Wednesday, 14 September 2011

The 'Other' within: Filipinos in the Portuguese literature of Macau

The 'Other' within: Filipinos in the Portuguese literature of Macau

For most of the colonial period prior to the nineteenth century, relations between Macau and the Philippines tended to mirror those between Portugal and Spain: an intense rivalry only matched by a vague sense of complementarity and cooperation. The establishment of the dual monarchy in 1580 meant that Manila and Macau belonged, at least notionally, to the same kingdom. At this point, Manila began to assume itself as a kind of regional Madrid to Macau’s Lisbon, which reflected the desire of Manila’s merchants to break into Macau’s monopoly of trade with China. Instead, what ensued was a kind of complementarity, in which Macau preserved its primacy within trade with China, but shipping between Macau and Manila increased, boosted by the flow of Mexican silver, shipped across the Pacific from Acapulco. For the rest, Macau and Manila bore similarities: they were both among the first major European colonial cities in the region, both Catholic, ecclesiastical centres, and both witnessed the development of a creolised, mestizo elite that served as a bridge between colonial officaldom and the local, native populations. Yet the political sympathies of these elites say something about the nature of colonialism in Macau and the Philippines, in a trade entrepot whose colonial status was never really confirmed because of its dependence on the mainland upon which it was a tiny territorial encrustation, and in a more clearcut territorial colony subject, albeit patchily, to European rule. In Macau, with its shared sovereignty, the creole elite never made the transition to nationalism, while in the Philippines it embarked on a campaign to liberate itself from Spain at the end of the nineteenth century, much as the Spanish American colonies had done at the beginning of the same century.

It was during these nationalist uprisings that many Filipino activists sought refuge in the recently established British colony of Hong Kong, and also in Macau. One such figure was José Rizal, the author of two novels, one of which, Noli me Tangere (1887), is a classic of Philippine literature. Rizal briefly practised medicine in Hong Kong before returning to his native land where the Spanish authorities executed him in 1896. His country swapped Spanish colonial rule for United States colonialism as a result of the 1898 war, which saw the United States consolidate its expansion into the Pacific, and only became fully independent in 1946. But links between the islands and Macau and Hong Kong have continued due to the migration of Filipinos, especially during the Marcos years, to these two territories, where they form substantial minorities, largely employed in the service sector. So it is natural that there should be Filipino characters in Macau literature, most notably its fiction. What is surprising, on the other hand, is that they do not feature more in literature. This may reflect their relative social invisibility in the society of Macau, or it may have something to do, at least in the Portuguese-language literature, with their limitation to certain stereotypes, which in turn are derived from an Iberian model of ‘otherness’.

Filipino characters first make their appearance in what might best be termed colonial novels of the early decades of the twentieth century. Jaime do Inso's Caminho do Oriente and Emílio de San Bruno’s O Caso da Rua Volong were published respectively in 1932 and 1928, and both won literary prizes awarded by the Portuguese Government’s Agência Geral das Colónias, because they in some way justified and even exalted Portugal’s colonizing mission. Both authors had served in Macau as naval officers. As typical colonial novels, they contained warnings against the hidden dangers awaiting the agents of empire, especially those of a sensitive disposition, when surrounded by the attractions and dangers of ‘otherness’. Rodolfo and Frazão, in Inso’s novel, are childhood friends who journey to Macau to revive a family trading enterprise. Rodolfo is a romantic, who befriends a ‘golden-haired’ Portuguese girl from Macau on the boat out east. Frazão is a prosaic materialist who takes up with Pepita, a Filipino woman returning to Hong Kong to rejoin her husband. Frazão’s dalliance with a mestizo woman represents no threat to the colonial enterprise, or Frazão’s ability to act on behalf of it. The same is true of Paulo’s association with the Macanese nhonha, Maria José, in San Bruno’s novel. It is perfectly normal for a Portuguese colonizer to set up with a local woman as long as this does not lead to marriage, but is merely an arrangement of sexual and domestic convenience. But it is Paulo’s superior, the Count, who provides the negative example. The Count is, in turn, traced to Macau by a jilted lover, who arrives in melodramatic style, disguised as an American woman called Grace. Grace then develops a passion for the mysterious Mansilla. Mansilla frequents the higher echelons of colonial society, passing himself off as a South American, but he is in fact a Filipino, a gun runner and leader of a band of pirates. He then kidnaps Grace hoping to use her to seduce wealthy American and Russian expatriates, and so finance his cause. Mansilla thus represents the colonial stereotype of oriental exoticism, made all the more anarchic and corrosive because of his hybrid nature, and because he is allowed to prey on the vulnerabilities of those who are unsuited for the colonial mission. In addition, the relationship between the false American woman, Grace, and the false Spanish American man, Mansilla, reflects in symbolic terms the volatile politics of the area as the United States began to flex its muscles in the Pacific, upsetting an older balance of power.

