Gemma Cruz Araneta
Does Miss Universe, R’Bonney Gabriel, know that Texas was once Nuevas Filipinas? Don’t you think it is serendipitous that a half- Filipino Miss Texas should win the Miss USA and Miss Universe titles?
It was the eminent Bicolano historian, Dr. Domingo Abella, who first told me that Texas used to be called Nuevas Filipinas. He must have learned that in Mexico’s Archivo General de la Nacion where he spent months cataloging primary sources about the Philippines. That was why when I arrived in Mexico, the Museo Nacional de Intervenciones was on my bucket list. This fascinating museum was purposefully housed in the ex-Convento de Churubusco because in that part of the city Mexicans fought battles against the USA’s invading army. That was where I saw an 18th century map where Texas was Nuevas Filipinas; there were primary sources of the same vintage where “El Nuevo Reino de Filipinas” was mentioned. There were photos of familiar faces who were eventually involved in the Philippine-American War.
As you know, the Philippines and what is now Texas were part of the Viceroyalty of Nueva España (now Mexico). The Spaniards had a habit of affixing “Nueva” to conquered territory, for example, Nueva Cáceres, the capital of Camarines Sur; Nueva Ecija was named after a town in Sevilla, Nueva Vizcaya after the Basque province of Bizkaia; Nicaragua used to be Nueva Segovia. In September 1846, the USA attacked Monterrey, a northern city of Mexico, but after five days of ferocious battle, the two armies agreed on a truce. The US military forces hoisted their flag over the Ciudadela fort after rendering honors to the Mexican army and allowing it a ceremonious retreat with the Mexican colors in full display. Apparently, President James Polk received the news with displeasure, which was probably why the truce did not last. Before the year ended, General Zachary Taylor positioned his forces in Corpus Christi, Texas, an aggressive act that compelled Mexico to defend its northern border in San Luis Potosi.
Gen. Z. Taylor crossed the border with 6,250 armed men, 19 canon and 1,500 mules bearing war supplies. His troops consisted of three divisions of regulars and units of newly-recruited volunteers from the southern states. When the American invading forces arrived in Monterrey, they were met with such intense fire that forced them to retreat and regroup before entering the city. Mexican General Francisco Mejia and his men engaged the Americans in urban warfare to which the latter were not accustomed. Monterrey was a labyrinth of streets and lanes with rows of houses. The US invaders were sitting ducks for unseen local gunmen who were shooting at them from windows, portals and balconies. Strangely enough, the Mexicans rested on their laurels and did not take advantage of their initial victory, so after four more days of intense fighting the Americans breached the lines and recaptured vital fortifications. The invaders marched on to the heart of Mexico, to “city of palaces,” the capital of the Viceroyalty of Nueva España, Mexico city. Gen. Taylor planted their flag over the Palacio Nacional while the embattled Mexican republic fled to Queretaro, Hidalgo; a congress was convened to start negotiations.
In Mexico City, American troops took over convents and churches and converted these into their headquarters, barracks and hospitals. The opulent mansions and villas, abandoned by their owners, were commandeered as well. Mexicans were outraged at the sight of American soldiers entering churches without taking hats off and while smoking irreverently; they sprawled on church pews to sleep and snore. Even the confessionals were not spared such indignities. Although American officers were “refined and educated,” they made no effort to control rowdy foot soldiers and volunteers.
A few weeks after the initial shock, commercial establishments began to open; tailors, barbers, corner stores, food vendors were cautiously doing business, so were the cabarets, cantinas (bars) and gambling dens. There were reports of American troops and volunteers having “bacchanalias and orgies” way beyond the crack of dawn. Mexicans said the “yanquis” were interested only in three things – gambling, drinking and women.
As in all wars, the locals had a way of avenging the enemy’s excesses and abusive behavior. Mexicans extorted money, mauled, robbed and stabbed the invaders as they ambled along side streets and dark alleys after wild nights at the cabaret Gran sociedad, La Bella Union or El Progreso.
A peace treaty was finally signed on Feb. 8, 1848, in the state of Hidalgo, and after an exchange of ratifications the American invading forces removed the “stars and stripes” from the Palacio Nacional and left Mexico. Sovereignty was restored, but at a very high price because Mexico had to cede to the USA more than half of its national territory, including Texas, a.k.a Nuevas Filipinas, home of R’Bonney Gabriel, proudly half-Pinay.