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The Philippines in Spain | Opinion of the applicant

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When I revisited the Museo del Prado in Madrid last week, I went in search of Gallery 62A where the works of two 19th-century Filipino painters are currently on display: Juan Luna’s “Death of Cleopatra” and a pair of oil head studies by Esteban Villanueva. Luna’s large and luminous painting received a second class medal at the 1881 National Fine Arts Exhibition, the prelude to the “Spoliarium”, received a first class medal at the 1884 Exhibition. Villanueva were known as “tipos del país” which depicted life and people in the late 19th century Philippines.

It is significant that these Filipino painters are exhibited in the same museum as the recognized masters of Spanish painting, Velásquez and Goya. The Prado is known as the repository of ‘old’ or ‘classic’ art, so if you want something ‘modern’ you will be directed to the nearby Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, which is the repository of 20th century art. . Figurative or figurative arts are at the Prado, while abstract and contemporary works are at the Reina Sofía, but this divide will be broken or bridged with the Prado exhibition of abstract works referencing Fernando Zóbel’s old masters, “El futuro del pasado” (The future of the past). Zóbel is Filipino-Spanish, born in Ermita, Manila, in 1924.

I was fascinated by the elements of Filipino culture crossing the countries that colonized us, especially in the language. When Americans refer to a distant place like “boondocks” or someone running “amuck”, those words have Filipino roots in “bundok” and “amok”. Similarly, many Filipino words officially entered the Spanish language. The director of the Instituto Cervantes, Javier Galvan, reacted to my last column with a link to an exhaustive 18-page article by linguist Rafael Rodriguez-Ponga which traces the evolution of the meanings of “baguio” (from hurricane to typhoon) in various texts and its inclusion in “DRAE” explained below.

Dictionaries were part of my early education. No school library was complete without a thick Webster English dictionary left open on a desk, like a bible, in the reference section. Dictionaries settled disputes by playing Scrabble; it was the last word on the spelling and meaning of words. I was weaned off Webster at university when I was introduced to the definitive work, the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). This multi-volume work provided more than definitions; the words have been traced back to their roots in Latin, Greek, Gaelic, etc. OED has also provided the first documented instance of a word, and other dated appearances of the word, to illustrate usage or changing meanings over time. I went to university in the last century, when all students had to take 12 units of Spanish. It was around this time that I discovered the Spanish equivalent of the OED, the Diccionario de la Real Academia Española (DRAE), for its compiler, the Royal Academy, guardian of the Spanish language. It is still called DRAE, although it is better known today as Diccionario de la lengua Española.

Physical copies of dictionaries have gone out of fashion, rendered obsolete by the Internet. Throwing away all the foreign language dictionaries in my personal library freed up a lot of shelf space, but I kept physical copies of the Filipino dictionaries compiled by the Komisyon ng Wikang Filipino, University of the Philippines, Vito C. Santos (Vicassan), Leo English, José Villa Panganiban and Virgilio S. Almario. Pride of place on my shelves is given to a facsimile of the Vocabulario de la lengua Tagala compiled by Fr. Pedro de San Buena Ventura which was published in Pila, Laguna, in 1613.

Last week in Madrid, 75 years of diplomatic relations between the Philippines and Spain were commemorated at the Universidad Complutense with lectures by Filipino and Spanish scholars, the acceptance of a bronze statue of Rizal donated by Philippine Ambassador Philippe Lhuillier at the university, and a wreath laying in the Rizal Monument on Avenida de Filipinas. Our complicated or tangled relationship with Spain dates back 500 years, and the proof remains in the many Filipino words, like baguio, accepted into the Spanish language by the Royal Academy.

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