Fate of Basque Ethnicity in the Philippines

From Basques in the Philippines, by Marciano R. de Borja (U. Nevada Press, 2012), pp. 138-139:

Today most Filipinos are very familiar with two things related to Basque culture, though without knowing it—chorizo de Bilbao, a kind of sausage, and jai alai. At the same time, the Basque legacy in the Philippines is perhaps manifested most obvi­ously in the number of Basque place-names. Many of Manila’s streets still have Basque names, though many more have been erased and changed in recent years for the sake of modernization and nationalism. The most obvious example is Avenida Azcárraga, which was renamed Claro M. Recto Avenue in honor of the great Filipino nationalist and senator. Among the surviving Basque street names are Ayala, Arlegui, Barrengoa, Bilbao, Gaztambide, Ozcariz, Elizondo, Guernica, Durango, Echague, Goiti, and Mendiola. In Makati, the posh residential and business enclaves are called Legazpi, Salcedo, and Urdaneta.

The current map of the Philippines is still replete with provinces, towns, and cities that bear Basque names, such as Anda, Arteche, Azpeita, Lavezares, Legazpi, Loyola, Mondragon, Nueva Vizcaya, Oroquieta, Oteiza, Pamplona, Urbistondo, Urdaneta, Zarraga, and Zumarraga.

The Basques’ outstanding achievements and the high status enjoyed by their de­scendants in contemporary Philippine society must be considered against the back­ drop of the future of Basque-Philippine identity. We should first answer the follow­ing questions: How do Basque descendants view their ethnicity? Do they still regard themselves as unique? To what extent have they assimilated into the local culture?

The new generation of Basque descendants have little contact with the Basque Country. Some are still proud of their Basque heritage, although compared to their counterparts in Latin America, they are fast losing their ethnic consciousness, if in fact it is not already lost. This is in part a function of the vast distance that separates the Philippines and the Basque Country, as well as a function of the limited number of Basque settlers in the Philippines at any time. Such demographic paucity makes it impossible for a strong Basque-Philippine culture and identity to flourish. Except for some articles that are published occasionally about a few families of Basque origin, many third- and fourth-generation Basques lack ethnic awareness and are oblivious to their roots. And even when they are vaguely aware of their origins, they lack a deeper knowledge, appreciation, and understanding of things Basques. Only a handful have ever been to the Basque Country. As Andoni F. Aboitiz, a fourth-generation Basque has said: “We really think of ourselves as Filipinos first and of Basque descent second.” Even if some descendants are proud of their Basque roots, they seem to prefer not to talk about them. As Robert Laxalt, an American novelist of Basque origin, has observed: “Reticence has always been the deeper mark of the Basque character.”

Intermarriage is another factor that has weakened the Basques’ ethnicity. Al­though it was often the practice for newly arrived Basques during the nineteenth century to marry among themselves, succeeding generations did not follow suit. Many took Spanish and American spouses, while others married mestizos and Malay Filipinos. The Ayala family, example, has practically lost its Basqueness, ex­cept for its name, and that could still be lost since the current heirs of the Ayala clan carry the surname “Zobel.” The most Basque among the present Basque-Filipinos today seem to be the Aboitizes. Looking at their family tree, it is evident that inter­marriage with other Basques has been encouraged. A majority of the Aboitiz clan carry a second Basque name such as Arrizaleta, Luzurriaga, Mendieta, Moraza, Mendezona, Ugarte, Uriarte, and Yrastorza.

In the Philippines, there is no equivalent of the eusko etxea, or Basque center, that is maintained by Basque descendants in Latin America and the American West (par­ticularly in the states of California, Idaho, and Nevada). The United States also has the NABO (North American Basque Organizations, Inc.), the umbrella organization that oversees nearly thirty Basque clubs and provides them with common cause and activity. There is also an Argentinian FEVA (Federación de las Entidades Vascas de la Argentina, or Federation of Basque Entities of Argentina), which links more than sixty Basque centers and institutions. In the Philippines, there is not a single Basque club at present.

Philippine Basque descendants no longer speak Euskara. The predominance of regional languages, such as Ilonggo, Bicolano, and Cebuano; the promotion of Fili­pino, the Tagalog-based national language; and the strong influence of American culture with a corresponding extensive use of English in education, business, and government in the Philippines have together wreaked havoc on the vestiges of Spanish tradition, not to mention the Basque one. The Spanish language, which was still dominant among the Philippine elite during the American occupation, slowly waned in influence. By the 1960s, Spanish lost its premier status, and, although it was included as an official language in the 1973 Philippine constitution, its decline was irreversible. It was finally eliminated as an official language in 1987.

Even as an academic subject, Spanish has dwindled to nothing. Constituting twenty-four required units in the school system in the early 1950s, it was demoted to twelve units in the 1980s. It was subsequently abolished as a requirement. Many Basque descendants today cannot even speak Spanish—considered the language of the aristocracy and landed gentry in the Philippines—let alone Basque.

The new generation is simply too assimilated to the mainstream of Philippine society and culture.

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1 Comment

Filed under language, migration, nationalism, Philippines, Spain

One response to “Fate of Basque Ethnicity in the Philippines

  1. Leon

    The Spanish language simply declined in the Philippines because most Filipinos have no use for it other than for history, culture or anthropology. The English language has a lot of practical uses for Filipinos, therefore, it became the preferred language.

    If the Spanish language plays a more important role in the Asia-Pacific region, then the Philippines will be the first country to adapt to it. But at the moment, the English language is still more important in Asia particularly because of the USA and the UK. Countries such as China, Japan, India, Singapore, Hong Kong, Korea and Indonesia have adapted English as the business language.

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