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.



Filed under language, migration, nationalism, Philippines, Spain

11 responses 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.

    • Calca

      Wrong. English wasn’t a major world language when it was first introduced in the Philippines, Spanish was. Especially for trade in Southeast Asia and South America.

      English replaced Spanish in the Philippines not because the latter was useless; but because Americans erased Spanish in the curriculum in the educational system, vilified the Spanish to the point that people refused to speak it, and made it fashionable to speak American English (as well as “Filipino”, the elite register of Tagalog).

      English only became a major world language at the end of World War II. By then, after 40 or so years of American occupation, very few Filipinos could still speak Spanish.

      Which is a shame really. A large chunk of Filipino culture was abandoned with the language shift. Songs, poems, books, stories that were in Spanish. Now all but forgotten, resulting in a country with pretty much the equivalent of cultural amnesia.

  2. K Franco

    I’ve just bought your book and will be taking it on my travels. Part of my family is Basque and we have had difficulty tracing their arrival in the Philippines but it appears to have been a couple of hundred years ago. They are from Navarre, the town of Ubago. The other side of the family were mainstream Spanish with military postings, and yet others are untraceable. I went to the Spanish Embassy in Makati but didn’t get much help sadly. Thank you for all your research and writing, I’m glad I’ve found your blog.

  3. I feel very grateful to have grown-up with my grandmother’s stories. People with very distant Basque ancestry are very much assimilated in modern Filipino society (even probably moving on to being assimilated to a modern “World” society via Internet and travel). The last remaining remnants may be unique values and philosophies passed-on to the younger generations. I feel grateful to have had a glimpse of the Basque culture thru my grandmother’s stories. Although my grandmother considered herself “Spanish” it was actually her mother, who was the true Basque. Her mother’s first name was already forgotten (Probably Maria, as I would recall) but her last name was Ballejo and she came from Bilbao with her parents to the Philippines when she was just a teenager. She was very slender and tall, (taller than my grandmother’s father) had dark hair and blue eyes. She loved to cook and my grandmother grew up with her stories.

  4. Pichipichi

    Of course the Basque culture will not “survive” in the Philippines, just as much as anything Spanish is weakened. First of all, you can count with you fingers the number of Spanish immigrants in the Philippines. If you look at the censuses of the colonial government, people who were “espanol” NEVER exceeded 2,000 (out of millions of natives!) at any time. Even the miniscule Negrito population in the Philippines is five times bigger than the number of Spanish or European immigrants. To make things even more obvious, these Spanish community in the Philippines isolated themselves from the rest of the population so there is hardly any way to “disperse” the Spanish or Basque culture. So as they migrated elsewhere (most notably Australia and the US) or when the Japanese marines slaughtered them by the thousands in the Battle for Manila, their culture was gone with them. The only Spanish/Europeans to have direct contact with the rest of the population would be the Spanish priests

  5. dd011454

    Wrong analysis Pichipichi…if priests are mostly of Spanish and Basque origin in the Philippines, then they are already totally extinct quarter a generation after Americans occupied the country at the turn of the century for they can not reproduced….You don’t know what you are talking about….Entiende!!!

    • Pichipichi

      They are close to extinction in the Philippines. The only ones left are the artistas and oligarchs like the Zobel de Ayalas, Aboitiz and/or Elizaldes who tend to marry South Americans or Europeans. The wife of Jaime Zobel de Ayala is Spanish(as in from Spain), Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala’s wife is White Colombian.

      Go read a credible book and statistics. You will learn hardly any Spanish or Basque people inmigrated to the Philippines.

      Look at the typical Chilean and a typical Filipino. Chileans look mostly European while typical Filipinos easily can pass for Indonesians

  6. My grandfather was from the province of Bizkaia in the Basque region of Spain.He was born in Forua, a small town east of Bilbao. While studying at Eton in England, he met a Filipino who brought him to the Philippines to help manage their business. My grandfather eventually married a cousin of his Filipino friend.

    Our family is very proud of our Basque roots. My grandfather was very nationalistic and he always stressed that we are Basques and NOT Spanish. Most likely than not, those you encounter in the Philippines carrying our surname have retained European features. A number of my siblings and relatives have visited my grandfather’s birthplace. Some of my cousins even have Basque first names to append to our Basque family name.

    Most descendants of Basque immigrants can identify other Basque names. I have often been asked by strangers where in the Basque Region my surname comes from. There seems to be a feeling of affinity for those who come from from a culture where family was of utmost importance.

    In the Philippines, it is my opinion that Basque ethnicity offers advantages in careers where honesty and sincerity are an essential requisite.

  7. Ana Cristina Zuluaga-Espanola

    I am a Zuluaga, and I am part of the 3rd generation Basque settlers here in the Philippines. My family never forgot where we came from, and each time we get together our elders would show us photos and narrate our rich family history. Euskera and Spanish are my primary languages, in fact when I first went to school, I didn’t speak a drop of English or Filipino.
    My father certainly did a great job on making sure that his children understand and live the Basque culture. And now, it is my job to pass that on to my children.
    The Zuluagas are from San Sebastian, my abuelo and his sons (my father included) migrated to the Philippines to manage the power plant in Jolo, Sulu. My father married a Tausog – which makes sense really both rich in history and culture.

  8. OrigPinoy

    Land grabbers… end of story..

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