Fresh off the boat


The Conquistadores

It is commonly taught and known that Ferdinand Magellan (Fernão de Magalhães), a Portugese explorer who rendered his services to the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, discovered an archipelago of islands in 1521. This voyage to the South Pacific encouraged further expeditions.

In 1544 Ruy López de Villalobos and his fleet from Mexico made their way to Samar and Leyte, which he named Las Islas Filipinas to honour the emperor’s son Philip, then Prince of Asturias, who later became Philip II King of Spain and England, through his marriage to Queen Mary Tudor.

In 1565 a different Spanish expedition led by Miguel López de Legazpi officially established a colony in Cebu, though Manila was eventually designated the capital of the Spanish East Indies, as it was more strategic for what became the Manila-Acapulco Galleon trade.

The Immigrants

My maternal great-grandmother Florence Maud Whitehead Mills, half Native American and born in California, went to the UK as a nurse during WW1. She married a military Englishman named Henry Marshall. Their Londoner son, Geoffrey Howard, was born in Woolwich Arsenal, and after serving God and country during WW2, left for the Philippines to work as a textiles factory manager. He married provincial songstress Medina Masbad aka ‘Betty’, who was from a farming family of caretakers for the sugar estate Hacienda Tinang in Tarlac, owned by the oligarch Aquino dynasty.

My paternal great-grandfather Hermenigildo Atienza, was a WW2 guerrilla leader and appointed Military Mayor of Manila by the US General Douglas McArthur. He was also one of the founders of the Liberal Party in 1946. His brother Rigoberto was a survivor of the Bataan Death March, and a 4-star general Chief of Staff of the Philippine Armed Forces in the 1960s during the presidency of Diosdado Macapagal. He is buried in the Libingan ng mga Bayani (Cemetery for Heroes). Supposedly, the roots of our surname originated from the Spanish town in the province of Guadalajara, and that our ancestor Francisco Atienza was sent to the Philippines on a Jesuit expedition in 1639.

The Balikbayan (Returnee)

I was born in a Mandaluyong hospital on EDSA. My early years were spent in Angeles City, near the American Clark Air Base. I was raised mostly in the gated community in Makati called Magallanes Village. At fourteen, I moved to the UK and lived in council house accommodation, Church End Estate in Northwest London. Now back in Manila, I find myself residing in an industrial neighbourhood in Pasig.

This is the beginning of a journey I’ve decided to call Fillipination, and since it’s the 21st century, of course there’s an Instagram account. I promise to not post hotdog legs or selfies (unless it’s with Manny Pacquiao).

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