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Lost Footnotes in History: Why Texas Was Once Called New Philippines

What do Texans and Filipinos have in common? Spanish colonizers.
ILLUSTRATOR Rey Etable
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Before Filipinos wrested freedom and independence from their former Spanish colonizers, Manila was once a shining pearl of the Spanish empire. It was the model colony of Spanish rule, so much so that the Philippines’ reputation in the 1700s crossed the great ocean and took root in none other than Texas—the lone star state that was once called New Philippines.

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In the decades before the U.S.A. gained independence from the British Empire, Texas was part of the far south states that were part of the Spanish empire in a land called New Spain. During the 1700s, Spain was already experienced in the art of colonizing countries, evidenced by the time they once ruled almost a third of the planet. It was established colonies like the Philippines that gave them the experience and knowledge of colonizing foreign lands.

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And so “Nuevas Filipinas (New Philippines)” and “Nuevo Reino de Filipinas (New Kingdom of the Philippines)” became the unofficial name of Texas, a toast to the model colony Spain hoped Texas would emulate. The mission of the Franciscans in both colonies was pretty much the same: evangelizing the indigenous people of these lands.

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Back then, the land that comprised Texas was only half the size of the giant state it is today. 

A famous missionary for the Spanish empire, Antonio Margil de Jesus  was the first on record to refer to Texas as “New Philippines” in 1716 in a letter to the viceroy of New Spain. He hoped his evangelization work would gain him the favor of King Philip V of Spain should he succeed and transform the Texas territory into “another new Philippines.” Another letter from a Franciscan embassy to the viceroy shared similar thoughts, expressing their “great hopes that this province shall be a new Philippines.”

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In official documents, “Nuevas Filipinas” first showed up in a 1718 document addressed to Martin de Alarcon, the then governor of Spanish Texas. In the letter, Alarcon’s title was styled “Governor and Lieutenant Captain General of the Provinces of Coahuila, New Kingdom of the Philippines, Province of the Texas. The governor based his capital in what is now modern-day San Antonio, which was called “Nuevas Filipinas” for around forty years in the 18th century. 

But as Filipinos know well, the Spanish empire didn’t last and it wasn’t long before New Spain fell and Texas entered a new era of instability. The friars might have called it New Philippines in hopes of creating a model colony, but the name might have been a foreboding for revolutions and instability to come.

Not unlike the Philippines, 19th century Texas was rife with conflict, with the state changing hands every other decade or so. South America was about half a century ahead of the Philippines, and a revolutionary war against Spain created United Mexican States, which included Coahuila and Texas in its ranks. The new country only lasted a few years before Texas stood as its own independent state and eventually entered the United States of America in 1845.

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After its decades of turmoil following its exit from New Spain, the lone star state lost its “New Philippines” name and reputation, going simply by Texas, a word derived from the Caddo Native American word for “friend,” and Texas' ties to the islands in Asia became lost in the footnotes of history.

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Anri Ichimura
Staff Writer, Esquire Philippines
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