As today we celebrate Columbus Day in the US by going into stores and taking whatever we want (/sarcasm) and all this October we celebrate Filipino American History Month, we decide to find out where these intersect: the history of the West (Spain and the United States) in the Philippines.
What's Christopher Columbus got to do with Filipino food?
The short answer: A LOT. I want to say upfront that Philippine culture did not start with the Spanish. Much of our indigenous ways remained, unbowed to imperial influence, as evidenced through cuisine -- fermentation for the beloved bagoong (shrimp paste) and our penchant for sourness both persisted. The European colonizers took by force; invaders included the military, the priests and their governing officials and merchants. The new ruling class who installed themselves brought their tastes, recipes and their larders, ingredients from Spain and New Spain AKA Mexico. They brought their language, which is why so many words in Tagalog for food are Spanish. Just look at Filipino desserts -- leche flan, brazo de Mercedes, polvoron.
But, wait! Columbus didn't "discover" the Philippines, did he?
Yes, you're right. Columbus never found the eastern trade route to India. During his time in the present-day Dominican Republic, Columbus was an inhumane tyrant, and was forced to return to Spain by Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand.
Columbus's voyages in the Caribbean began Spain's colonization of the New World. At one point, Spain lay claim to everything south of present-day Virginia to the tip of South America, except for Brazil, which was for Portugal. This was thanks to the King of Spain making entreaty to the Pope (Alexander VI) who was also a Spaniard, when the King of Portugal was trying to make a play for claims in the New World as well. You know when it comes to disputes, you have to go with your homies, right.
Navigator Ferdinand Magellan, like his predecessor Columbus, sailed east from Spain seeking easier trade routes to India. But Magellan mostly succeeded in his endeavor: he sailed across the Atlantic to present-day Brazil, turned south on the eastern coast of South America, through the Strait of Magellan and across the Pacific to Guam and later (what would be named for the King), the Philippine Islands. Unfortunately for Magellan, Lapu Lapu cut off his head in Cebu. As the archipelago was now "found" and claimed to the Crown of Spain with the backing of the Pope, the islands became Las Islas Pilipinas.
400 years of colonial oppression, Filipinos began their revolution against the Spaniards in 1896.
Thus, the fight for an independent Philippines against Spain leads directly into the fight for an independent Philippines against the US foreign invaders, or the Philippine American War.
A BRIEF HISTORY LESSON: LIFE, LIBERTY (FOR SOME) AND THE PURSUIT OF EMPIRE
The Philippines is typically a footnote in high school US history books, even though the two countries have a long intertwined history. In fact, this revisionist history is countered by the University of Hawaii's Philippine History Site:
According to Luzviminda Francisco, the Philippine-American War was a forgotten war in the U.S. annals. American textbooks contain several pages on the Spanish-American War but only devote a paragraph on the Philippine-American War despite the fact that the latter was more pronounced in terms of duration, scale, and number of casualties. The war was ugly, ruthless, and brutal prompting Stanley Karnow to describe it as "among the cruelest conflicts in the annals of Western imperialism." Other scholars referred to the conflict as the United States’ "first Vietnam." Luzviminda estimates that as much as 126,000 American soldiers, or 3/4 of the U.S. army, were shipped to the Philippines, and at least 600,000 Filipinos died during the war. American anti-imperialist Mark Twain claims that Filipino casualties was close to one million or the equivalent of 1/6 of the country’s total population at the turn of the century. (from "American Designs and the Benevolent Assimilation")
As the Spanish-American War ended in 1898, almost immediately following ratification of the Treaty of Paris, the Philippine-American War or the "Philippine Insurrection" began:
When it became clear that U.S. forces were intent on imposing American colonial control over the islands, the early clashes between the two sides in 1899 swelled into an all-out war. Americans tended to refer to the ensuing conflict as an “insurrection” rather than acknowledge the Filipinos’ contention that they were fighting to ward off a foreign invader. - US Department of State.
At the time, Filipinos -- divided themselves -- thought the Americans were helping to liberate them from the Europeans, though US Presidents William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt had grander ambitions. Trading one master for another. Yeah, that.
The Philippines’ Independence Day was changed from June 12, when Filipinos declared revolution against Spain in 1898, to July 4, when Roosevelt declared victory over the Philippines. Life, liberty for some and the pursuit of empire.
For 48 years the Philippine Commonwealth was a protectorate of the United States. During these years started the first waves of Filipino immigrants to the US: pensionados, the Old-Timer Manongs. Despite the fact that Filipino American History month is in October because the very first Filipinos landed on present-day US shores via Spanish galleon ships sailing between Mexico and the Philippines, the beginnings of Filipino American history itself hearkens further back to the "Age of Exploration," Ferdinand Magellan and Christopher Columbus.