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Notes on Family Names: If Muhammad Ali was Filipino, would his name be Celso Arcilla?

(Last Part)

Carried out with much gusto, the long arm of the Claveria decree was felt all over, sparing only small areas in the far north and the southernmost tips of the archipelago, and is much like the naming of pets today: the dominant (the pet owner) imposing his will on the subservient (the domestic feline or dog). Writers of drama and fiction, godlike when weaving a fictive time and place, are also quite adept in giving monikers, appropriating names like Junjun for a fumbling character, Junior (or the filipinized Dyunyor) for the strong-willed, Jhunny or Junnie Boy for the bland but pretentious. I nearly cried in class one day when someone asked, quite innocently, Was that really how the Spanish saw us, their possession? Enigmatically, in the manner of a monk, I asked back: Did Marcos and Imelda rub as blind? Did Gloria Arroyo cheat her way into the presidency?

Make no bones about it, the sentiment was this: the indio was a property like a dog is a property of an owner, their proprietorship, merely an enterprise in the Far East. The mindset was equally sneering: the indio in saya or camisa and earnest in demeanor, their invention, a sorry little rehash of the tribal people they first came in contact with; a people they created, like fictive characters in a story or play.

I know, I know, it happened a long time ago. We have all moved on, haven't we?  But unless, of course,

we have learned a thing or two from the experience, the Spanish oppression of the natives and all that hullabaloo would merely be- as a wag would put it, sarung madiklom na kabtang kan satuyang nakaagi - only a sorry chapter of our collective past, no more, no less, of very little benefit to us now, as a sovereign people, trying to build a society that is honorable, just and free. And that is why I do not think ill of the Spanish regime or their contemptuous way of thinking, well, not any more, at least. In the age of conquest, I have realized, a European had to do what a European had to do. This open-minded acceptance of the colonial past, I wish, would be the open-minded tolerance the world will have for the migrant Pinoy who now roam every nook and cranny of the world in search for a better life. As I embrace the colonial experience, taking the good along with the bad, I wish people of other lands will not think ill of the Pinoys who come in hordes, seemingly like the Castila of long ago, bringing with them their boisterous brand of humor, their peculiar prejudices and points of view, their Filipino English. Like the Castila of the past, the present day Pinoy has to do what he has to do.

Infante or Ynfante? Ariola or Arejola? Everything considered- spelling, pronunciation, dubitable diacritic included - a name is only a name. It defines one's consciousness, yes. For the lucky, it can open doors. For most of us, however, one's last name can only go so far, not a guarantee for anything. One may choose to rest on its shadow and that's fine. Or, one may become his own person, proceed to develop a new rice variety, produce a remarkable literary work or something like that. For all its worth, one's name is as good as another. It is non-transferable to cash and may not be returned unless sealed in the original box. In the hour of reckoning, it is who one is, who he aspires to be, who he is to other people that really matter. In the end, despite my obvious preference for names that lilt and are soft-edged, a good name is an unblemished name, nurtured by benevolent deeds. It is what one does with what one has that really counts, irrespective whether one is a Legaspi or a Legazpi, a Zobel de Ayala or a Macapagal-Arroyo.