History Links Mexico, Philippines by Therese Margolis

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Ask Philippines Ambassador to Mexico Justo O. Orros about the current trend to develop international free trade blocs, and he´ll tell you that the whole idea started back in 1565, when the Nao galleons plowed the Pacific carrying goods between the ports of Manila and Acapulco.

"In a way, you could say that the Philippines-Mexico trade routes were the forerunners to NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement) and the European Union (EU)," Orros told The Herald in a recent interview at his embassy.

For more than 250 years, a small fleet of Spanish vessels - known in Mexico as the "Nao de la China" - made the 9,000-nautical-mile trek between Mexico and the Philippines, constituting the most important trade route to the East for the Iberian crown.

And it wasn´t just Philippine goods that were being transported.

Although the Philippines provided some products to be shipped to the New World, it was primarily spices and other items from the "Spice Islands," as well as silk, porcelain, gold, ivory, gemstones, jade, mercury and other valuables from China which made the Manila galleon trade so lucrative.

Wares from Japan, India and parts of Southeast Asia also made their way to first to Manila and then on to Mexico.

"The route represented a vast regional trade bloc," Orros said. "When we realize today just how vital the Philippines-Mexico route was to global trade at that time, it is easy to understand how closely linked the histories of our two countries really are."

Even that uniquely Mexican historical icon the "China Poblana," who was supposedly brought from the East as a slave during the early 1600s and captured the hearts of the people of Puebla because of her kind acts and extraordinary mode of dressing, was in fact a Filipino noblewoman who came to Mexico on a Nao galleon.

Likewise, Orros said Mexican and Filipino history are closely linked by a spiritual connection between the Philippines´ most important hero and patriot José Rizal and...
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