Behind the Scenes with the Editor, Translator, and Publisher of More Hispanic Than We Admit 3
A few days prior to the launch of More Hispanic Than We Admit 3 Quincentennial Edition, 1521-1820 Filipino and Spanish Interactions over the Centuries, we caught up with editor Jorge Mojarro, PhD and his translator Jaime Marco for an online discussion about the latest title of Vibal Foundation. The virtual chat hosted by Rio Brigino Lim was later joined by the book’s publisher and executive director of the Foundation, Gaspar Vibal. Portions of the following conversation have been edited for clarity and brevity.

RIO: Buenos días, Señor Jorge and Señor Jaime and congratulations on the launch. We’re sure it’s been an interesting challenge working on this book during the pandemic. Please share your experience with us.


JORGE MOJARRO : (gives a quick wave to the camera) Yes, finally! After five months of closed-inwork during the pandemic, we are launching More Hispanic Than We Admit 3. All the correspondence, back-and-forth edits, and proofing was all done online via email and Zoom conferences, and it was a radically compressed experience for me. I hope its readers will appreciate this Covid-19 baby.

 (At this point the Zoom conference is joined in by another guest.)


GASPAR: ¡Hola, Jorge! ¡Hola, Jaime! ¿Qué tal? (greets the others with a warm smile)

(Jorge and Jaime alternately reply in Spanish. The three exchange pleasantries before we resume the discussion.)


GASPAR VIBAL:  There’s no book like this in the fourteen-year history of Vibal Foundation. Any anthology of the More Than We Admit franchise has taken a year or two to put together. I guess it’s the lockdown experience that brought editor, publisher, editorial staff, and contributors, as well as translator close to each other, notwithstanding the time zones and disparate locations.


JORGE: I’m quite conscious that this is the third volume of the More Hispanic Than We Admit series of Vibal Foundation under its Academica Filipina imprint. Like the first two volumes, the third and latest book is a collection of 18 essays about a turbulent and relatively less-studied period of Philippine history. This quincentennial edition however is special since we are commemorating the 500th year of Spanish and Filipino interactions, allowing for a longue durée narrative arc. Not many editors get to work on a dream project like this!


RIO: There is a lot of buzz recently about the President’s remarks on the quincentennial, thereby raising heated discussions across different sectors. What are your thoughts on this?


JORGE: (pauses discreetly) As a foreigner and scholar, I try not to be involved in current political interpretations of long-past events. I believe that just as we try to rise above the political jousting over contemporary affairs in order to be able to derive judicious analysis, so we must apply our present lens to historical epochs. Just to emphasize though, I believe that the quincentennial is not about the celebration of colonization. Rather, our marking this milestone is about commemorating a cultural and historical encounter that shaped the global world that we live in. It is an opportunity to understand that 1521 was extremely more important than 1492 in the global summation. I also think it’s better to be more aware of and respect divergent perspectives. I’m not just being diplomatic in my response, but I do wish to minimize negative comments on your page so that we can discuss the past as well as the present with an even-tempered tone (gives a hearty laugh). Seriously though, this topic may be polarizing to some, but at the end of the day, what we can do with this book is to educate its readers to always look at the two sides of a topic before coming to hasty conclusions.


RIO: You also mentioned in your October 6 article on The Manila Times that Filipino Spanish is an endangered language. Do you think we should exert more effort to preserve it?


JORGE: I don’t believe that Filipino Spanish will survive. Institutional efforts are worthless if the remaining Spanish-speaking parents refuse to talk to their children in the language of Cervantes. Presently, there are little incentives to do so, and the tendency I am afraid is difficult to reverse. The bright spot, I admit, are bicultural families like mine or the islands of Hispanic speakers in call centers (grinning).


JAIME MARCO: (nods in agreement then raises his hand to speak) I agree with Jorge. Aside from the language, it is a pity that the Hispano-Filipino culture is quietly fading out today, especially with the death of many prominent Kastilas [native-born Hispanic Filipino]. I do not even see the more elite Kastilas interested in maintaining the culture. If it completely fades away, Filipinos will not be able to understand their identity since five hundred years of the HIspanic culture in the Philippines has been interwoven with that of the Filipino. Thanks to projects like this one, we Filipinos can continue understanding ourselves as we have quite a rich mixture of so many cultures.


RIO: Thank you, Señor Jaime. Speaking of the More Hispanic Than We Admit 3 book project, how was it working with Señor Jorge and Señor Gus?


JAIME: It was quite easy to work with both of them as Jorge writes quite well and Gaspar takes time to read each of my translations to make insightful edits. I believe that the troika of us working closely together has surpassed the bicultural difficulties of moving from one language to the other. The two always give me enough time to work on the translations so it does not get stressful at all even with the duo’s super-accelerated timetable (gets a big smile from Jorge).


