Intercolonial Intimacies: Relinking Latin/o America to the Philippines, 1898-1964 (Excerpt)

From Intercolonial Intimacies: Relinking Latin/o America to the Philippines, 1898-1964, by Paula C. Park, University of Pittsburgh Press, 2022


Residual Intercolonial Intimacies across the “Hispanic” Pacific

On April 7, 1937, Philippine Commonwealth president Manuel L. Quezon, together with his family and representatives from the US government, among them the military advisor to the Philippines, General Douglas MacArthur, crossed the southern border of the United States into Mexico via the port of Laredo, Texas. From there, they were taken to Mexico City’s Chapultepec Castle, which at that time served as the presidential palace, where they were welcomed by Mexican government officials. Mexico’s president Lázaro Cárdenas was on tour and could not receive Quezon, but arrangements were made so that they could meet in the provincial town of Taxco. Quezon’s trip to Mexico garnered widespread attention from various national and regional periodicals, but it was not clear whether the visit should be considered an official diplomatic one. A week earlier, Monterrey newspaper El Porvenir announced that Mexico would receive Quezon “with the honors due a head of state, even though the Philippines has still not completely achieved its independence.” On March 31, Mexico’s ruling National Revolutionary Party’s newspaper, El Nacional, declared that Quezon would be welcomed “in the name of the Mexican government, as it corresponds to his category as Head of State.” In anticipation of the Philippines’ independence from the United States, the newspaper also mentioned the “possibility of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Mexico and the Philippines.” As if to rescind these statements, on April 2, El Nacional cited Quezon’s declaration that he was coming to Mexico “exclusively as a tourist.” Even more categorically, the publication asserted that Quezon’s trip had “absolutely no political significance” since he was visiting the country as a private, albeit “very distinguished,” citizen.

The expressions employed to characterize Quezon and the significance (or lack thereof) of his Mexican tour are nuanced, interpretable in at least two ways. On the one hand, they reveal that all official diplomatic relations of the Philippines, still a US territory, continued to be under the jurisdiction of the United States. This was the result of the long-term effects of the policy of “benevolent assimilation,” announced on December 21, 1898, during the presidency of William McKinley. Under this policy, which was carried on by Theodore Roosevelt and subsequent presidents of the United States, Filipinos were to be essentially “Americanized” for their own benefit. As put by high-ranking politician Elihu Root in 1904, the US government would “train the people of the Philippine Islands in the first lessons of ordered liberty and teach them how to govern themselves.” On the other hand, reading between the lines of the articles about Quezon’s visit to Mexico in 1937, it becomes evident that something managed to escape the US government’s control: Quezon’s heightened familiarity with and fondness for Mexico. A few days before his visit, Quezon had remarked that there was “nothing in protocol” that prevented him from saying that Mexicans and Filipinos had “problems in common” or that they were “psychologically very similar.” Que- zon further affirmed, “in Mexico, I don’t expect to be in a strange country. I expect to be in a country that shares fraternal bonds with mine. In your beautiful Aztec capital, I will feel as if I were in Manila observing the same customs and hearing the same language.” On another occasion, he stated that he had been planning the trip for a long time because he had “always felt seduced by Mexico, a country with great commercial and historical ties with the Philippines.” The motive of his trip, he added, responded solely to his “desire for direct knowledge of Mexico.”

Once in Mexico, Quezon found more opportunities to deviate from the formalities expected of him as a subordinate of the US government. These opportunities emerged as Mexican officials, most notably Cárdenas himself, reciprocated Quezon’s excitement and fueled it even more. During their “historic encounter” in Taxco, as described by El Porvenir, Cárdenas seized the chance to rebuke the US government’s patronizing attitude toward the Philippines, albeit in an indirect manner. Instead of mentioning the United States, Cárdenas stated that “neither Mexico nor any other nation can believe that they have reached perfection” and even if they had or believed they had “they do not have the right to plan to impose their ideas and judge the situation of other nations.” Addressing Quezon, Cárdenas added: “Take to your nation this intimate, warm and sincere message that Mexico sends as they feel, like Filipinos, the profound palpitations produced by the desire to achieve a real and definitive political and economic liberation.” As if words were not enough, Cárdenas asked Quezon to accept the “fraternal embrace” that he offered to Filipinos, “breaking protocol formulas” (see figure 1). Considering that in less than a year after the Taxco encounter, Cárdenas would nationalize Mexico’s petroleum reserves and reject the directive of foreign oil companies, Cárdenas’s rhetoric in front of Quezon certainly exceeded diplomatic protocol.

