Tisoy

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Tisoy is a Filipino term arising from the fusion of two words: mestizo (signifying members of the Hispano-Filipino or mixed breed society] and Pinoy, signifying the identity of the post-modern Filipino. Tisoy is also interchangeably used with Kastila, Kastilaloy, Espanyol. However, Tisoy culture is a distinct post-war phenomenon, gathering full force in the 1960s, when Tisoy children imbibed with full force three distinct cultures: Philippine, Spanish and American.

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Tisoy in Philippine History

Philippine society from the Spanish colonial days was obsessed with class distinctions. Spaniards resident in the Philippines but born in Spain were called "peninsulares," indicating they came from the Iberian peninsula. A child born in the Philippines to Spanish parents who did not have Malay blood was called an "insular"; another label would be "criollo" from the word Creole. Other Filipino half-breeds; i.e., indigenous blood mixed with Chinese or Japanese blood were simply called "mestizos." Over time, the word mestizo itself would be generically used in the early 20th century to describe Filipinos of any mixture but with a definite preference to Caucasian mixes from Italian (like the Rocos), American, English, German, French, even Jewish, bloodlines.

During the American era, the Hispano-Filipino community managed to maintain its economic and social prestige, contributing to the ordinary Filipino's perception that to be white or a Caucasian half-breed was socially advantageous. For six decades, Philippine alta sociedad was graced by the high aquiline beauty and fair skin of this class. This sector normally spoke in Spanish among themselves and was not known to intermingle with the lower classes, except with their domestics or capataces. The images of beauty and power in classic Philippine cinema, for example, were almost always filled by mestizo men and women.

In the 1950s, the children of peninsulares, insulares, and mestizos took on a more distinctly Filipino identity by mastering Tagalog and local languages. At the same time they also identified with the rising American youth culture by listening to rock and roll, pop, and jazz. By the 1960s, these children became identified with the Tisoy culture phenomenon, which was the collision of all the three cultural influences. Even their distinctive lingo became closely associated with the Tisoy class in popular culture.

Tisoy Culture

Reflective of their social standing, prominent Hispanos would be called by the honorific "Don" or "Doña", normally used only with the first name or nickname (and never combined with the surname). Their children would be addressed as "Señorito" or "Señorita" (usually shortened to "Ñorito" or "Ñorita") by the lower classes.

Tisoys would be employed by the giant mestizo-owned corporations such as San Miguel Corporation, Philippine Airlines, Aboitiz Shipping, Tabacalera, Ayala Corporation, Manila Rope, La Tondeña, Ortigas Co., etc. For example, Don Andres Soriano would later become in the 1950s and 60s the biggest patron of Tisoys, employing thousands of them in his various companies, including PICOP, Coca-Cola, Atlas Mining and Phelps Dodge.

Tisoy children were educated in exclusive schools such as De La Salle University, Ateneo de Manila University, San Beda College, Aquinas, Teresiana (now Poveda), Assumption College, Letran, and St. Scholastica's College.

Tisoy enclaves moved out from the choice pre-war communities in Pasay, Malate, Ermita, Sampaloc, San Miguel and Intramuros to post-war communities in San Juan, Greenhills, White Plains, and emerging New Manila. For example, the families of Cuervo, Calero, Mañeru, (German) Frauendorf, and Marcos transferred to Quezon City.

Tisoy houses would be staffed at first by Spanish-speaking domestics, who would be summoned to the dining table with a little bell. Later, non-Spanish speaking help would be more integrated. Tisoy families normally decorated their houses with nostalgic souvenirs from the motherland with frequent recourses to bullfighting posters with their names surprinted on them, little signs with favorite sayings such as "Que Dios bendiga cada rincon en esta casa", and pictures of Don Quijote or General Franco.

In the 1950s, Tisoy children began their inexorable identification in Philippine culture as being "pillo" (fresh) when "barkadas" (gangs) of young Tisoys began to circulate about in flashy cars, frequenting watering holes which they would trash after getting drunk on Fundador or Carlos Primero. It was not infrequent when tables and chairs would start flying about, accompanied by lit "labintadores" (Filipinization of the Spanish word rebentadores meaning firecrackers) casually tossed around to create a little excitement in a nightspot. It was not long before nightclub and bar owners became alerted to the rise of this social phenomenon.

Unlike their high-falooting parents, Tisoy children would more often than not cross classlines. They would be seen frequenting low dives in Quiricada, Tondo, Isaac Peral Street (later United Nations) or M.H. del Pilar to score dope or have a good time. They would complete this identification with the demimonde by sometimes engaging in the extremely taboo behavior of having sex with their family domestic. Even as such boys were ostracized as being "chimay killers", their bravado would later be condoned by their peer group with such lame explanations such as: "¿Porqué vergüenza? Mi bisabuelo era un fraile, my father got away with it, so what's the difference? I'm just continuing Padre Damaso's tradition! (referring to one of Jose Rizal's title characters in his novel "Noli Me Tangere").

