THE Philippines owes part of its identity to Spain. No doubt, over 300 years under the Spanish Empire have left a mark on the soul of our people, despite distance and the passage of time.
That essence still pervades through the Spanish culture, whose reach and influence are kept alive through the local arm of Instituto Cervantes.
Thus, it is of no surprise that the Manila branch has been vigorous in keeping Spain’s imprint in the Philippines apparent. For one, Spanish is well embraced by Filipinos who enlist to imbibe the language, whose words and terms, obviously or otherwise, were derived from Español or classic Latin.
In fact, according to Director Javier Galvan, the center of Instituto Cervantes in Manila is now second in the world in terms of enrollments in learning Spanish.
According to Galvan, “For the past 10 years, Manila has always been in the top 5 among the centers in the Instituto Cervantes network.”
Of late, Instituto Cervantes-Manila has staged quite a number of cultural events, including the launch of a book on literary great Miguel Hernandez and the ongoing Pelicula 2019: Spanish film fest, among others.
The following is an interview with Galvan on Instituto Cervantes’s endeavors in the local scene, which keeps Spain’s legacy in the country very much alive through culture.
ENVOYS&EXPATS: Please describe your role in Instituto Cervantes-Manila and the path toward your appointment as director of the center.
GALVAN: My role is the same as the directors of other cultural organizations: to represent the institution with our partners, outline our strategies, program activities according to those strategies, and to coordinate the work of our team in the different areas.
We also work on establishing partnerships with local institutions and companies, as well as with European and Latin American counterparts, since these two continents are very much connected with Spain geographically and culturally.
Directors of the Instituto Cervantes centers are appointees. I obtained my appointment for Manila in 2001 and served until 2006. I’ve had different assignments within the institution: in Algeria, in the headquarters in Spain, and in Morocco. Recently, I was appointed anew to the center here.
What are Instituto Cervantes’s current projects and activities to further promote Spanish culture in the Philippines?
There are two main areas of culture that we would like to promote: one is Spanish-era heritage in the Philippines; the other is contemporary Spanish culture.
The first one is related to our common history. We want to highlight the value of those cultural contributions related to the common heritage. There were, of course, negative aspects—but there were many positive things, as well.
The memory and identity of Spain cannot be understood without the Philippines and Latin America, just like the memory and identity of the Philippines cannot be understood without Spain and Latin America. There is a common history between Spain, the Philippines, and Latin American countries.
But we look to the past to understand the present and prepare for the future, a time when we expect the Philippines and Spain to walk together. And for this, we work on projects in collaboration with Philippine institutions.
The other main line is related to contemporary Spanish culture. We want to show what present-day Spain is to the Filipinos. Spanish society is very dynamic, and the country is doing well in many fields.
We also try to link the Philippines to European and Latin American culture, which are the two continents representing the different cultures which we belong to, similar to how the Philippines is very much connected to Spain, the neighboring Asian countries, and the United States, which gave a very interesting feature to Filipino culture. It is a melting pot of cultures.
We have to work on establishing the links between the different cultures to which we belong, and I think studying the interactions of the Chinese, the Filipinos and the Spanish, and the fusion of these cultures, would be very interesting. Just like the Philippines, Spain is also a blend of many cultures.
How would you describe the cultural engagement between Spain and the Philippines? Has it changed over the years, especially during the 1900s up to this time?
Yes, logically there has been an evolution. In the first half of the 20th century, even though the Philippines was under the rule of the Americans, Spanish imprint was very strong—in language and in many aspects of culture. There were many Spaniards and mestizos still living in the Philippines.
In fact, the Golden Age of Phil-Hispanic Literature took place in this period, specifically from 1903 to 1966. Sadly though, the Americans had succeeded in erasing part of this cultural influence, which contributed to the decline of Spanish presence in Philippine culture, especially with the next generation.
Another factor is that after the Second World War, many mestizos and Spaniards who were living in Manila—the ones expected to carry on Spanish tradition to the next generation—had died. They were either massacred during the war, or they fled to other countries.
