Sunday, July 02, 2006


A couple of weeks ago, due to some technical, aural, moral, and ethical miscalculations on my part, a draft of this essay was made public. It was only online for a few hours but yet it managed to elicit much response from areas as far as Atlanta, Georgia. Unfortunately, due to this error, the article is now useless to the PCIJ Journal (So sorry Sheila, you can refund the check), the publication for which it was intended. So in order to complete the cycle and to not waste a perfectly good 2000 word essay, here is the article as I want it to be read, with the opening characters now more complex and believable than the last one's hastily made example, and - the grammar corrected. And even though the characters may have changed - trust me - the essence of the article remains the same. My sincerest apologies to all who were hit by the last draft, and my apologies in advance for those who may be hit by this one.


Overheard in Alabang Town Center: "Shet, dude. I'm a cono kid daw. But that's ok."
Inaki Ibaturralde seemed like he had it all. Young, tall, fair, and good-looking, he was a Makati born, Alabang bred, English speaking, Spanish swearing, mestizo of Basque descent. After his secondary education in Manila's premier Opus Dei school, he spent his college years in California, before taking the position of Senior Vice President at his father's Ayala Avenue trading firm at the tender age of twenty eight. In 2003, he married Chavelli Lazarriaga, another fair skinned mestiza with an equally fair family name who worked in Manila's fashion industry. They were wed in a highly publicized ceremony at the San Antonio in Forbes Park and were expecting their second child by the end of last year. Life couldn't seem any more charmed. They were the "IT" couple of the Polo Club and Punta Fuego set; golden examples of Manila's young "alta" society and the touchstone for couples in Manila's millenium generation of de buena familia Spanish mestizos in Dasmarinas Village and Ayala Alabang.

But underneath this espadrille-wearing, tanned-while-jet-skiing-at-Tali facade, something was amiss over at the hacienda, so to speak. Apparently, Inaki had developed a taste for inhaling copious amounts of cocaine. Not an easy habit to cultivate, mind you, as such imported indulgences are mainly available through clandestine deals done in five star hotel rooms at U$350.00 a pop as opposed to the Php1500.00 per-bag-on-the-street-corner deals for it's local "masa" counterpart, "shabu" (Crystal Metamphetamine). And for the past few years, Inaki miraculously managed to keep this sordid detail under wraps - from both wife and family - until things started unravelling - and quite messily at that - at home.

It was only a year after his third wedding anniversary that Inaki started acting out of sorts. Due to limited access to family bank accounts, Inaki had resorted to "shabu" and the addiction had taken it's toll. Inaki looked bloated and sweaty at business meetings and his habit of locking himself into the downstairs den (sometimes for up to two days) was something which began to concern his young wife. Nevertheless, his habit remained overlooked - perhaps subconsciously - by those around him until last Christmas eve when his mother's maid found drug paraphernalia (crystal pipe and a roll of tinfoil) in the front seat of his car while transferring Christmas presents to the tree. So after a rather audible confrontation, Inaki was banished from his wife, family and their digs above his mother's garage to fend for himself. Nothing was heard of him until a month ago, when a segment on the evening news revealed that Inaki had knifed a tricycle driver in United Paranaque while in a frantic state of paranoia. Today, he sits in a rehabilitation center in Bicutan, his wife now settled in the United States with both children, far away from the scandal and shame. The golden boy now tarnished in the eyes of the upper crust - an outcast from the walls of his city.

Now although the aforementioned is merely an extreme composite of characters, sadly, Inaki's story is not a rare one one among the families of Manila's todo insular, Royal Ambre scented crowd. His story is that of a promise unfulfilled; a morality tale about the importance of restraint and self-confidence and an image symbolic of the state of Hispanic Filipinos the 21st century. It's a metaphor about his ancestry, that of Spanish mestizos, also known as "tisoys" or "cono kids" - a monicker derived from their habit of peppering conversations with the aforementioned "c" word. They are a people that have lost their footing in this world, and have no idea how to go about standing up and finding it once again.