RIO: How about you Señor Jorge, what can you say about your experience in working with the other essayists and contributors of the book?


JORGE: Dr. Yvette [Marya Svetlana] Camacho has become a colleague of mine, after meeting accidentally in several conferences and archives. In my opinion, she belongs to the top tier of historians in the Philippines right now. Her work on colonial women is solidly anchored on archival readings and the conclusions that she derives from this evidence-based scholarship is sound. I am also fortunate to be able to work with the rising scholar Marlon Sales, who was a colleague of mine at the Instituto de Cervantes de Manila. As a Spanish professor and translator, he has actively worked the cultural divide, and his present research is focused on translation studies, a field that Vince [Vicente] Rafael pioneered in the Philippines. The latter tends to a more postcolonial framework and is therefore much more speculative in nature, making his works challenging to read, while Marlon Sales is more knowledgeable in issues dealing with linguistic analysis and contemporary aspects of translation studies.


GASPAR (addressing Rio): Did Jorge tell you I’m also one of the essayists also? I’m very thankful to our editor for including my essay on Spanish Philippine colonial art (laughing), he didn’t need to. He was lacking an essay on Hispano-Filipino aesthetics, then he found out that I had a stalled manuscript that I had written two years ago under the editorship of Petty Benitez-Johannot. He asked to read it, then sent it back because he said it was too reliant on secondary sources. At the time I wrote it two years ago, I wasn’t so much concerned about counterchecking its findings against the original source. I had simply wanted to write a syncretic summary of 300 years of art and architectural history.  


JORGE: After reading it twice (it was so lengthy, over 20,000 words!), I told him that I could only accept it if he increased his reliance on primary or archival sources, rather than on secondary books and essays. There was such a high bar set by the other well-known scholars that I had already chosen.


GASPAR: I took it as a challenge to go back to the original sources such as Archivo General de Indias in order to verify my original findings. And in fairness to the editor, he passed it through three rounds of edits until he was satisfied. The structure of the essay is dedicated to my mentor Dr. Samuel Tan, who conceived of the tripartite regional approach to Philippine historiography. When we first worked together on a high school history textbook in the 1970s, Dr. Tan related to me the behind-the-scenes of his research work for Pres. Marcos, which became the Tadhana series of history books (amazingly, a project also undertaken by Adrian Cristobal and Zeus Salazar). I simply took Dr. Tan’s structure of following the separate but intertwined histories of the Christianized, animist, and Islamized peoples of the Philippines and applied it to the analysis of Philippine art and architecture.


JORGE: At first, I was skeptical of that approach, it’s quite unusual for any researcher to be tracking three different cultures in order to deliver a coherent instead of a hodge-podge synopsis of Spanish Philippine colonial art and its counterparts in animist and Islamized cultures. At the start, it was difficult for me because the first version of the article was too short of primary sources and relied heavily on a secondary bibliography. So, I taught Gaspar how to use PARES (the general website and search engine of Spanish archives) more effectively. I discovered that he had a fear of working that search engine, even though he had already been briefed by the great Spanish scholar Doña  Lourdes Díaz-Trechuelo whose disciple was the director of the famed Archivo General de Indias. Gradually, he rewrote the study from the beginning to end. Given the scarcity of synoptic overviews of Philippine colonial art, I think he made a substantial and very original contribution. This is actually his first scholarly article that’s being published alongside world-renowned scholars, so muy bien (gives an OK sign to the camera for Gus).


RIO: Please share with us how you came up with the final lineup of the essays. Did you encounter some disagreements on this matter? 


JORGE: I decided the final line up, but I always listen to the suggestion provided by Gaspar. I am strongly opposed to anything written with a specific agenda (nationalistic or ideological). Apart from that, I am very much inclined to appreciate works that demonstrate a respect for primary sources as well as diligent archival research through a patient sifting of disparate data.


GASPAR: Jorge has an amazing circle of friends in international academia. I’m so surprised with their active correspondence. They respond to his emails within seconds!  I’m more familiar with Filipino scholarship, so sometimes we fall into arguments over which manok (fighting cock) is better than his (LOL).


JORGE: I myself was surprised at the amount of books and essays that Gaspar reads. He is like a mad bibliophile, devouring everything in the JSTOR, Google Scholar, and MUSE databases. It is also surprising to work with a publisher who is so hands on. I believe that we work together very well because we feed off each other’s energy.


RIO: Let’s go to Señor Jaime. What challenges did you encounter while doing the translations of the scholarly Spanish essays into English, given the baroque construction of Spanish grammar and the declarative simplicity of English? What sort of approach did you undertake?


