Filipinos & Mexicans – Hermanas Paisas

Asian Slaves In Mexico’s History

Manila Bulletin Online ^ | Floro L. Mercene

Posted on 2/4/2005, 3:53:23 PM by nickcarraway

MEXICO CITY — About 100,000 Asian slaves were brought to Mexico by the Manila galleons through the centuries, a dark side of the trade that has not been explored by historians. The slaves were captured by Spanish and Portuguese traders in India, Burma, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Mindanao, loaded on the galleons in Manila and transported to Acapulco.


One such slave was a Filipino by the name of Nicolas Tolentino, who ended up in Chihuahua in northern Mexico, birthplace of the revolutionary hero Pancho Villa.

Because the Spanish king had orders that Filipinos were not to be enslaved, Tolentino petitioned the authorities to free him from slavery. When the authorities examined his background, they found that Tolentino’s parents were Indians from India who had lived in Pampanga.


Tolentino’s petition was denied. A talented man, he left behind writings in Pampango and Spanish which are preserved in a museum in Chihuahua. His story was pieced together by American historian William Mason.


Another slave who left a legacy in Mexico was Catarina de San Juan. She was a chef and religious mystic who was said to have invented the famous dish mole, a mixture of chocolate and chili favored by Mexicans as ingredient for cooking chicken or turkey.

Catarina lived in the 1600s and is the proto-type of a long line of magic chefs in Mexican folk stories, such as the tale in the film “Like Water for Chocolate.”


Catarina arrived in Mexico as a slave but converted to Christianity and became a nun in Puebla. She designed Mexico’s distinctive national dress called the China Poblana. Historians say she was from Vietnam or Cambodia. But others say it was more likely that she came from Muslim royalty in Mindanao.


About half a million African blacks were also brought by the Spanish to Mexico from the 16th century onward. Following the conquest, the Mexican Indians were decimated by diseases brought by the Europeans, their population dwindling from 20 million to less than 5 million in a century.

Slaves had to be imported from Asia and Africa to work the great silver mines, the cloth mills, and the farmlands.


There were many intermarriages between Filipinos and their descendants with African blacks and their descendants. To get around the law that Filipinos were not to be enslaved, they were often classified as Africans, one of them Catarina San Juan mentioned above.

The union of Africans and Filipinos produced heirs who made their names in Mexican history. Among the notable Mexicans of African (Filipino?) heritage are Juan Alvarez, Lazaro Cardenas, writer and novelist Vicente Riva Palacio, Gaspar Yanga, Emiliano Zapata , Vicente Guerrero, Luis Pinzon, Venustiano Carranza, and the great composer Agustin Lara.

Three of them — Alvarez, Cardenas, and Carranza — became president of Mexico.


The notable Mexicans of definite Filipino roots are Isidoro Montes de Oca, Francisco Mongoy, Faustina Benitez, and Jose Santiago Garcia. Montes de Oca and Mongoy served as brigade commanders under General Vicente Guerrero during the struggle for independence in 1810.

Montes de Oca became a general. A grandson of Mongoy named Arturo fought in the Philippines as a fighter pilot in World War II as part of a contingent sent by President Manual Camacho of Mexico.

Faustina Benitez gained fame as an activist in the town of Coyuca, north of Acapulco which is known as Filipino town. Another Filipino who fought in the war for independence was Felipe Mayo but little is known about his fate.

International Conference On The Galleon And The Making Of The Pacific

November 8, 2009, 5:31pm

Historically, the Philippine economy was highly linked to the Manila Galleon trade during the Spanish era and with bilateral trade with the Americans during the American colonial period. During the term of President Carlos P. Garcia, pro-Filipino economic policies were first implemented. From the 1960’s up to the middle of the 1970’s, the Philippine economy was recognized as the second largest economy in Asia, next only to Japan.

During the Spanish era, which lasted 250 years, Spanish trading ships sailed the Pacific Ocean bringing goods to and from Manila and Acapulco, Mexico. The twice yearly trip of the Manila Galleons brought porcelain, silk, ivory, spices, and other exotic goods from the Philippines, China, and other countries to Mexico and then to Spain and silver from the New World and other goods to the Philippines. With the Spanish government carrying on trade relations with countries in the Pacific from 1565 to 1815, Manila became the center of commerce in the Far East.

The galleon trade served as the main income-generating business for the Spanish colonists living in Manila. So lucrative was the trade that merchants from Sevilla, Spain, petitioned King Philip of Spain to control the sailing of the Manila galleons. The limitations made it essential to build the largest possible galleons, built of Philippine hardwood which weighed from 1,700 to 2,000 tons, and could carry a thousand passengers. The wrecks of the Manila galleons are legends second only to the wrecks of the treasure ships in the Caribbean. Aside from the goods carried in the galleons, the trade allowed modern, liberal ideas to enter the Philippines, which inspired the movement for independence.