The Mansilla stereotype survives in the more recent novel, O Romance de Yolanda (2005), by Rodrigo Leal de Carvalho, but with a contemporary twist, not only in the plot line, but in the evolving stereotype, which also relates in some ways to Carvalho’s ironic view of Macau society. When the Macanese divorcee, Yolanda Bañares dos Santos is introduced to the Filipino Ramon Macapagal González by Yolanda’s former husband, it is so that the latter can gain some commission from González’s Chinese business associate when the Filipno gains a Portuguese passport, thus protecting his business interests from the attentions of the British police in Hong Kong, not to mention the Marcos authorities in the Filipino’s home country. This is the Macau of the transition years, but González is a businessman with gun-running interests to the insurgents in the Southern Philippines. At the same time,Yolanda, like Grace in the San Bruno novel, exceeds expectations by falling in love with her Filipino date, who displays the same macho attractivesess as Mansilla had in San Bruno's earlier novel. The difference here is that the perceptions of Filipinos among the native population of Macau have evolved, and the exotic beauty stereotype collides with the scorn accorded to them as ‘pretos’, or ‘people who are either prostitiutes or pimps’, a product of the already mentioned migration into Macau during the Marcos years of Filipino domestic and service workers.

The most interesting portrayal of a Filipino, and by extension of a Filipino-Macanese family, is provided by the Macanese novelist Henrique de Senna Fernandes, in his first novel, Amor e Dedinhos-de-Pé (1986), for while there are elements of the stereotype that appeared in both San Bruno and Leal de Carvalho (the excessively macho stereotype), there is also greater complexity, if not in the actual portrayal of the character of Pablo Padilla, then certainly in the relations between a ‘foreign’ Eurasian and the local Macanese elite. While Mansilla and González belong to a vaguely exoticist, orientalist stereotype, Padilla comes much more out of the Vicentine tradition of the loud-mouthed, arrogant ‘castelhano’. But if Padilla, the theatrical Spaniard of popular Portuguese fun-making, is a figure of ridicule, his aspirations to join the Macanese elite, to some extent shed light on the closed nature of Macanese society that the author is criticising in his novel. He is therefore clearly the object of scorn on the part of the author, but also of some measure of sympathy. Who is the bigger villain, Fernandes seems to invite us to consider, the snobbish Vidal family, of largely Portuguese stock, or the resentful, aspirational Padilla, whom we assume to be of darker, mestizo, and foreign (albeit neighbourly) origins? Padilla had come to Macau with his father, a Filipino nationalist fighting for independence from Spain (and therefore by suggestion, alien to the ‘loyal’ elite of Macau with regard to Portugal). Padilla is therefore considered dubious because of his political as well as his social and ethnic origins. Subsequent activity, including money lending, involvement in the coolie trade, dabbling in Chinese medicine for the treatment of venereal (and therefore shameful) diseases, are merely added justification for Macanese society to keep him at arms’ length, while paradoxically relying on his services. Padilla’s problem, is one of his strengths, if we take him as representative of some of Fernandes’s other characters: he is a member of colonial society (even if only by the skin of his teeth), but also embedded in local culture and therefore Asian, as opposed to the pretentious 'Portugueseness' of the family of Hipólito Vidal, the young man he supposedly tricks into marrying his daughter.

For the rest, the Padillas have taken on some of the accoutrements of Macanese culture that Fernandes generally extols in his novels: Padilla takes pride in his knowledge of Chinese medicine, the women of the house become experts in Macanese cuisine, making them the suppliers of sweets and snacks for the ‘chás gordos’ of the elite families, and Cesaltina, Padilla’s daughter only seems to speak patois. We never know, of course, whether Padilla’s wife is Macanese or Filipino, but as the daughters all have Spanish names, one assumes that this is a family that has not yet ‘married’ into Macanese society. So in a sense, Fernandes is using this Filipino family to demonstrate Macanese cultural practices that the elite have grown away from. When Chico Frontaria, the fallen hero of the story, therefore re-encounters Victorina and they get married, we have the right combination of blue-bloodedness (Chico is from a time-honoured Macanese family) and mixed cultural values, an appropriate blend of Chineseness and Westernness as encarnated in the figure of Padilla’s grand-daughter. Indeed, it is her inheritance of Padilla’s knowledge of creams, ointments and teas, that brings about Chico’s cure and saves his life, all of which helps fuel his own moral regeneration and reintegration into society.

It is perhaps no coincidence that Fernandes, a writer who is himself a product of the east-west encounter in Macau, should incorporate the ‘outro familiar’, the Filipino, into the literature and social culture of his native city, in a more nuanced way than either San Bruno or Carvalho. And it may also be not far fetched to say that Fernandes has redeemed two minor characters in Rizal’s classic, the ridiculous, presumptuous and pro-Spanish Victorina in the Filipino novel becomes the sensible and stout-hearted Victorina Vidal of Fernandes’s novel, while the quack doctor, Don Tiburcio, Spanish husband of Rizal’s Victorina, becomes the skilled, self-taught curandeiro of Filipino nationalist extraction, Padilla, in Amor e Dedinhos-de-Pé.

* Working paper read at the 'Pen-insularities: Writing East and West in Portuguese' colloquium, University of Bristol, April, 2011.

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