Search Results : Filipino » Geo-Mexico, the geography of Mexico

May 152013
 

Our grateful thanks to Felisa Churpa Rosa Rogers for the following review which appeared in The People’s Guide to Mexico, March 2011:

Growing up in a parochial school system, I was under the impression that the subject geography was limited to identifying countries by their shapes. Richard Rhoda and Tony Burton’s Geo-Mexico: The Geography and Dynamics of Modern Mexico drove the last nail in the coffin of my childhood misconception. Although it has its share of maps, the volume illustrates both the richness of geography as a field of study and the spectrum of cultural, economic, and environmental anomalies that make Mexico so eternally fascinating.

Due to its format and content, Geo-Mexico: The Geography and Dynamics of Modern Mexico is essentially a text book, albeit a rather excellent one. Don’t let that deter you. Although packed with interesting statistics, this book has more to offer: the authors are unafraid to make concrete assertions without miring their observations in academic qualifiers. Burton and Rhoda state facts in a fresh style, provide compelling statistics, and clearly explain all terms and concepts.

Every time a boring-sounding chapter title had me contemplating skipping ahead, I’d find a gem that kept me reading. For example, the chapter “Transportation: The Movement of People and Goods” drew me in with a tidbit about the transportation of silver bullion from Zacatecas in the 16th Century. I was glad I persevered because I stumbled across a fascinating segment on the cultural exchange between the Philippines and Mexico, which began in 1565 when Spain established an import route from The Philippines that crossed Mexico, shipping in at Acapulco and out again at Veracruz.

“..Spanish galleons carried Mexican silver to Manila and returned with spices, silk, porcelain, lacquer ware and other exotic goods from the Orient. ..Many Mexicans settled in Manila and a sizable Filipino community was established in Acapulco. Scores of Nahuatl words entered Tagalog, the main Filipino language. The Filipino currency is still called the peso. In the return direction, Filipinos taught Mexicans the distillation process which enabled the production of tequila.”

If history isn’t your game, Rhoda and Burton provide hard data on immigration, crime, population growth, the effects of NAFTA, ecosystems, and tourism’s impact on the environment. Because I write about Mexico, I will treasure Geo-Mexico: The Geography and Dynamics of Modern Mexico as a resource, but I highly recommend this volume to educators, students, and anyone with more than a passing interest in the culture, history, terrain, economy, politics, or development of the country.

[The People's Guide to Mexico, March 2011]

 Posted by at 10:04 am
Sep 012012
 

Tequila is made by distilling the juice of certain species of agave plants. Agaves are commonly called “century plants” in the USA, a name derived from the length of time they supposedly grow before producing a flowering stalk – actually, from eight to twenty years depending on the species, rather than the hundred suggested by their common name! Some species flower only once and die shortly afterwards, others can flower almost every year. Agaves are no relation botanically to cacti, even though they are often mistakenly associated with them. The ideal agave for tequila is the Agave tequilana Weber azul which has bluish-colored leaves.

Agave field in Jalisco

Agave field in Jalisco. Photo: Tony Burton

The tequila agaves are started from seed or from onion-size cuttings. When the plants are mature (about 10 years later), their branches are cut off, using a long-handled knife called a coa, leaving the cabeza (or “pineapple”), which is the part used for juice extraction. Cabezas (which weigh from 10 to 120 kilos) are cut in half, and then baked in stone furnaces or stainless steel autoclaves for one to three days to convert their starches into sugars.

From the ovens, the now golden-brown cabezas are shredded and placed in mills which extract the juices or mosto. The mixture is allowed to ferment for several days, then two distillations are performed to extract the almost colorless white or silver tequila. The spirit’s taste depends principally on the length of fermentation. Amber (reposado) tequila results from storage in ex-brandy or wine casks made of white oak for at least two months, while golden, aged (añejo) tequila is stored in casks for at least a year, and extra-aged (extra añejo) for at least three years.

Distillation: the Filipino Connection

Mexico’s indigenous Indians knew how to produce several different drinks from agave plants, but their techniques did not include distillation, and hence, strictly speaking, they did not produce tequila. Fermented agave juice or pulque may be the oldest alcoholic drink on the continent; it is referred to in an archival Olmec text which claims that it serves as a “delight for the gods and priests”. Pulque was fermented, but not distilled.

If the indigenous peoples didn’t have distilled agave drinks, then how, when and where did distillation of agave first occur? In 1897, Carl Lumholtz, the famous Norwegian ethnologist, who spent several years living with remote Indian tribes in Mexico, found that the Huichol Indians in eastern Nayarit distilled agave juice using simple stills, but with pots which seemed to be quite unlike anything Spanish or pre-Columbian in origin.

By 1944, Henry Bruman, a University of California geographer, had documented how Filipino seamen on the Manila Galleon had brought similar stills to western Mexico, for making coconut brandy, during the late sixteenth century.

Dr. Nyle Walton, of the University of Florida, expanded on Bruman’s work, showing how the Spanish authorities had sought to suppress Mexican liquor production because it threatened to compete with Spanish brandy. This suppression led to the establishment of illicit distilling in many remote areas including parts of Colima and Jalisco. Even today, the word “tuba”, which means “coconut wine” in the Filipino Tagalog language, is used in Jalisco for mezcal wine before it is distilled for tequila. This is probably because the first stills used for mezcal distillation were Filipino in origin.

“Appelacion Controlée”

Though colonial authorities tried to suppress illegal liquors, the industry of illicit distilling clearly thrived. One eighteenth century source lists more than 81 different mixtures, including some truly fearsome-sounding concoctions such as “cock’s eye”, “rabbit’s blood”, “bone-breaker” and “excommunication”! By the 1670s, the authorities saw the wisdom of taxing, rather than prohibiting, liquor production.

