Here’s the thing about imperialism: every major colonial power sowed the seeds of its own destruction. How? Unwilling to do all the work of running a colony themselves, they sent the best and brightest of every generation off to be educated, sometimes in the home capital itself. Thus, Mohandas Gandhi studied law in London, and even scrappy Ho Chi Minh learned about communism while doing odd jobs in Paris. José Rizal and Antonio Luna, among others, were educated in Spain. Though we may consider these men elites, they often were of middle-class backgrounds. Like the liberal bourgeoisie of Europe, what made the ilustrados different was their education.
I don’t know you, but I do know that Rizal was smarter than either you or me. He was conversant in at least 11 languages and could translate another 7. He was an ophthalmologist by training and a patriotic novelist by necessity. And then there’s Luna. In addition to arguably being the greatest Filipino general of the Philippine-American War, Luna was also a widely respected epidemiologist and had a PhD in chemistry.
In Europe, these “enlightened ones” were taught the principals of liberal constitutions—rights that we take for granted, such as the freedoms to assemble, speak freely, practice a chosen religion, and have due process of law. All they asked was that these rights apply to the people of the colonies, too. Gandhi, Ho, and Rizal all wanted equality before they wanted independence. When the Europeans would not give it, their hypocrisy was obvious. Though Asian nations did not fully break away until after World War II, the seeds of revolution were planted at the turn of the 20th century with the ilustrados. (Featured image of ilustrados in 1890 Madrid.)
Being colonized by Spanish priests put more emphasis on otherworldly bliss rather than good old-fashioned worldly bliss, like cooking. However, the Spanish did chocolate well, and, in the end, isn’t that all that matters? One might think that hot chocolate would not be desirable in a tropical country, but it was not always served steaming hot. And for several months, the weather in the islands can be downright cool—okay, “coolish” to New Englanders. And, okay, only in the mornings, but this is when tsokolate is served. Chocolate in the mornings? Sign me up!
Making it in the early 1900s went like this. First, you had to be sure your lechera (milkmaid) had come and filled the earthen jar in your kitchen. She probably did that in the wee hours of the morning, so you’re good. Grab your chocolatera—the brew pot, maybe made of blue enameled metal—and add milk, a chocolate tablea or two (sold in tiny cacao hockey pucks or even handmade balls with ground cashew nut), sugar, and sometimes egg white. The trick is that you cannot just let it burn on the range. You must constantly mix and beat it with your batidor, the wooden implement in the picture above. You swirl the batidor between your palms and it smooths and froths as you cook. The result is thicker and less sweet than American hot chocolate, but it is more true to the Mesoamerican drink the Spanish adopted. Check out this site for great action photos!
This term was originally posted on Facebook on New Year’s—appropriate since had you been in the Philippines with your vodka and tonic, you might have spritzed it up with one of these. The calamansi, or kalamansi, is called a lime, but many people compare the taste more to a lemon—or, as I’ve read recently, to a cross between a lemon and a mandarin orange. I’ll have to think about that one. The calamansi does have a unique flavor—deliciousness—which spices up everything from noodles to fish to cocktails. It is quite sour, but there is nothing more refreshing that a calamansi juice on a hot day. Mix in a lot of water and at least some sugar!
What do you do if you need windows—lots of them—but your country also happens to be in the Ring of Fire and therefore prone to earthquakes? Use oyster shells instead of glass, of course! The Placuna placenta is a mollusk found throughout Asia, particularly in mangrove swamps. You can see almost anything made of capiz, or kapis, in the Philippines, but best use has always been the large wooden windows found on traditional houses and buildings. The key is to keep the windows closed during the daytime, keeping the sun out, and then open them wide at night to draw in the evening breezes.
Since we’re on the subject of transportation, we cannot forget the casco—or, as the Americans dubbed them, “lighters.” These were the workhorses of Manila. Until 1908 there was no port where ships could dock directly on shore, so cascos were sent out to meet them in the bay. All foreigners, therefore, had their first glimpse of Manila aboard a casco. They would pass Fort Santiago, enter the mouth of the Pasig River, and dock on the north bank, next to the warehouses of Binondo. A casco pilot often lived in his boat, along with his wife, children, and of course fighting cocks. As a person who raises chickens, I can say that had to smell lovely. Poor family.