What Is a ‘Hispanista’?

This article is available in Spanish.

In popular culture, anime fans who grasp a little bit of Japanese are often referred to as “weebs,” while fans of K-pop and K-drama who speak Korean are called “Koreaboos,” despite the fact that the term is derogatory. But there is a new subculture group reemerging that rivals these two: “Hispanistas.”

In a general sense, a Hispanist is someone who is well-versed in Hispanic studies, whether they are about Spain, Portugal, or Latin America. They are usually academics, such as researchers, professors, or writers. Guillermo Gomez Rivera, a Filipino writer, as well as the rest of the members of La Academia Filipina de la Lengua Española, the Philippine Spanish language regulatory organization, would be considered one.

With the rise of social media came a slew of Facebook groups and pages advocating for the widespread revival of Spanish in the Philippines. They spread to a variety of platforms, including X and Reddit. Their approach to this cause, however, skews to the radical side. “Hispanista” used to refer to a scholar of Hispanism. Now, it took on a new meaning in the local context: Hispanista is now either a “Spanish extremist” or a “Spanish colonial sympathizer.”

At first, internet users on platforms such as Reddit and Facebook leave them be, even when they propose to have Spanish integrated to various aspects of quotidian life. As I investigated this phenomenon over the years, I discovered how deep the Hispanista rabbit hole goes.

Some Hispanistas would even go so far as to suggest that the Philippine government allow Spaniards or Argentinians to come to the Philippines to encourage Filipinos to get married to them and eventually learn Spanish, a practice known as “blanqueamiento.”

Joseph Solis Alcayde Alberici, the owner of the Philippine Spanish Language Restoration Movement Facebook page and a staunch Hispanista, told me that “it has been my duty to debunk all misleading narratives about the Spanish colonial era on both social media and physical spaces.” Alberici aims to revitalize the Philippines’ Hispanic legacy so that “it will eventually result to more Filipinos demanding for the reinstatement of Spanish as one of the official languages in our country.”

To understand his fervent support for the language, he claims to be from a Hispanophone family whose primary language of communication was Spanish until the 1950s. He then went on to tell me about what the Philippine government should do to reopen doors for Spanish, a “whole-of-society approach” such as requiring all mass media companies to have all national programming to be in Spanish or English, not in Tagalog, “bringing Hispanophone Mennonites from Belize and Bolivia to come into our country and settle in highland areas of Mindanao like Bukidnon and Cotabato,” and “making Spanish as an official working language in the government” among other things.

Although internet users consider everything he proposes to be extreme and preposterous, Alberici said that he does not mind if Filipino Reddit users “downvote” his posts for telling them that their preexisting beliefs about the Spanish colonial era are “misleading, as long as the truth is on my side.”

Not all Hispanistas think similarly, however. As with other subculture groups, they are not usually monolithic. But the impact of this cause has permanently tarnished public perception of the Spanish language in the Philippines. The local subreddit or community on Reddit, r/Philippines, is no stranger to these Hispanistas, and members of the said community frequently call them out.

“I get what the ‘Hispanistas’ are doing, and I share their passion and their resolve to protect and preserve whatever Hispanic heritage we have left in this country,” Josh Lim, another Spanish language advocate, told me.

Lim believes, however, that it must be approached from a perspective that is based on a “contemporary, progressive, modern and broad understanding of what ‘Hispanidad’ is.” He explained that the direction this movement is taking is far from that, and that they are only alienating non-Spanish-speaking Filipinos from what they want them to be receptive to.

Lim is not surprised that internet users find Hispanistas “repulsive.” He thinks that what they currently represent is “backwards, repressive, close-minded and very xenophobic” and one that “doesn’t respect our native cultures.” “It’s one that doesn’t embrace the rich modern history and culture behind the Spanish language today, as if we need to consistently talk about the Black Legend and Spain’s imperial greatness — and that they did nothing wrong, though in fact they did — instead of jamming to Latin music and fighting for the liberation of women and minorities.”

Lim was referring to Black Legend or “Leyenda Negra,” a term that refers to a negative perception of Spain and Spaniards, which was once common in the writings of many non-Spanish historians. It accuses them of cruelty and intolerance.

Local Hispanistas believe that a good Filipino is Spanish-speaking, Catholic, conservative and anti-American, which is far from reality, Lim said. “I wouldn’t want to identify with those people.”

Although their cause has merit, when some Hispanistas become overly passionate, it often opens doors to Hispanophobia, or hatred of people who speak Spanish. On the internet, the culture of bigotry revolves around two opposing subculture groups: passionate Hispanistas who look down on “Indigenistas” or indigenous people, and indigenous groups that, in turn, rally against Hispanistas. The other embraces Hispanic heritage and sees Spain as a messiah, while the latter rejects it, preferring Filipinos’ pre-colonial roots.

Jose Mario “Pepe” Alas, one of the well-known Hispanistas in the Philippines, acknowledged that Hispanism has evolved into an “ideology” as the Philippines’ history with Spanish “suffers from oppression and marginalization” thanks to the Leyenda Negra. “Anti-Spanish sentiments are strongest in our country considering the fact that Spanish is no longer an official language here. Thus, the ‘activism’ done by Filipino Hispanists, including myself, is merely a reaction against this unjust treatment.”

The conversation about Hispanistas has been pushed even further into the spotlight when television writer Suzette Doctolero made a Facebook post calling out Hispanistas after Alas had criticized the authenticity of the TV series “Maria Clara at Ibarra,” on which Doctolero was one of the writers. Interestingly, Alas and Alberici had a public spat on Facebook last year about their opposing approaches to promoting Spanish. Alas, or his representatives from the Facebook page called El Filipinismo, also accused Alberici of homophobia and racism. But as to critics of their almost similar brand of Hispanista movement, Alas told me that “we defend Hispanism because our national identity is rooted in it.”

Reclaiming “Hispanista”

As Hispanistas continue to draw ire from internet users, Lim suggests better approaches for the movement: “We need to anchor this rediscovery of the Philippines’ Spanish heritage on real-world facts.”

He believes that Spanish will not return as a major language in the Philippines anytime soon, if at all. Filipinos share a stronger cultural affinity with the United States, its former colonial master, and their Asian neighbors than with Spain and Latin America, to extent that some claim Filipinos have nothing in common with the Hispanosphere, despite the fact that they do, he argued. “So-called ‘Hispanistas’ need to accept that reality and convince people that embracing our Hispanic heritage is not incompatible with embracing all the other parts of our identity.”

The furor over Hispanista stymies the movement’s efforts to promote Spanish and Hispanic culture in the Philippines. As evidenced by the influx of Reddit posts in the recent years, it discourages Filipinos to learn Spanish and appreciate their Hispanic heritage.

Spanish is important for tracing our history and mapping our future, but it should not be forced down someone else’s throat, as was the brutality of Spanish colonization. Or else, it’s history repeating itself.

“I cannot be a true Filipino if I reject the traditions, cultures and history of our pre-colonial ancestors,” Lim said. “Those who love our Hispanic heritage must do the same and embrace all that we are.”

Arvyn Cerézo
Arvyn Cerézo is an arts and culture writer/reporter with bylines in Book Riot, Publishers Weekly, South China Morning Post, PhilSTAR Life, the Asian Review of Books, and other publications. You can find him on arvyncerezo.com and @ArvynCerezo on Twitter.

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