Tisoy children oscillated between the cultures of the Philippines, America and Spain. Since many of their ancestors had been killed in the Liberation of Manila, they were essentially uprooted children. Feeling shame with identifying with the backward Fascist Spain of General Francisco Franco, they frequently sought solace in the bright promise of American pop culture. They would listen to Ray Coniff, Mantovani Strings, Trio los Panchos, Frank Sinatra, and later on The Beatles, Rolling Stones, and the like. They would dance the latest American dance crazes, such as boogie-woogie, the twist and mas que pops.

They were known to have great parties, frequently using any excuse to throw a fiesta, where they served the finest food in the Philippines, such as callos, cocido, puchero, paella, pastel de lengua, aceitunas alineadas, morcon, jamon Serrano, chorizo, brazo de Mercedes, floating island, and baked Alaska. Parties would be highlighted by singing accompanied by a Spanish guitar, such as "I Left My Heart in San Francisco," "Hello Dolly!", and La Tuna favorites such as "Clavelitos", "La Aurora," and typical Filhispano songs such as "Zamboanga" and "Sampaguita." At Christmas they would defer giving gifts until the Feast of the Epiphany or Three Kings which would be celebrated in high style by the entire alta sociedad at Casino Español de Manila, making it the social event of the year.

One particular example of the greatest and most notorious Three Kings celebration occurred on January 6, 1974 when the so-called "Magnificent Seven" of Tisoys came to receive their gifts at the Casino. When warned to keep quiet and to move outside by the adjoining table of the son of a 5-star general who was actually a dues-paying member, the seven young Tisoys were reported to have insulted the son. A melee broke out with flying chairs and tables, until a brass cenicero (knee-high ashtray) was used to crack the skull of the complainant. The seven young men were dubbed by Philippine media as the "Magnificent Seven" and eventually served time in jail.

The Rise of the Tisoy in Philippine Popular Culture

Starting in the 1950s, Tisoys were perceived by the lower classes as an intrusion into their normally subdued and more deferential ways. A clash of cultures erupted as Tisoys were perceived as "mayabang" or "siga" or worse, "ma-porma". This would later be reinforced in many schools frequented by Tisoys, when their generally questioning nature combined with their matigas (assertive) individuality would result in many clashes with teachers, who were unaccustomed to Tisoy questioning and reasoning. They would be labeled by teachers as "pilosopo".

Many pejorative sayings were concocted to reflect Filipino derision:

  • Mestizong bangus madaling maubos. --Mestizo milkfish is easily finished.
  • Pilipinong hito madaling maprito. --Philippine catfish is easily fried.

While publicly deriding mayabang Tisoy culture, many Filipinos actually became enchanted with their ways. It was said that Tisoys were more handsome, beautiful, had higher noses, and bigger packages (Later in 2006, influential Philippine blogger and self-described Tisoy Carlos Celdran reported: "Mestizo dicks have never been bigger, they've only been whiter.") In addition, Philippine cinema continued its love letter to Tisoy culture by heavily promoting mestizo actors and actresses in the 1970s. Tisoy boys were known to be more hirsute, more masculine, more free-wheeling and more individualistic. While they were "españoles en cara, eran muy filipinos de corazón" (They were Spanish in face, but really Filipino in spirit).

The ascendance of Tisoy influence on Philippine culture erupted in 1963 when comics artist Nonoy Marcelo created a daily comic strip called "Tisoy" at the height of the emergence of international youth culture and the confluence of Philippine, American and Castillian culture. Unlike the other staid comic strips of the day, the main character Tisoy spoke the argot and slang of the streets. Tisoy, the character, signalled a modern Hispano-Filipino identity that was into Beatlemania, radical student movements, and the youth fashion of long hair and bell bottoms. The Manila Times comic strip also played Tisoy against a wide spectrum of Philippine society characters derived from Jose Rizal's novels, such as:

  • Tikyo, the modern Placido Penitente
  • Pomposa, the modern Doña Victorina

Of course, the Tisoy character was based on one of the most prominent Tisoys of the day, Manila Times publisher Alejandro Roces. In contrast to the public stereotype of the Tisoy as mayabang, ma-porma or disruptive, the Tisoy character was hip, street smart, and fully conscious of all the important trends in Philippine society and culture. Such was Pinoy fascination that a TV series starring Jimmy Morato as the title character and Pilar Pilapil as Maribubut and Aling Otik played by Moody Diaz. The movie starred Christopher de Leon.

