Aromas and flavors

Published October 7, 2020, 8:32 PM

by Gemma Cruz Araneta

LANDSCAPE

Gemma Cruz Araneta

You are cordially invited to join the webinar “The Aromas and Flavors of the Manila-Acapulco Galleon Route” this evening at 6 p.m. Kindly look for the link online.

I lived in Mexico for 18 years, the longest I have been away from the motherland. Except for the Philippine embassy staff, no one knew me when I arrived. I considered it a challenge to live in a country where I had no childhood friends, no eminent connections, no real estate, no bank accounts, no domestic helpers, no nothing. I had two minor children in tow and a husband, an ocean away, unable to follow us.

Be that as it may and from the very start, I never felt like a foreigner in Mexico, not only because I could communicate with the Mexicans in their official language, but also because they were very much like Filipinos – friendly, cheerful, helpful,  and easy-going. They were encouragingly polite, with traces of old European-world manners that my generation has forgotten. Mexicans have rather charming greeting rituals; a conversation always starts by asking how you are, if your family is all right. When introduced to a gentleman, his response ranges from “Encantado” (Enchanted) to a chivalrous “A sus pies!” (literally, at your feet). It was like stepping into a Jorge Negrete – Maria Felix movie.

Whenever I am invited to lecture about Mexico, I always emphasize that she is our “ate” (elder sister) and to connect dots, I add that Cuba and Puerto Rico are our half-sisters. All four colonies of Spain were drawn together by an indifferent destiny for at least 250 years, until Mexico won its anti-colonial war against Spain in 1821. Since then, our shared history was opaqued by random circumstances, like the 50 years of North American colonization, in the case of Filipinas.  However, the historical links are still embedded in our DNA.

Mexico and Filipinas were intimately linked on the domestic and cultural levels much more than the political one. By virtue of the first global trade that influenced four continents, the Galleon Trade, Mexico and the Philippines shared and exchanged a whole gamut of aromas and flavors — the fragrance of the dama de noche, calachuchi, camia, and rosal sweeten the air; the flavors of adobo, barbacoa, ceviche seduce our taste buds just like nature’s fruits like mango de Manila, chirimoya, chico zapote, a variety of bananas and coconuts. We pine for tuba and tequila, no matter how incapacitating these can be. Mexicans and Filipinos have also exchanged the sounds of vocabularies (nanay and tatay, petat) as well as our unwavering faith in our dearly departed, Our Lady of Guadalupe, and the Black Nazarene.

During the Centennial of the Philippine Revolution, I was instructed to convene conferences with my Mexican colleagues, in time for the state visit of then President Fidel Ramos. “Mexico y Filipinas: Un mar de historias” was the title we chose. The list of speakers comprised prominent Mexican and South American historians, including Dr. Benito Legarda Jr., que en paz descance (may he rest in peace). During a frenzied organizational meeting, a Mexican colleague, Dr. Cristina Barron, suddenly burst out laughing. She said: “Had we invited Spaniards, we would be butting heads and locking horns with them, acrimoniously!” Cristina took her master’s at the University of the Philippines, so she knew what she was talking about.

The nostalgic renegade in me believes that Filipinas would have been at the same level of development and progress as Mexico had we become independent at the same time, and had we not passed through American colonization. Although Mexico lost half of its national territory to an expanding imperialist United States of America and was under a French emperor for four years, its cultural identity has remained intact. My Mexican colleagues say that Mexico has turned the Spanish language and the Hispanic influence into a potent cultural shield against the onslaught of the USA. I have observed that through the course of decades, that has become more and more difficult.

At first sight, Mexico City, the largest in the world with twice Metro Manila’s population, is an impressive pageant of heritage and modernity. When I arrived, it was the rush hour and the main streets were at a crawl, even if the public transport system seemed efficient enough. To this day, the Mexican government has a deep reverence for its historical sites and monuments; there are no photobombers that shamelessly violate vista corridors.

Cristobal Colon (Christopher Columbus) has a monument on the Paseo de la Reforma but he is not celebrated like a hero; the Dia de la Raza (Day of the Race) is more significant. The monument of Emperor Cuauhtemoc is larger than life and I have seen Mexican indios, common folk not government officials, offer fruits and flowers on his birthday. It is my fervent hope that while we are preparing to celebrate Quincentennial of Christianity in 2021, we should also plan for a Dia de la Raza, with its distinct flavor and aroma.

([email protected] gmail.com) gemmacruzaraneta.com

 
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