Asian Slaves in Mexico's History

Manila Bulletin, February 4, 2005 | Go to article overview

Asian Slaves in Mexico's History


Byline: Merry-Go-Round: Floro L. Mercene

MEXICO CITY About 100,000 Asian slaves were brought to Mexico by the Manila galleons through the centuries, a dark side of the trade that has not been explored by historians. The slaves were captured by Spanish and Portuguese traders in India, Burma, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Mindanao, loaded on the galleons in Manila and transported to Acapulco.

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One such slave was a Filipino by the name of Nicolas Tolentino, who ended up in Chihuahua in northern Mexico, birthplace of the revolutionary hero Pancho Villa.

Because the Spanish king had orders that Filipinos were not to be enslaved, Tolentino petitioned the authorities to free him from slavery. When the authorities examined his background, they found that Tolentinos parents were Indians from India who had lived in Pampanga.

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Tolentinos petition was denied. A talented man, he left behind writings in Pampango and Spanish which are preserved in a museum in Chihuahua. His story was pieced together by American historian William Mason.

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Another slave who left a legacy in Mexico was Catarina de San Juan. She was a chef and religious mystic who was said to have invented the famous dish mole, a mixture of chocolate and chili favored by Mexicans as ingredient for cooking chicken or turkey.

Catarina lived in the 1600s and is the proto-type of a long line of magic chefs in Mexican folk stories, such as the tale in the film "Like Water for Chocolate."

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Catarina arrived in Mexico as a slave but converted to Christianity and became a nun in Puebla. She designed Mexicos distinctive national dress called the China Poblana. Historians say she was from Vietnam or Cambodia. But others say it was more likely that she came from Muslim royalty in Mindanao.

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About half a million African blacks were also brought by the Spanish to Mexico from the 16th century onward. …

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