In an initiative to bring about greater understanding of the rich tradition of the galleon trade and its influence as one of the world’s great trading systems for 250 years, which saw the establishment of linkages between America and China and the Spanish-Japanese competition for the Chinese marketplace, the Intramuros Administration will hold the International Conference on the Galleon and the Making of the Pacific on November 9-11, 2009, at the Villa Immaculada on General Luna corner Anda St., Intramuros, Manila.

The three-day event will gather scholars from Spain, the People’s Republic of China, the United States, Mexico, and the Philippines who will look into the infrastructure and context of the galleon trade and its impact on regional trade and on change and cultural transformation. The Manila Galleon Trade contributed to the making of the Pacific trade and was a prototype of what is today known as the global economy.

Relations Between Mexico And The Philippines

Almost in an unsuspected way, Mexico and the Philippines share a myriad of traditions and customs derived from historical ties established more than 400 years ago. Their common history dates back to the time when both countries were under the Spanish Crown.

Hernan Cortes conquered the Aztec Empire in 1521, the same year Ferdinand Magellan discovered and claimed for the Spanish Crown the islands which were baptized by the explorer Ruy Lopez de Villalobos as “Philippines”, in honor of Prince Philip of Spain. Ruy Lopez set sail from Barra de Navidad, Jalisco, Mexico to make the first exploratory travel to these Islands, journey that was totally financed with Mexican money, as the Legazpi exploration.

In 1565, Governor General Miguel Lopez de Legazpi claimed the Philippines as a Spanish Colony and designated Manila as the capital in 1571. Due to its distance from Spain, the Spanish Government assigned Manila’s administration and government to Virreinato de la Nueva España, name of Mexico in colonial times, for two and a half centuries. For that reason, many of the Philippine Governors were native Mexicans and the army was recruited among the Nueva España population, which resulted in a mix between Mexicans and Filipinos, not only in race, but more importantly in culture. Mexico administered the Philippines up until 1815, when the insurgent movement begun and Spain had to take direct control of the islands.

Evangelization and commercialization constituted the core of intercontinental ties between Asia and America that materialized with the Manila-Acapulco Galleon. Trade between Canton and Acapulco took place through Manila, where the Chinese junks unloaded silks and porcelains to be loaded in the Nao and sent to Spain trough Nueva España, in exchange for Mexican silver. That exchange of goods became also an exchange of ideas and customs.

After the colonial period, the first official contacts of Independent Mexico with the Philippines were established in 1842, when a Mexican Representation was opened in Manila. However, the most recent reference to a Mexican Diplomat in the Philippines appeared with the designation of Evaristo Butler Hernandez as Consul of Mexico in the Philippines in 1878.

In 1935, Mexico’s Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Emilio Portes Gil, appointed pilot and painter Alfredo Carmelo y de las Casas as Honorary Consul of Mexico in the Philippines, position that he held until 1945.

During Second World War, another notable Mexican event in the Philippines was the presence of Squadron 201. Mexico participated in the Pacific war against the Japanese with a contingent of the Mexican Air Force, which arrived in Manila on April 30, 1945, under the command of Colonel Antonio Cardenas Rodriguez.

The Independence of the Philippines brought forth a new era of relations between these countries. Mexico dispatched an envoy to participate in the festivities to celebrate the birth of the Southeast Asian nation. Diplomatic ties between both countries were formalized on April 14 of 1953 and it was only on September 17 of the same year when the first Diplomatic Mission of Mexico in Manila opened its doors with Carlos Gutierrez Macias as Minister Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary. On July 25, 1961, the Mission became an Embassy.

During the presidency of Diosdado Macapagal, Mexican President Adolfo Lopez Mateos made a State Visit to the Philippines from October 20th to 23rd of 1962 in response to the visit of Macapagal in 1960, who was Vice President at the time. 1964 was decreed the “Year of Philippine-Mexican Friendship” to celebrate the Fourth Centennial of the Expedition of Miguel Lopez de Legazpi.

Mexico was the first Latin American country that President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo visited as President of the Philippines on November 21st of 2001, when she attended the international conference of Christian Democratic Parties, also attended by Mexican President Vicente Fox. In October of 2002, she visited Mexican soil again to participate in the 10th APEC Leaders Meeting in La Paz, Baja California.

To date, Mexico and the Philippines have signed the following agreements: Bilateral Agreement on Air Transport, signed in Washington in 1952; Cultural Agreement, signed in Mexico in 1969; Agreement on Technical-Scientific Cooperation for Agriculture, signed in 1994; Agreement on Cooperation for Tourism, signed in 1995; Agreement on the Suppression of Non Ordinary Visas, signed in Mexico in 1997; Agreement on the Cooperation for the Fight against Illegal Trafficking and Abuse of Drugs signed in 1997; Memorandum of Agreement for Academic Cooperation between the Department of Foreign Affairs of Mexico and the Philippines, signed in 1997.