cerillas” instead of “casafuego” for matches. It seems
that when you scratch the modern Filipino in an attempt to uncover the
various cultures that make him what he is, Mexico will be found under
his skin.

Comments are welcome at .
©Copyright 2001-2008, An Inquirer Company

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