A friend of mine recently expressed in one of her blog entries her affinity towards Latin American culture – its language, literature, films, and even sports. Although she did not really give clear reasons for being attracted to it, she did propose a theory as to the basis of this attraction – the similarity of history between Latin America and the Philippines.
Indeed, colonizers such as Spain, UK, France, Holland, and Portugal played a crucial role in determining the histories and cultures of Latin America and The Philippines (for The Philippines, only Spain), although the two lie in different areas of the globe. The socio-political landscapes of these two worlds have their share of similarities – from American sponsored dictatorships during the Cold War, their struggles for liberation from their colonizers, religion, to their current fraught economies, and even in their telenovelas – just to name a few. Some even liken The Philippines with Latin America more than with its neighboring Asian countries.
It is, without a doubt, incredible how the former colonizers both shaped and destroyed the countries that they conquered and made their colonies become closer and similar despite geographical distance. But what interests me more is the idea that the former colonizers -besides leaving behind physical traces of their presence in the former colonies’ spaces and influence in their ways of life – had somehow also left a sort of fascination and/or admiration in the hearts of those people they had subjugated, like the connection between the two parties are not just limited to politics and history. It seems to me that they had also left a rather satisfactory impression in the hearts of the former colonies even long after the colonization is over – akin to an emotional residue of some sort, making the political, deeply personal.
I share the sentiment of my friend but in a slightly different way. I feel attracted to my former colonizer instead to a “fellow colonized country.”
Ever since I was in high school, I had always wanted to see Spain. My primary reason was simple: to see the country that had colonized mine. I wanted to see for myself and understand this country – what was it with Spain? What was so great about it? In my desire to one day step on its soil, I also made a goal to learn its language – a language that was denied to the Filipinos during the colonization era. Simply put, my desire to visit Spain had been for the longest time, fueled by historical/political reasons.
And I did finally get to fulfill that wish a few summers ago. I must admit though that my desire to see the place was no longer restricted to political reasons but also to enjoy at the same time the sights and sounds of what it had to offer. I was after all, just a tourist too. Unfortunately, 5 days spent in Barcelona was not enough to achieve my main objectives. Obviously, if one really wants to study a country, one should really be immersed in its culture far longer than that immensely minute amount of time. Well, consider my visit as an “initial ocular inspection.”
Upon reading my friend’s blog, I was reminded of a certain poem I read earlier last year (which is more or less connected to her story and most relates to mine). For those who cannot understand Spanish, I’ll try my best to translate it. For those who can understand the language and see that I have made some mistakes in my translation, well, sorry, I haven’t really practiced it in a loongg time! Feel free to point out the errors to me.
* * *
By Marra PL Lanot (from her book, “Witch’s Dance at Iba Pang Tula sa Filipino at Español”)
España, como no te conozco
quiero conocer tus sierras
tus montañas, tus colinas.
Quiero saber las raíces de los árboles
que rezan en las cumbres.
Quiero conocer el otro páis
de nuestros héroes como Rizal y Luna,
la Mamá del pasado,
la Reina de Filipinas
que nunca nos abandonó.
Quiero entender los gritos de alegría
sobre la sangre de los pobrecitos toros.
Quiero oír las canciones de los gitanos,
comprender el fuego del flamenco.
Quiero ver las olas que abrazan las piedras
y escuchar el silencio de las estrellas.
Quiero saber el sello en el escudo
de los siglos después del perdido
de las armadas.
Quiero comprender porqué los colonizados
sueñan viajar a tu tierra
a pesar de la espada y de la cruz,
a pesar de todo.
* * *
Spain, as I do not know you,
I want to be acquainted with your mountain ranges,
Your mountains, your hills.
I want to know the roots of your trees
That pray at the summits.
I want to know the other country
Of our heroes like Rizal and Luna,
The Mother of the Past,
The Queen of the Philippines
Who never left us.
I want to understand the shouts of joy
Upon the blood of the poor bulls.
I want to hear the songs of the gypsies,
Understand the fire of flamenco.
I want to see the waves that embrace the stones
And listen to the silence of the stars.
< I want to know the seal on the coat of arms of the
after the loss of the armies> (?)
I want to understand why the colonized
Dream of traveling to your land
Despite of the sword and the cross,
Despite of everything.
“Despite of everything.” – I just think this is a perfect line to end the poem.
Yes, despite centuries of oppression and subjugation, bloodshed and coercion, why are we still attracted to our former colonizers? Why is there somewhat a sense of nostalgia lingering in the hearts and minds of the former colonies? And I am no longer limiting the discussion to Spain, but even to Japan, and most especially to US (who, according to historians, had actually treated the country worse than Spain did. Ironically, the US conquest is the one that is most likely to be forgotten by Filipinos.)
Now, several questions are filling my head:
1. Is there something more to historical connections to explain the attraction of a former colony towards a specific former colonizer or that is just about it?
2. Do a lot of Filipinos have a similar sentiment? How about with nationals of other former colonies? Do Mexicans also dream of seeing or further deepening their knowledge of Spain? How about the Congolese with France? Kenyans with UK? Indonesians with Holland? Koreans with Japan? (and the list goes on and on…)
3. Would it make a difference if the former colony is now developed or still a developing nation? If so, would the feeling of fascination or attraction be deeper with those in the developing / underdeveloped nations compared to those of the developed ones? For example, would Haitians feel the sentiment more than Canadians do? Somalis more than Australians? Or would it actually be more prominent with the developed countries? Or merely the same?
4. Do the nationals of the former colonizers share this same feeling towards the country of a former colony or is this attraction limited to the former colonies alone?
This then makes me wonder whether or not all the decolonized nations are already truly free from their colonizers.
* titled adapted from Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ book, “Of Love and Other Demons”