The Fall of the Mestizería

In the 1980s and 90s, Tisoy life and culture suffered a gradual decline, as they emigrated in numbers to Australia, United States, Canada, or Spain. Emigration to Australia, in particular, was encouraged by its "White Australia Policy" started in 1970s. The remaining Tisoys moved from Quezon City to more modern enclaves, such as Ayala Alabang and BF Homes and Merville Subdivision in Parañaque. Economic opportunites declined as mestizo-owned businesses were taken over by a new economic order of native Filipinos, multinationals or Tsinoy entrepreneurs, who neither cared or gave preferential treatments to Tisoys. In addition the prestige of the Spanish language in the Philippines suffered a terrible blow with the removal of Spanish as an official language in the country's 1986 Constitution. Hispanists such as Nick Joaquin and Guillermo Gomez Rivera, who served as the National Language Committee Secretary of the Philippine Constitutional Convention (1971-1973) advocated for a strengthening of the Spanish language. The latter even decried the "cultural genocide" fomented by the Philippine government in letting go of Spanish and vernacular languages.

The sad socio-economic state of the mestizería was described as the phenomenon of "entresuelos", or Hispano-Filipinos who have fallen from the ladder of alta sociedad in the 21st century. This mestizería de Pandacan, referred to the geographic location of the oil refining industry of Manila, which had become the refuge of poorer Filhispanos. Also another enclave was located in Dart Street, giving rise to the mestizería de Paco.

Carlos Celdran, influential blogger and self-described Tisoy wrote of the fall of the mestizeria in 2006, positing the question: "But how did the 'tisoy', once a proud, plentiful, and productive breed found freely grazing and settling in the open districts of Ermita, Malate, Pasay, and San Miguel, fall so far from the status that they enjoyed in the Philippines for hundreds of years? From the 19th century until the mid-seventies, the 'tisoy' and his culture were ubiquitous to the Philippine landscape. From the hallways of the country's corporations to the billboards which trimmed our highways, the images of Spanish mestizeria could be found managing multinational corporations or modelling the latest fashions. Manning shop counters at the Escolta, counting cash behind bank windows, or serving coffee in the sky, mestizos and mestizas were everywhere. But in an amazingly ironic turn of events, from being the dominant culture which the populace yearned to emulate, they now find themselves marginalized and struggling to find their position in a Filipinas that has decided to fully embrace its Asian roots in the twenty-first century. Just turn on the television or watch a movie and the glaring irrelevance of the mestizo will immediately stare back at you. Gone are the days of the artista male romantic lead in the mold of Rogelio dela Rosa, Edu Manzano, or Gabby Concepcion. Even mestizos de entresuelos (mestizong bangus or quasi-mestizo mestizos) like Kuya Germs Moreno or Redford White are also fast disappearing from the showbiz firmament. It's obvious that the white skinned, aqualine nosed template has ceased to be the pinnacle of male physical aspiration and in its place we now find the chinky charm of the late Rico Yan or the moreno mein of Piolo Pascual. And instead of living near to their forefather's ancestral lands near the walled city of Intramuros, Spanish mestizos now find themselves commuting back and forth from the newer gated districts of Makati, Paranaque, and Alabang. The displacement of their home and their culture was a cruel fate that had crept up without warning."

Trends in Philippine Mestizería

One of the theories to explain the fall of the mestizería is to look at the new Philippine social order of overseas foreign workers (OFWs) and the rise of disruptive technologies such as the webcam, Friendster profiles, Yahoo messenger, and the mobile phone. The emergence of the so-called Global Pinoy with access to big euro-dollars and technology in the Philippine landscape has led to countless opportunities for natives to improve their blood lines. One need not wait several months for a Spanish steamship to come out of the Suez Canal with its load of Spanish adventurers or priests. The new Tisoy is currently being born all over the world courtesy of the Pinoy Diaspora.

Meanwhile Tisoys have settled all over the world, even coming back to the Spanish metropolí. While struggling to reclaim their identity as Spaniards, they found out that their mastery of Spanish language was not enough and that postmodern Spanish culture had changed considerably from what they were accustomed to back in the Philippines. Instead of Franco and the Catholic Church, they discovered a completely new Spanish world of Socialists, multiplicity of ethnic communities, feminists and gay marriages. Tisoys in Spain suffered from a feeling of global displacement, even though they had been raised in three cultures. Their syndrome was called "ni soy de aquí, no soy de allá" and some of them felt so homesick that they returned to the Philippines after a few years. But in struggling to reclaim their Spanishness they instead discovered their Filipino rootedness.

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