As an architect, one of the things that pain me is the devastation the war caused in cities that previously had this Spanish influence. Numerous buildings constructed during the Spanish era were destroyed. People left these ruined cities and moved on to other areas to start anew.
Yet, in the latter part of the 1900s up to the present, Filipinos started to rediscover and appreciate the Spanish ingredient of their culture. And upon realizing that the blend of cultures is what makes their own culture very rich and unique, they began to appreciate the importance of the Spanish ingredient in their identity.
Furthermore, in an increasingly globalized world, some Filipinos found out that the ability to speak in Spanish can improved their income when working for foreign companies.
Nowadays, I see more Filipinos experiencing Spanish culture much more actively and positively than in the last century.
Do you feel that the essence of Spain still pervades in the daily lives of Filipinos?
There are many aspects in the daily lives and culture of the Filipinos that prove that Spanish is definitely part of their culture, even though they might be unaware of it. For one, many Filipinos have names and surnames that are Spanish. There are words and expressions in the different Filipino languages that come from Spanish.
But there also are intangible things that have somehow come as a result of Spanish influence, like town fiestas as a way to engage with the neighbors and other people. There are also a lot of things that we have in common, such as the close family ties and hospitality toward foreigners.
Finally, Filipinos are said to be more like Latin Americans than Asians, and somehow this is the Spanish ingredient in Filipino culture.
How important is culture in current times?
Culture is fundamental in modern life. Knowledge of another’s culture is the best tool for different people to get to know each other better. If you understand another person’s beliefs and points of view better and appreciate their culture, you are less likely to be hostile to each other. Enemies are often created due to lack of understanding of the other’s culture, and that means that culture is fundamental for peace.
In a global world, culture is even more important because it is what frames identity. And in a global world, it is important to maintain one’s identity while at the same time, share it with the others. In this sense, culture becomes fundamental as a main tool for diplomacy: to help us avoid conflict and enable us to work together.
The European Union is a proof of that. Up to the mid-20th century, the European powers were destroying each other. Upon the creation of the European Union, the countries became partners. We share many things in common. Culture is among them. Now, conflict between the major European countries is no longer possible.
Please give us an idea of Instituto Cervantes’s preparations for the Quadricentennial.
Our preparations are part of a commission created in Spain especially created for the commemoration of the fourth centennial, which coordinates the activities around the world. It is important to note that when we study this historical event, it is not for the sake of looking back to the past, but because we are learning which characteristics of that expedition can be useful today and for the future. The scientific aspect of that expedition brought about better knowledge of the world: geographically of course, and also environmentally.
Here, we collaborate with the National Historical Commission of the Philippines and other institutions to program activities within the frame of this commemoration. We are looking forward to organizing a congress, which will enable Spanish scholars in those fields to get in touch with the Filipino scholars, similar to what we did during the Miguel Lopez de Legazpi commemoration.
Your thoughts on Instituto Cervantes’s reach and your reappointment:
I wish to impart that, not only does the center in Manila handle the activities in the Philippines, but we also coordinate the activities of our branches in Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur and Hanoi.
The challenge however is bringing Spanish to all the islands and making it accessible to all Filipinos. This is not yet possible, since we do not have teachers sufficiently trained to teach Spanish all over the archipelago.
Also, another important task is to enhance cultural cooperation with Filipino institutions, to come up with joint projects that are co-organized and co-funded with Filipino organizations. We would like the Philippines to be a part of the projects, not just spectators from the sidelines. It’s like baking a cake for your friend to eat, or baking a cake with a friend and eating that cake together. Which process facilitates friendships better? Finally, I would like to express that I am very happy to be back in the Philippines. During the span of 12 years, from the time I ended my term as director in 2006, until now that I have been appointed again, I can see how society has progressed and how education will continue being a main driving force for the development of the country where I feel at home, and which I consider as my second home.
Image credits: Jimbo Albano