How Filipino Sailors—and Coconuts—Helped Create Mexico’s Nationwide Drink

While visiting Oaxaca, Mexico, final yr, I joined a mezcal tasting tour. The information, Antonio, requested individuals to introduce ourselves. After I informed everybody I used to be an anthropologist from the Philippines, the information beamed. “Look guys,” he mentioned, “it’s due to his nation that now we have tequila and mezcal!”

He was referring to the lengthy historical past of commerce between the ports of Manila and Acapulco, which linked the Philippines and Mexico for greater than two and a half centuries beginning in 1565. Over the course of that interval, some Filipinos—together with sailors who came visiting on the big delivery vessels often called galleons—ended up migrating to Mexico.

They introduced coconuts, together with methods to ferment coconut sap into tuba—an alcoholic beverage consumed within the Philippines since precolonial occasions, and typically distilled right into a stronger coconut liquor often called lambanog or bahalina. These fermentation and distillation methods have been utilized to agave—a plant native to Mexico and different components of the Americas—ultimately turning into what we now know as tequila (from blue agave) and mezcal (from different agave varieties).

Of course, as Antonio identified through the tour, at this time tequila and mezcal manufacturing has been largely industrialized. The large metal stills utilized by huge tequila distilleries at this time look very totally different from the vessels that early Filipino immigrants to Mexico used to distill coconut liquor. These have been product of “hole tree trunks the width of a person,” in response to one colonial account, and connected to copper casings or kettles heated over open fires. However the primary ideas stay comparable at this time.

Researchers have solely not too long ago began to piece collectively the complete story of those historic—and scrumptious—connections.

I was reminded of this encounter on the mezcal tour when, two months after the journey to Oaxaca, I traveled to Colima, a state alongside Mexico’s Pacific coast the place lots of the Filipino sailors have been documented to have settled.

To my shock, being within the humid metropolis felt unusually acquainted, regardless that I’d by no means been there. As I wrote on the time: “Right here in Colima … one can simply be led to imagine that you simply have been someplace within the Philippines: The panorama is strewn with coconuts, and there are mountains, seashores, and picturesque cities with colonial-era cathedrals and plazas.”

What’s extra, I used to be stunned to search out tuba being bought within the city sq.. The refreshing beverage was welcome within the warmth of Colima—and the one distinction I famous was that the Mexican model was flavored with strawberry and topped with peanuts, whereas within the Philippines the drink is normally consumed plain.

A photo shows a hand holding a plastic cup filled with pink liquid and small bits of yellow and red fruit against a tiled pathway lined with grass, bushes, and trees.

In Colima, Mexico, distributors promote the coconut-based tuba, a beverage initially delivered to Mexico by sailors from the Philippines. Gideon Lasco

However, once I requested the tubero, or tuba vendor, the place the drink got here from, he informed me that tuba was a drink native to Colima. I obtained comparable responses from different native folks I met. Not even my Spanish language professor had heard in regards to the Filipino connection relating to both Colima or tuba.

I was not completely stunned: Within the Philippines, tequila is widespread and extensively accessible (even in comfort shops), however persons are largely clueless that the method to make it really originated from tuba. The truth is, I actually solely realized about this connection once I first went to Mexico and did some analysis on the ties between the 2 nations.

What can clarify the disappearance of this information? And the way can anthropology contribute to reestablishing its connections?

One doable rationalization is the colonized nature of how historical past extra typically is taught.

In the Philippines, historic narratives are typically solid when it comes to the principle colonial actors that dominated the nation: Spain (from 1565 to 1898) and the USA (from 1899 to 1946). The Philippines was really ruled from Mexico Metropolis as a part of the viceroyalty of New Spain, however Mexican influences within the nation—from the Indigenous Nahautl phrases that have been borrowed by Filipino languages to the vegatables and fruits that ended up as a part of the nation’s foodscape—are barely acknowledged as such by most Filipinos. Equally, the estimated 40,000–60,000 Asian immigrants to Mexico through the two and a half centuries of galleon commerce—lots of whom have been from the Philippines—hardly determine in Mexican consciousness.

The story of how the artwork of distilling coconuts traveled throughout the oceans could also be a minor subplot inside centuries of colonial historical past—however it’s vital.

Another chance, this time on the Mexican aspect, is the position of nationwide mythmaking in some culinary traditions, a phenomenon students have termed “gastronationalism.” Tequila serves as a image of Mexican nationwide identification, so folks could also be hesitant to hint its origins again to Filipino sailors. Certainly, when requested about tequila, many individuals assume that it got here from Indigenous Aztec communities. After I joined the same tasting tour for tequila whereas in Mexico, the information pointed to a supposed Aztec legend of a love story between the god Quetzalcoatl and one other deity, Mayahuel.

Some distilleries additionally reference Spanish colonial figures within the tales of their manufacturers. This speaks to how narratives of Mexico’s preindustrial previous are sometimes infused with romanticized fantasies of Spanish heritage—a subject that sociologist Marie Sarita Gaytán explores in a current ebook on tequila. As an example, the tequila firm Jose Cuervo recounts on its web site how its namesake founder, José Antonio de Cuervo y Valdés “was given a writ of land possession by King Fernand VI” of Spain to start out rising agave in 1758 for tequila manufacturing.

The Filipino origins of the beverage are unnoticed of the story completely.

Even so, the truth that the tour information in Oaxaca acknowledged tequila’s Filipino roots signifies that folks’s consciousness of those historic connections could also be altering.

Anthropology and its cognate disciplines have performed an vital position in decolonizing the best way many people view the place of delicacies in shaping nationwide and world histories. Within the basic examine Sweetness and Energy, as an illustration, anthropologist Sidney Mintz confirmed how shoppers in Europe and the U.S. reworked world commerce and business by way of their demand for sugar, a crop that depended closely on the labor of enslaved folks within the colonies. Coconut manufacturing has likewise indelibly altered the economies and societies of locations corresponding to Colima and Samoa.

In the case of tequila and mezcal, researchers have established the Filipino roots of those drinks by assembling and synthesizing knowledge from botanical, archaeological, and ethnohistorical sources. Their analysis exhibits that agave distillation started within the volcanic foothills of Colima then was distributed extra extensively all through western Mexico. With out this scholarship, such connections would by no means have been established.

A person in a blue T-shirt and dark shorts stands behind large red, yellow, blue, and green letters spelling out the word “tequila” in front of a gazebo and a church.

The writer visits the epicenter of tequila tourism: the city of Tequila in Mexico’s western state of Jalisco. Courtesy of Gideon Lasco

Recognizing these connections can’t be extra well timed, as each the Philippines and Mexico commemorated 500 years of colonial encounters—and acts of Indigenous resistance to colonization—final yr. In 1521, Ferdinand Magellan arrived—and died—within the Philippine archipelago throughout a Spanish-led crusing expedition world wide. That very same yr, Spanish forces led by Hernán Cortés captured the Aztec metropolis of Tenochtitlán. These two occasions ushered within the institution of the Spanish Empire—one of many largest the world has ever identified—on either side of the Pacific.

The story of how the artwork of distilling coconuts traveled throughout the oceans could also be a minor subplot inside centuries of colonial historical past. Nevertheless it’s vital due to the way it complicates narratives that depict colonialism as solely a one-way avenue, with highly effective European actors efficiently forcing their languages, traditions, and methods of life on native folks. As folks from the Philippines, Mexico, and lots of different postcolonial states look again on the previous 500 years, anthropological accounts of how totally different cultures have traveled may also help remind all of us that along with difficult overseas concepts, colonized peoples have additionally imparted a few of their very own.

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