EuskoSare > Communities > Ikertzaileak > Basques in Manila
2010-12-27 09:04
  • Euskara
  • Castellano
  • Français
  • English

Basques in Manila

Reproducimos aquí un interesante artículo de Luis H. Francia sobre la presencia vasca en las islas Filipinas.

Basques In Manila

By Luis H. Francia
First Posted 08:11:00 12/25/2010
Filed Under: history, Jose Rizal

NEW YORK—In a few days will fall the 114th anniversary of the execution of José Rizal. And six months hence, the sesquicentennial of his birth will be observed.
At the age of 35, Rizal was executed at dawn of December 30, 1896, principally because he had written two incendiary novels, or, put another way, a novel in two parts, Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo. Noli’s central character Crisóstomo Ibarra (he returns in the Fili as the darker, vindictive Simoun) has just returned from his studies in Europe, full of decidedly ilustrado beliefs, with his stress on reason, enlightened governance, and a devotion to education as the key to vanquishing the mists of ignorance that were everywhere in La Patria Adorada, a miasma that had persisted over the centuries of benighted Spanish (mis)rule abetted and complicated by friar greed and cruelty. The friars in fact constituted a state within the state.

Ibarra was fashioned to a degree after his creator. Where they differed was in their bloodlines, Rizal being of Malay-Chinese origin, and Ibarra a fourth-generation Basque mestizo—“Ibarra” an abbreviated version of Eibarramendia, a Basque patronymic, the surname of his paternal great grandfather Don Pedro. Don Pedro of course precipitates the downfall of Elías’s family by bringing fraudulent charges against Elías’s own grandfather, thus engendering in Elías conflicting emotions regarding Crisóstomo.

Why did Pepe endow Crisóstomo with Basque genes? Making Ibarra a Basque mestizo wasn't an arbitrary act. Rizal would have been all too aware of Basque presence and prominence in the colonial state. The Basques were active as businessmen, clergy, soldiers, mariners, and colonial officials, having played major roles both in the conquest of the archipelago and in the ensuing centuries-long Hispanization, beginning with the 1565 advent of Miguel Lopez de Legazpi, Martin Goiti, Felipe de Salcedo (Legazpi’s grandson), and Fray Andres de Urdaneta—all Basques.
Urdaneta had already crossed the Pacific once, with the ill-fated 1525 Loaysa expedition. Urdaneta managed to return to Spain and thence to Mexico, where he joined the Augustinian order. He was then coaxed out of retirement by Legazpi, already a wealthy Basque, to serve as navigator for the long but successful voyage to the Philippines. Urdaneta's subsequent return to Mexico would chart the course galleons would follow between Manila and Acapulco, once Manila had become a fortified Spanish settlement in 1572.
I recently came across a trove of information on the Basque presence in the archipelago in Marciano de Borja’s Basques in the Philippines, part of a "Basque Series" and published in 2005 by the University of Nevada Press—Nevada (and Idaho) having a sizable number of Americans of Basque descent. I had a vague notion of Basque presence in the islands but didn't realize the extent of that presence.
My own introduction to the Basque legacy (though I didn’t know it then) was the jai alai fronton in the Ermita district, on Taft Avenue right near the corner of San Luis. As a boy, on occasion, my father brought me there, and I was fascinated by the whole enterprise, and by building's cool Art Deco architecture. I distinctly remember the sport being described as the fastest one to involve a ball, with speeds reaching more than 250 kph. We’d go to the Skylight Room, and from above watch the helmeted players on the court, I with my Coke and my father with a cold San Miguel intently following the action to see if any of his bets would provide a handsome return. The players’ surnames, such as Gamechogoicoechea, Cincunegui, Garriz, Iturralde—examples cited by De Borja—were distinctly harder on the tongue than the more common Spanish surnames, such as Rivera, de los Santos, Reyes, Garcia, etc. Unfortunately, under the myopic mayoralty of Atienza, this elegant edifice, which should have been landmarked, was instead demolished in 2000. The ostensible reason? That it had been a venue for gambling. The former mayor displayed extraordinary imagination in holding the building itself guilty, rather than its proponents, of gambling. I venture to say that hizonner might find a lucrative career in fantasy fiction, and regale his readers with tales of talking edifices and landscapes come to life.

Among the other historical nuggets offered up by the book concerns Carlos Loyzaga. Those who grew up with the great NCAA rivalry of San Beda and the Ateneo de Manila will surely remember Carlos Loyzaga, the Mendiola college’s 6’3” Richard the Lion Hearted, otherwise known as the Big Difference. Of Basque descent, the legendary Caloy was one of the mainstays of Philippine basketball teams that garnered international honors, and were champions in Asia through the 1950s and early 1960s. The pinnacle of Philippine (and Asian) basketball was Caloy and his teammates' bronze medal finish in the 1954 FIBA (Federation of International Basketball) world championship in Rio de Janeiro.

And there was YCO, the paint manufacturer and at one time sponsor of a powerhouse professional basketball team that participated in the now defunct MICAA (Manila Industrial Commercial Athletic Association), with the Big Difference as part of its early and dominant teams. I never knew that YCO stood for Ynchausti y Compania, and that it was more than just a paint manufacturer. (By the time it got involved in professional basketball, YCO had been taken over by the Elizaldes, also a Basque family, and sports aficionados.) It began as a trading and shipping enterprise in 1854, founded by José Joaquin Ynchausti, born in Cadiz, of Basque parents. YCO soon branched out into agriculture and industry, and during the latter half of the nineteenth century had offices throughout the islands and branches in Hong Kong, Shanghai, San Francisco, and New York. The Ynchaustis initiated the construction of the Puente Colgante, to provide a faster route from Intramuros to Binondo. Completed in 1852, it was Southeast Asia's first suspension bridge. We now know it as Quezon Bridge—of course, redesigned and reconstructed in steel. During his days in Intramuros, the young Pepe must have crossed this bridge numerous times, growing familiar with the streets in and around Binondo—knowledge he puts to use early on in the Noli.

Even today, Basque names are easily recognizable in street names (Echague, that runs along Quinta Market through sa ilalim ng tulay), places (Plaza Goiti), and provinces (Nueva Vizcaya). They are still with us in business: the Aboitizes, the Elizaldes, and the Ayala side of the Zobel de Ayala clan. Basques in the Philippines barely acknowledges the dark side of colonialism; nevertheless, anyone curious as to their role in the archipelago will find the book useful in contextualizing Basque presence in the islands.
A lovely Christmas and a Peaceful, Prosperous, and Healthy New Year to the readers of this column!