For centuries, distilled agave juice was known as mezcal or vino de mezcal “mezcal wine”). It is believed that the first foreigner to sample it was a Spanish medic, Gerónimo Hernández, in the year 1651. The original method for producing mezcal used clay ovens and pots.

By the end of the nineteenth century, as the railroads expanded, the reputation of Tequila spread further afield; this is when the vino de mezcal produced in Tequila became so popular that people began calling it simply “tequila”. When the Mexican Revolution began in 1910, it swept away a preference for everything European and brought nationally-made tequila to the fore. Tequila quickly became Mexico’s national drink. It gained prominence north of the border during the second world war, when the USA could no longer enjoy a guaranteed supply of European liquors.

To qualify as genuine tequila, the drink has to be made in the state of Jalisco or in certain specific areas of the states of Nayarit, Guanajuato, Michoacán and Tamaulipas. (We will take a closer look at this distribution in a future post).

The ideal growing conditions are found in semiarid areas where temperatures average about 20 degrees Centigrade, with little variation, and where rainfall averages 1000 mm/yr. In Jalisco, this means that areas at an elevation of about 1,500 meters above sea level are favored. Agaves prefer well-drained soils such as the permeable loams derived from the iron-rich volcanic rocks in Mexico’s Volcanic Axis.

Production of tequila has tripled within the last 15 years to about 250 million liters a year (2010). About 65% of this quantity is exported. Almost 80% of exports are to the USA, with most of the remainder destined for Canada and Europe.

Connoisseurs argue long and loud as to which is the better product, but all agree that the best of the best is made from 100% Agave tequilana Weber azul. I’m no connoisseur, but my personal favorite is Tequila Herradura, manufactured in Amatitán, a town between Tequila and Guadalajara. Anyone interested in the history of tequila will enjoy a visit to Herradura’s old hacienda “San José del Refugio” in Amatitán, where tequila has been made for well over a century. The factory is a working museum with mule-operated mills, and primitive distillation ovens, fueled by the bagasse of the maguey. The Great House is classic in style, with a wide entrance stairway and a first floor balustrade the full width of the building.

Visitors to the town of Tequila, with its National Tequila Museum, can  enter any one of several tequila factories to watch the processing and taste a sample. They can also admire one of the few public monuments to liquor anywhere in the world – a fountain which has water emerging from a stone bottle supported in an agave plant. “Tequila tourism” is growing in popularity. Special trains, such as “The Tequila Express” run on weekends from the nearby city of Guadalajara to Amatitán, and regular bus tours visit the growing areas and tequila distilleries. The town of Tequila holds an annual Tequila Fair during the first half of December to celebrate its famous beverage. Another good time to visit is on 24 July, National Tequila Day in the USA.

In 2006, UNESCO awarded World Heritage status to the agave landscape and old tequila-making facilities in Amatitán, Arenal and Tequila (Jalisco).

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Sep 032010
 

The “China galleons” greatly stimulated spatial interactions between Acapulco and Manila, 15,000 km away. Many Mexicans settled in Manila and scores of Nahuatl words entered Tagalog, the main Filipino language. These included atole, avocado, balsa, cacao, calabaza, camote, chico, chocolate, coyote, nana(y), tata(y), tocayo and zapote.

The Nao de China galleon

The China Galleon

As well as vocabulary, some aspects of Mexican cuisine, customs and dress were also introduced to the Philippines, along with a variety of plants and flowers. In addition, the Filipino currency has the same name as Mexico’s: the peso.

Mexico’s long connection with the Philippines – exploration, seafaring and geopolitics

A large number of Filipinos migrated in the other direction, escaping from their life of servitude aboard a galleon by jumping ashore on the coasts of Colima and Guerrero. One sizable Filipino community settled in Coyuca, on the Costa Grande, 50 km north of Acapulco. Coyuca was apparently known as Filipino Town at one point in its early history.

The Filipinos settling in Mexico introduced mangoes and a game called “cara y cruz” (heads and tails). The settlers were known locally as “Chinese Indians” and brought their expertise in the cultivation and use of palm trees with them. In Tagalog, palm fronds are known as “palapa” and by the end of the 18th century, this name was in use, too, for the palm-roofed shelters which remain a distinctive style of architecture along Mexico’s coasts.The coconut palm’s sap is known locally as tuba. Filipino newcomers fermented the resulting coconut wine into a potent drink. Henry Bruman, a University of California geographer, documented how Filipino seamen on the Manila Galleon also introduced simple stills, for making coconut brandy, to western Mexico during the late 16th century. These techniques were quickly adopted by Mexicans who were then able to turn the hearts of their native agave plants into tequila.

This is an excellent example of how developments in transportation can encourage cultural exchanges, and diminish the social, economic and cultural distance between places.

According to some historians, Mexico’s “China Poblana,” the woman who supposedly arrived from the East as a slave during the early 1600s and subsequently captured the hearts and minds of the people of Puebla, was actually a Filipino noblewoman who had arrived in Mexico aboard one of the Spanish galleons.

Mexico’s independence from Spain (1821) brought an end to the Manila–Acapulco galleons, though the network of shipping links then expanded from Veracruz to New Orleans and New York.

Mexico-Phillipines friendship has continued down the years.

For instance, in the second world war, several Mexican air force pilots, in the elite Escuadrón 201, were sent by the US government to lend their support in the Philippines. The pilots were decorated by the Philippine’s government for their heroism.

Highlights from the Mexican-Philippine Historical Relations Seminar New York City- June 21, 1997

The development of Mexico’s transportation system is discussed in chapter 17 of Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico. Its cultural geography is the subject of chapters 10, 11 and 13. Ask your library to buy a copy of this handy reference guide to all aspects of Mexico’s geography today! Better yet, order your own copy…