Fig. 1. Manuel Quezon and Lázaro Cárdenas meet and embrace each other in Taxco on April 12, 1937.

As obsequiously grateful as Filipinos may have appeared to be to the United States for its promise, recently made in 1934, to grant the Philippines its due independence after a ten-year period, Quezon made sure to express his equal if not stronger appreciation and admiration for Mexico.5 In spite of previously declaring in public that his visit to the Latin American country had no political motives, a hidden agenda emerges in the affective twists in Quezon’s language. In Taxco, Quezon seized the chance once more, perhaps definitively, to spell out the motive behind his visit. “I have come to Mexico,” he said, “because in front of this great Republic is the man who can serve as inspiration to educate us.” Implicit in Quezon’s characterization of Cárdenas as the one who can educate Filipinos is an interrogation of the United States’ presumptuous plan to “teach Filipinos how to govern themselves,” to recall the rhetoric employed by its government representative toward the beginning of the twentieth century. Upon his return to the United States, Quezon wired an emotive account of his trip to Mexico. He thanked Mexicans for their hospitality and commented how impressed he was by their attitude toward the United States. According to Quezon, Mexicans had “feelings of trust and even friendship” toward their northern neighbor; they considered President Franklin D. Roosevelt “the champion of freedom for all peoples.” Quezon’s adulation of Roosevelt is undeniable. However, when compared to his words of praise to Cárdenas, the US president’s grandeur turns lackluster. Cárdenas was a “complete military man” with “the kindest and most humane heart,” according to Quezon. “Cárdenas will not end his term,” he went on to remark, “without winning the admiration not only of a nation, which he now already has together with its affection and respect, but also the admiration of America, both Saxon and Latin, and of Europe and Asia. Certainly, he has won my affection.” Confirming, moreover, that there was an inherent link between Filipinos and Mexicans, Quezon declared that their mutual affection was not merely a question of shared culture but also one of blood. Cárdenas had embraced him, he said recounting their meeting in Taxco, “in the usual manner not only amongst Mexicans, but that of all the peoples who have inherited their blood and traditions from Spain.”

The visit to Mexico left a lasting impression on Quezon. In a speech delivered a few months later, in November 1937, at a banquet in Colegio de San Juan de Letrán in the Philippines, he assured that he had been well received in Latin America not simply because of his position as the head of state of a soon-to-be independent Philippines, but, first and foremost, because he was Filipino. Quezon declared: “The Latin American people believe and feel that we Filipinos form part of that vast family, the children of Spain. Thus, although Spain ceased to govern those countries many years ago and although another nation is sovereign in the Philippines, those Latin American peoples feel themselves as brothers to the peoples of the Philippines. It is the Spanish language that still binds us to those peoples, and the Spanish language will bind us to those peoples eternally if we have the wisdom and patriotism of preserving it.” The insistence on the feelings Latin Americans and Filipinos had toward each other is promising and worth analyzing further. But it should be noted first that their characterization as “the children of Spain” is not without problems: it reinforces the centuries-old idea that the emperor is akin to a parent and the empire a family. The reliance on the unifying power of the Spanish language is also questionable, considering that, historically, it has been a marker of authority in the Philippines and spoken by a numerical minority.

Nonetheless, we can devise an alternative logic for laying claims to the linguistic legacy of Spanish colonialism: the Spanish language did not necessary link Filipinos to “mother Spain” but primarily to Latin America.

In retrospect, Quezon’s encounter with Cárdenas could be summarized as a constant interplay between complying with the expected formalities set by the US government’s control of the Philippines (let us recall that he was being accompanied by representatives from the United States) and embracing the unexpected vestiges that surfaced like a familial tie to Latin America. By repeatedly claiming that he felt that Latin Americans were the brothers of Filipinos and that Latin Americans reciprocated this sentiment, Quezon was calling into question the US government’s self-declared duty to educate their “little brown brothers,” as Filipinos were derogatively called by some US politicians at the beginning of the century. Despite having ruled the Philippines for more than three decades, the United States could not control Quezon’s purported feelings. It could not prevent the ways in which a sense of affection born out of the residue of a common past surfaced between Filipinos and Latin Americans throughout the twentieth century. If the residue is, to quote Raymond Williams, that which “has been effectively formed in the past, but it is still active in the cultural process” and has “an alternative or even oppositional relation to the dominant culture,” by hinting at a horizontal kinship between Filipinos and Latin Americans Quezon was not just giving in to emotions but articulating a rejection of the US government’s authority. The Philippines was still part of the United States, but Filipinos were far from being considered (or considering themselves) as US Americans or even as their siblings. Instead, they were inclined to trace a Filipino link to Latin America and to partake in the making or remaking of a so-called “Latin” family.