JAIME: It is very important to isolate the grammatical parts of the Spanish sentence such as the subject, verb, compliment, etc., before even starting to translate. Spanish is very flexible while English is quite rigid. For example, it is perfectly acceptable to place the subject at the end of a declarative sentence, which is something that English would never allow! Most of the translations done by Filipino translators often sport this syntactic mistake, confusing the subject as the object of the action expressed in the sentence, in other words the complete opposite of the intended Spanish meaning. Thus, after breaking down the sentence in Spanish, I match the elements up to their corresponding English syntax. It is also quite important to have a historical background of the text, especially how the writer thinks. Using the dictionary of RAE [Real Academia de la Lengua Española] is quite essential as it can give you several inflections of meaning of words that are no longer in use or it can event point you towards the correct semantical use of the word as there are many words in English that may be of Latinate origin but whose semantic is completely different. Dictionaries such as Word Reference, WordHippo or Reverso also help a lot. When translating, it is useful to have a program for synonyms and antonyms so the same word does not appear too many times. The Internet can also give a good background on the text that is being translated.


RIO: What do you guys think about your intended audience and how they will react to this book, assuming that they will persevere in reading it (laughing).


GASPAR: To those Filipinos who follow colonial history at the surface level of most elementary and high school textbooks, they would become very surprised to find out that our ancestors were actually agents in the processes of colonization and imperialism. If you read through all the essays you will see the hand of the Indio, the Moro, or the Chino—disparate ethnic groups that we call Filipinos today. To reveal the agency of lowly Indios during the galleon trade or in the making of art is very rewarding and satisfying. 


RIO: That’s very interesting, Señores. Can we also get your comments on the President’s views about the quincentennial commemoration? 


GASPAR: The historical processes of colonization, slavery, and imperialism have led to other ongoing processes such as neoliberalization, globalization, and the increasing global domination of technology. These stages unfolded in a chronological order, so it’s useless to even deny that we are products of historical evolution. We could argue as is being done in Mexico or Peru that we should erase our colonial past. This is all wishful thinking or simply the political instrumentalization of history. Although there is much to be ashamed of in the past, there is also much to be grateful for, so one has to continually engage with the past as we live out the present and prepare for the future. Nobody should be afraid of where he or she came from.


JAIME: (chimes in playfully) Careful, Gaspar, we don’t want to get the trolls flooding us with nasty comments, ha?


GASPAR: Well, I invite them to a proper discussion. I think that’s why we need activities like this so we can have intelligent discourse and be able to present facts, not fake news! (laughs)


RIO: I have a follow-up question for Sr. Gaspar. Why do you endeavor the publishing of books in the Spanish language? 


GASPAR: Continuing to publish in Spanish is a way of keeping alive our Hispanic culture and our own Hispano-Filipino identity. This advocacy is not simply about keeping a marginalized culture alive, it is a way of communing with ourselves, with what we were before and how this points us to present and our future. I grew up at a time when Philippine intelligentsia spoke in English, Spanish, and what was called Tagalog then. My father would take me to the Supreme Court and there I heard the justices discussing jurisprudence in Spanish. Similarly, when I accompanied my father to visit the congressional appropriation committee, I heard the congressmen still conversing in Spanish.  There were even Spanish newspapers such as Nueva Era, which was full of ads of newly promulgated laws. There were people fluent in all three languages!! Imagine people like Claro M. Recto and Senator Tañada. Even the First Lady, Doña Evangelina Macaraeg de Macapagal only spoke Spanish at the dinner table (which would explain why GMA is still fluent in Spanish).  So, for me Hispano-Filipino culture was never dead, but a living and dynamic thing.  It is so sad that nobody cares anymore, but I still do, so this act of publishing both in Spanish language about and Hispanic-inflected subjects is for me a deliberate cultural reappropriation.


JAIME: Growing up in the 1960s, it was still the time of the Kastilas. Don Andrés [Soriano], the titan of San Miguel Brewery was still in his prime, and Benigno Toda was the owner of Philippine Airlines. All the stewards and stewardesses were Kastilaloys [young generation of Kastilas]. My Papa worked in that milieu as an airline executive. The Kastilas had wonderful parties where La Tuna (caped carousers) would sing drinking songs like “Pimpiririnpimpin y con el pampararan,” “El que no beba vino será un animal,” “Clavelitos,” “Fonseca,” “Cielito Lindo,” and many more. In those merry times, Pilita [Corrales] and Amado [El Paraguay] would not be out of place while crooning “Bésame Mucho” or “Granada.” Los Tres Reyes Magos [Spanish Christmas] was still celebrated at the Casino Español. One time a rowdy bunch of Tisoys [the youngest generation of Hispano-Filipinos] got rowdy from drinking too much Fundador and ended up trashing the whole Christmas and New Year’s party. I think that marked the beginning of the end of the reign of Tisoys! (nostalgically reminiscing).


