A Puerto Rican's History and His Account of the Filipinos in Puerto Rico Today

In effect, I am not Filipino but Puerto Rican, like three of my four grandparents (one grandfather was from the Spanish Balearic Islands). My interest in [hispanofilipino] is that the Philippine predicament, national (European origin) language substitution and US cultural aggression in the early 20th century, mirrors our own situation even if results have been different.


I was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico 47 years ago and now I live in Guayama (southeast Puerto Rico). I work in architectural preservation for the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture (similar to the Philippine NCCA) since 15 years ago. I also study (not formally) comparative geography as a hobby and I read extensively about other countries. As a youth, I was intrigued that some articles said that the Philippines, even if sharing part of its historical evolution with Puerto Rico, was an English-speaking country (now I know it's not exactly so). This was more startling if you know that the Philippines is the second most populous country (after Mexico) in the former Spanish colonial universe and that Spain's presence was the third longest of any major colony - 333 years, only bested by Puerto Rico's 390 and Cuba's 387.

It has piqued my curiosity the reason for the Philippines' swift and radical Anglifications (at least of institutional, cultured and official life) when the same attempt in Puerto Rico fell flat on its face. I was also curious about the fate of Spanish-language Philippine cultural expressions, and the continuous retreat of Spanish from that country. In other nations that never were colonized by Spain such as Japan, China and Korea, Spanish language has exploded as a favorite subject for locals that want to know the originals of famed Spanish and Latin American authors. Salsa dancing and reading works by Cortázar, García Márquez, etc. in their original, are the rave over there.

That explains part of my interest in this group. I arrived here via the Internet, when I realized it is a great medium for documenting languages on the brink of extinction, such as Philippine Spanish and Chabacano, and moribund cultural expressions. I'd never have found out about the true situation hadn't it been by the Internet!

NOTES ON A POSSIBLE FILIPINO PRESENCE IN PUERTO RICO (A los amigos de habla española - mis excusas por escribirlo directo en inglés, pero noto que va a ser esencial expandir los textos en este idioma para poder llegar a muchos compañeros de grupo que veo que aun no dominan el castellano medianamente.)

It is evident that a common Spanish colonial presence linked Puerto Rico, Cuba, and the Philippines for over three centuries. Little is documented on how could there have existed a linkage between Spain's last three colonies especially after the loss of the rest of the Americas to newly emergent nations. However, by 1850 the lack of skilled labor for public works projects was solved in the Spanish Antilles by the importation of "Chinese" labor for building transport and agricultural infrastructure in Cuba and Puerto Rico. A Chinese colony was born in Havana and it once managed to be about 30,000 strong creating a virtual Chinatown in the dense Centro-Habana district, south of the Malecón. About 3000 Sino-Cubans still remain and there's still a Chinese-language publication serving them.

When the major road building projects began in Puerto Rico, around 1870, there is known that chinos were imported for the building of the most rugged sectors of the 125-km Central Road linking San Juan and Ponce, and in the last decade of the 19th century for the construction of the Cayey-Guayama road. Historians, however, believe that these were, in fact, Filipino indentured laborers.

Nevertheless no specific studies on the archival records of these projects to verify these hypotheses Another almost virgin territory has been the relationships between Puerto Rican nationalists and autonomists vis-à-vis their Philippine counterparts. It is known that Rizal knew of the Cuban insurgency and very likely of the propaganda work by Cuban patriot José Martí (1853-1895) and the so-called Cuban Revolutionary Party. Many methods of the Katipunan and similar organizations parallel those of the Cuban revolutionary societies.
But did Rizal (or Aguinaldo, or Mabini, etc.) know of the efforts of Ramón Emeterio Betances (1827-1898), a native of Cabo Rojo (South West PR) that was exiled in Paris and actively propagandizing the cause of Cuba and PR in many parts of Europe? Or of Eugenio María Hostos (1839-1903), a tireless crusader for progressive education in Latin America, who fluctuated between Chile, the Dominican Republic, etc.? Maybe some of you may have led to answers about this aspect.

In the 20th century, some Filipinos did work on our island. The one I remember was a certain Antonio C. Kayanan, an architect that in the 1960s advised the Puerto Rico Planning Board on zoning and urban issues. On the other hand, at least one member of this group (Guillermo Gómez) remarks that up to World War 2 elements of Latin American cultural expression routinely made their way to the Pinoy archipelago. PR has been particularly strong in the musical arts, so it will be no surprise to me that works by composers like Rafael Hernández (1891-1965) may have been popularized in the Philippines then, and even later. Other occasional exchanges like the four-year passage of Dayanara Torres in TV and several hit commercial Filipino movies, and visits by our salsa greats over there, should be commented. I also think that once the Bayanihan dance group did perform in PR, years ago (I believe at the UPR), and late last year (2001) the Manila pianist Cecile Licad gave a concert in San Juan.

There's a smattering of Filipinos (I believe in the three digits) in Puerto Rico. I had to deal recently with one, Mr. Patrick N. Magat, an architectural designer for a project that I had under historic-district design review in Arroyo (southeast part of the island, and he's married to a native of that town). In Old San Juan there is a Philippine eatery called "Diner's Restaurant" in calle San Francisco (I think in number 357). I haven't visited it nor I know its owner, and I think it caters mostly for the many Filipinos that staff cruise ships plying the Caribbean routes from SJ. A Filipino lady I know, Ms. Editha Echávez, has a well-attended stall in the historic city of San Germán in southwest Puerto Rico She makes up fried snacks (frituras), with a creative adaptation of traditional Puerto Rican favorites - her specialty is miniature "rellenos", meat filled mashed potato patties. She's quite fluent in Spanish (though her accent is more boricua than anything else...).
I also know that President Corazón Cojuangco-Aquino (or was it President Ramos) appointed a certain Mr. Narmo Ortiz, a Puerto Rican that is / was an executive at the Cyanamid chemical firm in P.R., as a honorary consul (PR is not a sovereign country so we don't operate or host embassies). The Philippines was a way station for PR servicepersons in the US armed forces especially in the Vietnam War years and I surmise some permanent relationships grew out of there.

Many surprises await, I am just posing now my questions and positing possibilities. Hope some additional facts and information come my way.,.

By Jorge Ortiz Colom

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Unknown said…
Viva puerto.rico
PinoyApache said…
Kumusta (como esta).
Anonymous said…