Filipino Clan Thrives in Mexico
Philippine News, Floro L. Mercene Posted: Jul 02, 2002
SALINA CRUZ, Mexico - Salina Cruz is a bustling port city on the Pacific coast of Oaxaca state nearly a thousand kilometers south of Mexico City.
Among its half million inhabitants is a big clan fathered by a sailor who landed here as a fugitive from Manila in 1854.
His name was Lorenzo Paulo. He died in 1902. Every year, during Easter Sunday, his descendants, now numbering more than a hundred, hold a vela or family reunion to honor his memory.
During this year’s vela, they held a three-day festival attended by 2,000 people, which included family friends and guests.
A videotape of the event showed members of the clan placing huge bunches of flowers on the tomb of their ancestor while an orchestra played festive airs.
The second and third day was devoted to dining, dancing and speeches.
The state of Oaxaca (pronounced “wa-ha-ka”), which lies next to Chiapas, is famous for its unique Indian cultures, an offshoot of the great Mayan civilization that flourished in Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras 3,000 years ago.
Descendants of the intrepid Filipino sailor Paulo dance through the night clad in clothes richly embroidered with flowers and birds, a mark of the dazzling Indian culture that still prevails in this part of Mexico.
Many wonder why these people hold their Filipino ancestor with so much reverence.
Traveling here, around 50 members of the clan showed up at the fine house of the prevailing family patriarch Don Santiago Paulo, now 77, a retired professor and is the grandson of Lorenzo.
With me as adviser and translator was Norma Mendoza Clay, a friend from the old tourism office in Manila and a Mexico City resident for nearly 40 years.
Lorenzo ran away from home as a stowaway on a Spanish ship that left Manila Bay when he was 14 years old. He wandered the four corners of the world as a sailor.
In 1854, as narrated by Don Santiago, he and a Filipino friend, Fernando Javier, jumped ship off the isthmus of Tehuantepec in southern Mexico, got married to the local girls and settled down for good.
Lorenzo fathered 12 children.
In 1859, Benito Juarez, then governor of Oaxaca - became Mexico’s first Indian president - appointed Lorenzo as chief of security of the port of Salina Cruz. He developed a reputation as a tough hombre and was referred to even by his descendants as “patron Lorenzo.”
A former barrio of Tehuantepec, Salina Cruz became a city in its own right with Lorenzo as one of its founding fathers.
When he died in 1902, he left behind scores of descendants who had intermarried with Mexicans of all racial types and classes.
Many of the grandchildren and great grandchildren I met had strong Filipino features — brown complexion, straight black hair and flat noses - but many were definitely handsome.
When Salina Cruz was made into a city, the town’s leaders objected to recognizing Lorenzo as one of its founders.
His descendants resisted the move with all their might, thus their yearly vela, which they celebrate to tell all and sundry that their Filipino ancestor made his mark in the world.
When Dr. Jaime Veneracion, head of the history department of the University of the Philippines, visited Oaxaca some 10 years ago, he met two women who told him their ancestor was a Filipino.
Veneracion wrote an article about his encounter, which was read by a Filipino journalist working for Canadian radio, Carlos Chibu Lagman.
During one of his many forays to Chiapas, Lagman went to Salina Cruz to seek out the Paulo family. He found them and stayed with them for a few days. Lagman lives in Alberta, Canada.
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