When I first chose to write a Fil-Am romance, I had to make my hero a sugar baron to best fit the model of popular Regency historical romance. There are some superficial similarities between my fictional hacienda owner, Javier Altarejos, and a fictional English gentleman, like Jane Austen’s Fitzwilliam Darcy. Both came from wealth. 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. Darcy’s income of ten thousand pounds a year was 300 times the average income of the day—some of which could have come from West Indies plantations. And no matter what production of Pride and Prejudice you see, Pemberley is singularly impressive.
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. (See the 4-part BBC series. You won’t be disappointed.) 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 has some “sugar coating.” It is romance, after all!
(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.