As he evoked his encounter with Cárdenas, Quezon added, “I do not know if the Spaniards will like this, but I do not care to keep back what I feel like saying.” He then recalled an incident he had experienced much earlier, in 1926, with Sergio Osmeña, fellow senator at the time, during a trip to Paris where they had befriended an Argentine diplomat and witnessed liberty in action. As grandiose as this experience sounds, the context in which it transpired was rather casual. On one occasion, a French chauffeur was taking the three of them back to their hotels, driving at “top speed, as usual.” A police officer stopped them, and the chauffeur demonstrated his disdain for the officer’s authority by yelling at him. Turning to Quezon and Osmeña, the Argentine said, “This is how the Latin people are; there is true liberty here.” Once in the hotel, Osmeña asked Quezon: “Did you see what the people here and in the Latin countries understand by liberty?” Osmeña’s underlying suggestion, according to Quezon, was that the Argentine diplomat had interpellated them as “Latin.” To be clear, in his 1937 speech Quezon stated: “The Latin people are we. Yes, we Filipinos are that.”

To better understand the gesture of self-identifying as “Latin” or feeling a sense of kinship with those who are unequivocally identified as such, it is useful to consider the plural definitions of the terms “intimate” and “intimacy,” which have generated profound reflections on the practices and mechanisms of colonial rule. Coming from the Latin intimus, the meanings of “intimate” range from its etymological root (“essential; innermost”) to that which is “marked by close acquaintance, association or familiarity” (used as a euphemism for having sexual relations), to the verb to intimate, which can mean “to communicate with a hint or other indirect sign” or, inversely, “to announce.” Inspired by these divergent definitions, Ann Laura Stoler has reflected on the manners in which Dutch colonial authorities in Indonesia tried to control intimate spaces, including sexual practices (for instance by promoting concubinage, creating interracial marriage laws, or surveilling the “sentimental education” of children), all in the effort to maintain a clear divide between the colonizer and colonized. I also delve into the multivalent meanings of the intimate, but not those related to sexual activities. I primarily approach intimacy as the innermost, the sense of familiarity, and connection or unity: what Lisa Lowe refers to as “the implied but less visible forms of alliance, affinity, and society among various colonized peoples beyond the metropolitan national center.” Yet while Lowe studies the intimacies between the Americas, Asia, Africa, and Europe in the late eighteenth century to the early nineteenth century as a result of slavery, the coolie trade, and other forms of economic exploitation that are “eclipsed by the more dominant Anglo-American histories of liberal subjectivity, domesticity, and household,” I look into the obscured links within and between “Latin” peoples across the Pacific. In particular, I examine the ways in which twentieth-century writers, diplomats, and intellectuals from Latin/o America and the Philippines have articulated that sense of intimacy while engaging with and at times reorienting the politically charged discourses of the “Latin race,” latinidad, and hispanidad.

The trope of kinship ties between “Latin” peoples may seem trite, but it has not been sufficiently taken into account and problematized when considering the twists and turns of latinidad and hispanidad across the Pacific. Filling this lacuna, the present book examines the ways in which various Filipino and Latin American intellectuals recalled, inflected, and appropriated these discourses by imagining themselves as equal companions. In the various literary works and personal, diplomatic, and historical archives that I analyze, we find what I call intercolonial intimacies, that is, the residue of the direct relations between the Philippines and the Spanish Empire’s colonies in the Americas. These intercolonial intimacies take myriad forms and challenge temporal linearity. Brian Massumi’s elaboration on Baruch Spinoza’s definition of affect as the ability or power “to affect and be affected” is useful in this context. According to Massumi, affect continually returns and materializes a pattern of reciprocal relationality. Affect is, moreover, an “event” that begins, or rather, “re-begins” in relation and “an in-between time.” As a relational event it reactivates the past and “in taking up the past differently,” it “creates new potentials for the future.” The reciprocal movements and intertemporal itineraries of affect enable us to realize that the shared sense of familiarity between Filipinos and Latin/o Americans exceed feelings, although they are oftentimes articulated as such. They also shed light on the unpredictable paths intercolonial intimacies take.

Paula Park
Author: Paula Park
Associate Professor, Latin American Studies, Wesleyan University.

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