Sugar Sun series glossary term #14: Goo-goo

Part of me does not want to post this, but you’re going to see the word in the book, so…

It’s a terrible word. Don’t use it. If you are too young to understand how offensive it is, just trust me. This racial slur was used widely by American soldiers, politicians, and civilians to denigrate Filipinos—and later Koreans and Vietnamese in a slight variation (gook). The word apparently was meant to mock Tagalog speakers with their heavy use of the letter g. (G is four times more frequent in Tagalog as it is in English, and is the third most common letter overall in the language.) I read a different explanation in a children’s book of the time called Uncle Sam’s Boys, where it was claimed that the word came from Filipino revolutionaries pretending to be the “good” guys around American soldiers, and somehow “good-good” got shortened. (Yes, they used racial slurs in a children’s book. When I say that racism popped up everywhere in my research, I really mean it.)

Of course, no matter how the Americans came up with the word, the fact that they used it with such vitriol is all on them. This brings up a problem for my writing. How accurate should a historical romance novel be? Americans called Filipinos everything from the N-word to the G-word and more, and they published such language in their novels, memoirs, newspapers, and even bold newspaper headlines. I could have ignored the record, but sanitizing history does not help those who were oppressed. As I recently heard author Wes Moore say: “The worst thing we can take away from a tragedy is to pretend the tragedy did not happen.” If learning about how Americans treated Filipinos makes you angry, then good.

How blind were those Americans to their own small-mindedness? This may help you understand: the English language did not even have a word for racism yet. There was no single term to convey the idea that discrimination based upon race was wrong—not until 1903, and it was not widely used until the 1930s. There was a similar-sounding word, racialism, which was the pseudo-scientific study of traits according to race—as if eugenics was the most natural thing in the world. Yikes.

Therefore, my characters do not come to an epiphany about racial harmony because that would be wildly anachronistic. Georgie falls in love with a man based on his qualities as a man. Javier falls in love with a woman based on her qualities as a woman. That will have to be enough. In fact, Georgie’s relationship with Javier is more complicated than race. It involves class, too. Javier is more wealthy, more cultured, more connected, and more powerful than she is. Javier also has the edge on education and certainly on languages. They do not occupy the same social sphere, no, but it is hard to say whose sphere is higher. The irony of American “benevolent assimilation” (read: “civilizing mission”) is that many of the Yankees Javier meets are less “civilized” than he is. Sometimes he cannot help but point that out to them. (No, it doesn’t go well.)

The truly sad part of this all is that I borrowed the most outrageous insults straight from period sources. I found it distasteful to make these things up, so I relied upon distasteful people to do it for me. Maybe readers will mistakenly believe that I believe these things, but I hope not. Really, I did tone it down. The serious historian inside of me says this book is all unicorns and rainbows, but there is only so much my romantic side can stomach.

On Twitter recently, an author said that she received a two-star ratings on Amazon for NOT warning readers of a non-white main character. [Sigh.] Clearly, racism is still out there. I just hope people understand that accepting something is true to history does not make it the historian’s preference. (Cover photo from Uncle Sam’s Boys in the Philippines.)

Sugar Sun series glossary term #9: Carabao

The carabao is the national animal of the Philippines. It’s a good choice because this beast of burden can do everything. It can haul a house’s worth of goods (up to 3500 kilos or 7700 pounds), turn a mill stone, or carry several passengers for hours. It is your pick-up truck, tractor, and engine all in one. A contemporary observer wrote that the carabao was “patient and tractable so long as he can enjoy a daily swim. If cut off from water the beast becomes irritable [and] will attack men or animals and gore them with its sharp horns.” Americans were a bit dramatic, of course. They resented the carabao for clogging carriage traffic as it lumbered through Manila at two miles per hour.

Transportation of Army supplies by “Caraboo.” Manila, circa 1899. US Army photograph in the public domain.

The true test of the carabao’s usefulness is that there are still 3.2 million in the Philippines. According to a 2005 United Nations report, “99 percent belong to small farmers that have limited resources, low income, and little access to other economic opportunities.” At the dawn of the 20th century, though, every farmer and hacendero relied upon the carabao, which is why the rinderpest epidemic of 1901 hurt the islands so badly. This was one of Javier Altarejos’s biggest problems at the beginning of the book: finding the money to replace his herd.

Carabao photograph from the University of Michigan Special Collections Library.

Sugar Sun series glossary term #7: Hacendero

When I first chose to write romance set in the Philippines, I made my hero a sugar baron to best fit the chronotope of popular Regency historical romance. Javier grew up in the 1880s and 1890s, when Negros ruled the Philippine and European sugar markets. His parents traveled to Europe in the off-season, and they brought back champagne and horses. He grew up in a beautiful local-style mansion, attended by maids, cooks, and nannies.

Enrique Iglesias as Javier Altarejos in Under the Sugar Sun steamy historical romance by author Jennifer Hallock. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.

However, the true model for Javier (other than Enrique Iglesias, see in Instinct Magazine photo above) was less Darcy and more John Thornton of Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South. By the time Javier inherits Hacienda Altarejos, the boom times are gone. He has to deal with war (several of them), closed ports, labor shortages, rinderpest and cholera epidemics, drought, and American trade restrictions. Moreover, without a sugar central, his product is no longer the best available. Javier is a good man doing the best he can to keep a major economic enterprise going in tough times. Hacenderos had a reputation of getting rich off the work of their wage laborers, much like the bourgeoisie of industrial Britain—or the fictional factory owners like Thornton. But the reality is that the workers’ jobs depended on Javier and Thornton keeping their doors open, which was not a simple task.

This is not a blanket defense of hacenderos. My story is sugar coated. I romanticized Hacienda Altarejos, and I knew it while I was doing it. The true history of sugar in the Philippines is a story of great injustice. If you did not know that, there is a new documentary out there to guide you through that reality called Pureza: The Story of Negros Sugar. The Gilded Age was fraught with labor disputes on the other side of the Pacific, as well: the Pullman Strike, the Haymarket Riots, the Coal Strike of 1902, just to name a few. This was the other reason Twain used the term Gilded Age, because all that glitters is not gold.

Cane crusher operated by native ponies in Bauang, Batangas, on March 18, 1900. Philippine Photographs Digital Archive photo in the public domain.

(Note: Hacendero is the older Spanish spelling, though you will often see haciendero in the Philippines and elsewhere. However, in my research, the version without the added “i” was more popular in contemporary sources.)

Featured image from John Foreman’s The Philippine Islands.

Sugar Sun series glossary term #6: Ilustrado

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.

Famous Filipino ilustrados and nationalists, José Rizal (left) and Antonio Luna (right).

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.)

Image from the GMA series Ilustrado, which premiered October 2014.