But how did the "tisoy", once a proud, plentiful, and productive breed found freely grazing and settling in the open districts of Ermita, Malate, Pasay, and San Miguel, fall so far from the status that they enjoyed in the Philippines for hundreds of years? From the 19th century until the mid-seventies, the "tisoy" and his culture were ubiquitous to the Philippine landscape. From the hallways of the country's corporations to the billboards which trimmed our highways, the images of Spanish mestizeria could be found managing multinational corporations or modelling the latest fashions. Manning shop counters at the Escolta, counting cash behind bank windows, or serving coffee in the sky, mestizos and mestizas were everywhere. But in an amazingly ironic turn of events, from being the dominant culture which the populace yearned to emulate, they now find themselves marginalized and struggling to find their position in a Filipinas that has decided to fully embrace it's Asian roots in the twenty-first century. Just turn on the television or watch a movie and the glaring irrelevance of the mestizo will immediately stare back at you. Gone are the days of the artista male romantic lead in the mold of Rogelio dela Rosa, Edu Manzano, or Gabby Concepcion. Even mestizos de entresuelos (mestizong bangus or quasi-mestizo mestizos) like Kuya Germs Moreno or Redford White are also fast disappearing from the showbiz firmament. It's obvious that the white skinned, aqualine nosed template has ceased to be the pinnacle of male physical aspiration and in it's place we now find the chinky charm of the late Rico Yan or the moreno mein of Piolo Pascual. And instead of living near to their forefather's ancestral lands near the walled city of Intramuros, Spanish mestizos now find themselves commuting back and forth from the newer gated districts of Makati, Paranaque, and Alabang. The displacement of their home and their culture was a cruel fate that had crept up without warning. But how did this come to be? Nobody can say for sure. One can only hypothesize.

Perhaps it's because they lost their home?
Overheard at a tour from a guest: "These mestizos really liked their walled cities.."
It was only when I heard this statement that I realized the concept of the "gated community" is something that has always been integral to the personality of Manila. The notion of a society that is "within" and one that is "without" is still as prelevant today as it was in the times of Jose Rizal. Just replace the subdivision security guards with the guardia civil and the Household helpers ID/Community Tax Certificate with the cedula and it's Noli Me Tangere with a cheaper wardrobe budget. But although the system still remains, Intramuros - the city where this system originated has been gone for over 61 years now, destroyed in February of 1945. In a battle between the Japanese Imperial army and the US Armed Forces at the close of World War II, this 400-year old Spanish designed walled city, and the most overt physical manifestation of Spain's influence in the Orient became the central war theatre within the capital. After a month of heavy fighting, this city made of coral, volcanic ash, and wood, inspired by designs from France, Madrid, and England, was pummeled to dust; the largest and only specimen of Spain's presence in Asia wiped off the face of the earth. Most everything we see today, with the excepton of San Agustin Church; is a post-war reconstruction. And not only was the walled city obliterated; but the Spanish mestizo residential enclaves of Ermita, Malate, Sampaloc, and Pasay were left in ashes, their fair skinned residents massacred and buried in mass graves. Even the "tisoy" commercial playground that was Escolta in Santa Cruz - a place so patrician that salesgirls even had to speak Spanish - was reduced to rubble. It was really after this period that slow migration of the surviving mestizos began. Perhaps driven away by the bitter memories of the war or by the encroaching displaced rural poor, they first wandered off into the promised - and gated - land of Makati suburbia in the 1950's, then into newer, flashier digs in Ayala Alabang in the 1980's. But for those mestizos who ended up in the more middle class spectrum of the social ladder by the 1970's, there were the gates of Merville and BF Homes to keep the sweaty toiling extramuros communities at bay.

Eventually, with the coming of President Marcos, things would come to a head for the mestizo. Although the martial law era can be perceived as oppressive on one hand, it was also a period when a cohesive Malay identity was established for the Filipino through the cultural efforts of Marcos' New Society Movement. It the first times in Philippine history that the Malay Identity was truly celebrated in all aspects of Filipino life. Government programs, cultural events, and even public architecture all had to celebrate this newfound yet ancient identity promoted by the Kilusang Bagong Lipunan or The New Society Movement. Ako ay Pilipino. We're here, we're brown, get used to it. And it didn't only show in the architecture, it showed in media as well. The mestiza look of Rosa Rosal and Gloria Romero was out, and it was the morena template of Alma Moreno and Gloria Diaz that became the "wet look" of the moment. It was at this period that many "tisoys" ended up leaving altogether, moving away and settling into happy white-collared/white-colored existences in Australia or the United States, the promise of a new start and identity beckoning them away from their Philippine past.

