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December 25, 2007


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Compare and contrast the experience of European Jews.

Please continue, sir ...

Chinese intermarriage in the Philippines goes back at least to the sixteenth century. While there were pogroms of culturally Chinese communities in Manila, many Chinese conversos established themselves in the first families of the Philippines.

This posed a problem for Filipino elites who wanted to play the anti-Chinese card. Even Rizal, who had little use for FOTB Chinese, had Chinese ancestry. Since, by the racial theories of the time, ethnic ancestry indicated character, it was difficult for much of the Filipino elite to disavow Chinese migrants simply for reasons of origin -- which ended up meaning that Chinese people who adopted Filipino customs were considered less alien than similar cases elsewhere in southeast Asia, which acted to smooth over later chain migration.

There are still weird undercurrents about Chinese ancestry in the Philippines. But -- to use an example from my mother's people -- it's more like Tommy Thompson talking about how great it is that money-making is a part of the Jewish tradition. It's a little different, but you get to wear those cool hats.

I didn't know about the sixteenth century wave of immigration and conversion.

The reason is that by the time the Spanish commissioned those 1864 reports (the one I cited is only one of several) none of the authors seemed aware that there had been any significant Chinese immigration much before the 1850s. They certainly weren't aware of any Chinese-descendended conversos, stating unequivocally that such simply did not happen.

Was that just Spanish ignorance of the undercurrents in mestizo society, or had there really been a wholesale forgetting of earlier waves of immigration?

(The special taxes on Chinese certainly provided an incentive to tell the Spanish census-takers in 1865 that you had no Chinese ancestry. But such ignorance from provincial officials seems like a strange blind spot.)

Problem was -- and this confused outside observers -- 'mestizo' in the Philippines did not mean what it usually meant elsewhere. It certainly _could_ mean someone of mixed Spanish-Filipino descent. But the majority of mestizos in the Philippines were Chinese mestizos... who had usually assimilated to the Spanish mestizo role. Very Catholic, speaking Spanish and/or Filipino languages.

It gets complicated.

I was looking through _Noli Me Tangere_ again. It's not a subtle book, but it is nuanced. Rizal's Mary Sue character Ibarra is identified as a Spanish mestizo -- in fact, Basque. (Like D'Artagnan.)

Captain Tiago, on the other hand, is explicitly described as not _looking_ Chinese, but living in Binondo, the historic Chinese mestizo suburb of Manila.

(Of course, Ibarra is supposed to marry his daughter. Daughters and the maternal line were used for family alliances.)

Incidentally, the best line in the Noli is: "quod eventum, eventum; gratias agamus Domino Deo quia non in Marianis Insulis es, camotes seminando."

I know two very little tidbits on this subject, which, btw, I find interesting.

1. During the American period in the Philippines, there was a case filed in the courts--I found a reported decision when I was doing research years ago, have lost track of it, but remember it basically--challenging a Philippine law that outlawed commercial signs in Chinese language / characters. The case was brought on commercial free speech grounds, and was won, but it indicated at least some "official" prejudice or backlash against Chinese merchants.

2. In the Marianas, when the indigenous tried to fight back against the Spanish there was one Chinese man who was considered by the Spanish to be a trouble-maker, rabble-rouser, promoting the "rebellion." I forget the exact time period, but it was unusual that there was even one Chinese man in these remote islands. (I think the word "matapang" came about in part as a result of this rebel, but I could be confused about that.) Again, I've lost track of the source--probably old Spanish records that have been translated, which we have here, available for sale in the book store, and such.

Choco! yeah, he was a castaway. Late 17th century. Said the missionaries must be using poison during baptism. (Infant mortality was going through an abnormal increase, almost certainly due to new childhood diseases introduced by the missionaries.) Wackiness ensued.

His name is in the old style Chinese-Filipino form, like Lamco or Yangco or Cojuangco: the -co is an honorific which became part of the last name. As if there were Bosstweeds or Docsmiths in the US.

Saipanwriter: what kind of Spanish records are on sale, exactly? I might be interested in ordering them.

Carlos: Thailand seems to have been strange in a different way. Lots of early intermarriage, like the Philippines, but also much discrimination until the 1970s ... despite the fact that many of the discriminators openly possessed some Chinese ancestry.

I think it's pretty easy to explain. Thai national identity was constructed around Thai ethnicity, Thai high culture, and Thai-specific institutions. It's actually a little surprising to me that Thailand isn't more Blut und Boden.

Filipino national identity, on the other hand, derives from shared political experience. There wasn't a massively favored ethnic group. ("Lombardi treats us all the same — like dogs.") No non-European could gain much political power. No non-European could advance very far in the Church. Et cetera. A cultural leveling. You know how it worked.

The mystery of the Philippines is why this coalition of groups not only maintained itself, but merged with each other. My guess is, had the Philippines' colonial experience had included more divide and conquer, group set against group tactics, it would be a much more unhappy place.

(I've wondered what the Filipino postwar period looks like to Indonesians, who have had a much more ethnically divisive history. Did they view the Marcos years as an Ilocano takeover? Cory Aquino as the hand of COG? Why are the Pampangans running things again? it's so confusing.)

Carlos, man, that last bit about the Indonesian view of the Philippines has me laughing uncontrollably. I think you need to be have been there to get it.

I agree that the strange thing about Thailand is, in fact, that they seem to have avoided the worst of the Sangre y Tierra trap. Chinese could become Thai ... but that meant that they needed to piss on their less-assimilated compatriots.

You know, speaking as a good American, I have to agree with you that Thailand isn't so strange at all. It ain't like us Americans don't have much experience with, like, the exact same thing.

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