San Augustine Church in Intramuros Manila is a heavy, heavy place for me.  My heart is heavy every time I’m there.  I feel the weight of its history.  I feel a great sense of loss.  

It’s the oldest church in the walled city built by the Spanish over the site of Rajah Sulayman’s Muslim city of Maynila, a city with a population of over 10,000 people.

Maynila was a major trading port in the region and traded with other parts of what would be the Philippines, as well with other Malay cities (through what would be Malaysia and Indonesia), as well as with China, Vietnam, Japan, India, and the Middle East.

In this church I wonder what we would have been had the Spanish not colonized the lands.  I wonder how our already literate society would have developed.

I remember how a Manila man was already a major political figure in Portuguese colonized Malacca when Magellan was there just a few years before he “discovered” the Philippines.

Inside the church there is a chamber that houses religious artifacts from that dark period in our history.  I look at these and I remember how religion was used as a colonial tool, and how it was an attempt to erase our identity.

San Augustine is a heavy place.  I ask these questions and wonder why so many of us have forgotten our own past.

But of course we can’t live in the past.  We can’t build a future out of ‘what ifs.’  So though while inside San Augustine I can’t help but lament, stepping outside, and seeing the realities of modern Manila, I remember that this Spanish past is a part of our present.

We are a society in the process of creating who we want to be.  I think our project as balikbayans (and I know this group is much bigger than just Vince and I) is not just to seek out our identity, but to also to be part of the movement creating it.

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©2010 alex felipe
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