Perhaps they lost their entitlement?
Overheard at a couturier: "Mestizos were never taught how to work.."
A rather shocking statement but one that cannot be dismissed because it really is a peek into the preconceived notions many Filipinos have about their Hispanic counterparts. Myth number one. Spanish mestizos are lazy. Myth number two. Spanish mestizos are all heirs with endowments and assets. Both not necessarily true. Mestizos dicks have never been bigger, they've only been whiter. Just as Spanish mestizos have never been richer, they only seemed like they were. Perhaps this sense of entitlement came about because historically, Spanish mestizos have never really been part of the manual labor force. Occupations for tisoys were pretty much white-collared and handed down to them as a birthright; some careers even assured way before they were out of diapers. For the rural mestizo, all he had to do was wait for harvest season to come round and the income would almost generate itself. And at the end of it all, when daddy died, the land - and workers on it - were all his to possess. And for the urban mestizo, all he had to do was depend upon Manila's old boy's club run by The Ateneo/La Salle/et al alumnus association to assure them of the exact same jobs that their fathers also toiled. But now, Spanish mestizo founded corporations like Philippine Airlines, and San Miguel Corporation are out of their original owners hands (The Todas for PAL, the Sorianos for SMC); and now have to restructure themselves away to be competitive in the modern world. Some tisoys found it harder to compete for that same job in a system now based on merit than on who was their dad's fraternity brother. And due to this, quite a few them decided to forego the hassle of asserting himself and finding a new identity within this revamped society, and instead take the alternate route of migrating into the promise of a tabula rasa in cities like San Francisco or Sydney (See the last part of previous paragraph).

Or maybe they just never wanted to be here in the first place:
Once told to my face: "Ay, Carlos. Mestizos. They're all liars."
The most freaky of all the statements I've heard, but once again, perhaps it rings true. Could it be that the Spanish mestizo, who never felt neither at home in the Philippine archipelago nor in the Iberian peninsula, could be cursed to roam the world never to find his stead? Cursed to forever live in gated communities with all the insularities it brings? After all, Inaki's family was so detached from the fact that their family lived in a Southeast Asian country in the Pacific that they even maintained their Spanish passports and spoke Spanish at the dining table. His own mother would go out of her way to let everyone now that their family was NOT to be considered part of the brown-ness which surrounded them. She once commented about her other, darker daughter-in-law: "Oye, Es guapa. Por una Filipina." ("She is pretty. For a Filipina.") Aesthetically, The Ibaturraldes were known for their fondness of bullfighting posters, ashtrays which said: "Fuma menos, cono" (Smoke less, expletive meaning vagina), and for the blue and white porcelain tile emblazoned with the words: "Dios Bendiga Cada Rincon en Esta Casa" (Lord Bless Every Corner of This House) hanging above their front door; mandatory household items for the aspirationally Iberian. And with this lack of desire to integrate - both culturally and aesthetically - perhaps we can say that the Spanish mestizo doesn't want to be at home in the Philippines at all. He would rather embrace the romantic notion of an Occidental Philippines that cannot be, than to become part of the Oriental Philippines which exists before him right now. And with this decision to deny the context which surrounds oneself, comes the corresponding consequences: The insecurity of never being accepted and the paranoia that someone out there is always trying to get you. Time to build those walls again.

Carlos Celdran, 33, is a married, part-Spanish, part-Chinese, part-Filipino performance artist but is considered by most to be a dyed-in-the-wool cono kid even though his Spanish sucks and he hates Lengua Estofada. He does walking tours of the old city of Intramuros and other Manila historic districts. His tour schedules and other opinions can be found on