RIO: Señor Jaime, having lived in Spain for 35 years, do you think there Is a cultural gap between Spaniards and Filipinos?


JAIME: Yes, there is a very big cultural gap with the Filipinos of today. Spaniards are very straightforward and frank, while Filipinos tend to be more diplomatic in the sense that they do not express their inner feelings. What may seem normal for a Spaniard may be even shocking to a Filipino. A Spaniard will tell you to your face that he dislikes you but a Filipino will say he likes you to your face but behind you, he’ll speak badly of you. A Kastila would be a Filipino born with Spanish origins, while a Spaniard is one born in Spain (which Kastilas would technically call a Peninsular). The Kastilas are very relaxed people to a point of being carefree, which is how I grew up, as a lot of my friends were also Kastilas like the Cuervos, Mendozas, Caleros, etc. I think the Spaniards are more serious than the Kastilas. They are more the straight-to-the-point kind of people. Jorge will obviously be classified as Spaniard since he was born in Spain. But little by little, that Spaniard is becoming a Kastila. He is very adapted to the Filipino way of life and he understands the culture quite well by now. Living in the country helps with that transformation, which also occurred to me after having lived such a long time in Spain. I will not be surprised if he will end up being a Kastila in time.


RIO: Speaking of Señor Jorge, do tell us what you have discovered or rediscovered about the Philippines and Filipinos since you first came here in 2009.


JORGE: Well, in the Philippines nothing is as it seems on the outside. Visitors spending little time here will go home with a very wrong idea of the complexity of the Pinoy mentality. I had a few realizations when I spent a few days travelling in Myanmar. Filipinos are not like Asian as they claim to be, but they are not like Western as the Western visitor tends to think. This is what makes Philippine culture fascinating (Sr. Jorge recommends reading Fernando Zialcita’s Authentic Though Not Exotic).


RIO: Are you more Filipino than you admit?


JORGE: After 11 years, I am Pinoy enough to miss chicharon and kinilaw every time I go abroad. I understand Pinoy jokes and laugh at the special effects of Encantadia (elicits laughter from the others).


RIO: How about you Sr. Gaspar, are you more Hispanic than you admit?


GASPAR: Yes definitely, even if I for the most part would hate to admit it. My first immersion in Spanish culture occurred when I was always left hungry at home. My Papa and Mama were always either traveling or working. My next-door neighbors were Spaniards whose Dad used to do barbecue grills. I could smell good food wafting from across the fence, so one day I introduced myself to them and got myself conveniently invited just before lunch or dinner. I was a very skinny kid, but I learned to survive by posing as an aficionado of everything Spanish. That house served wonderful food I could never imagine in my Ilokano household. Imagine they were eating morcon, morcilla, aceitunas alineadas, cocido, paella, etc. I was only raised up on monggo and tinapa! I would listen to them at the dinner table as they would instruct “Pásame por favor la mantequilla,” or “¡Qué rica está la comida!” etc. I also discovered posters of “Corridas [bullfights] en Ventas” [the Madrileño bullring] as well as of Francisco Franco, and little sayings posted in the toilet such as “Que Dios bendiga esta Casa." And that’s actually where my interest in Hispanic culture comes from. Oh my gosh, I’ve blabbered too much! Go ahead, guys. Why don’t you invite the readers to get a copy of our book?


JORGE: Yes, I would like to invite everyone to get a More Hispanic Than We Admit 3. It will be available on the Vibal Shop for online purchase starting October 14. We have compiled 18 essays on Spanish-Philippine culture and history as a commemoration of five hundred years of Spain and Philippines bound together. Join us also on October 14 during the launch because I will be giving a short lecture entitled “Tribulations of a Philippine Hispanista on the Occasion of the Quincentennial.”  So, I hope you all can join us there.


JAIME: I would also like to thank Vibal Foundation for the opportunity to be part of this historic book project. It’s always an honor to work with Gaspar, the Vibal team, and now with Jorge. So to those watching, I highly recommend you to get a copy of the book. 


RIO: With that, we’d like to thank our guests today, Jorge Mojarro, Jaime Marco, and our very own Gaspar Vibal for such a lively and insightful discussion. Again, the book More Hispanic Than We Admit 3 will be available starting October 14 on Vibal Shop. Thank you and have a good day!

(End of Zoom meeting)