Americas Columns

America in My Heart : Visiting Texas, once called the New Philippines

ROUND ROCK, TEXAS — Yes, I am in Texas now. I’m here mainly visiting my eldest daughter Marie-Alsie Gabot Penaranda, a part-time UNTV newscaster, and her family who have become Texans after a decade here. 

I visited Texas a long time ago on my way to Washington DC and New York, specifically in Houston and Dallas which impressed me with so many airplanes flying in and out almost every minute of its busy airports. I told myself then, my daughter was not yet here, dadalas dalasan ko sa Dallas, sa Texas.

Now, while here, I want to know more about the Texas cowboys and their vast ranches or go after Beyonce as Cowboy Carter with her Colorful Cowgirls, President George Bush or Governor Greg Abbott who reminds of my old slogan “Basta Gabot, aabot.”

I’m here also to see the Texas roosters, famous to my former university Board of Regents Chairman Dr. Alejandro Roces (Something to Crow About, The King of Roosters, My Brother’s Peculiar Chicken) and Filipino cockfighters, if any, since “sabong” is now banned here and considered a felony punishable by up to two years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine.

I’m here in Texas to know more why the state has attracted Filipinos and how they have contributed to society. After California, New York-New Jersey and Hawaii, Texas hosts one of the biggest population of Filipinos in the United STates.

For one, Texas  is the home of the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center of the NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) where some talented Filipinos contribute their share in the nation’s continuing adventure of human exploration, discovery and achievement in space. Was it not that a Filipino engineer, Eduardo San Juan, who designed the Lunar Rover or the Moon Buggy which was first used during the Apollo 12 landing to explore the moon and used again on Apollo 15, 16 and 17?

What could be more mind-boggling than knowing that big part of Texas was once called “Nuevas Filipinas” and “Nuevo Reino de Filipinas” or new Philippines at the time of Domingo Ramón’s expedition of 1716, according to the Texas State Historical Association. 

Jesús “Frank” de la Teja, in an article posted on the TSHA website, stated: “Although less popular than the name Texas, Nuevas Filipinas remained part of the province’s official name throughout the colonial period. Antonio Margil de Jesús evidently first used the name Nuevas Filipinas in a letter to the viceroy dated July 20, 1716. In it he voiced the hope that with the king’s patronage it might be possible to secure “for the greater glory of God and the name of our catholic Monarch another new Philippines” among the Hasinai.”

The Texas State Historical Association account continues: “Two days later the missionaries sent a representation to the viceroy in which they expressed their “great hopes that this province shall be a New Philippines.” The Franciscan’ intention was to equate their work in Texas under Philip V with that of their brethren in the Philippine Islands under his predecessor, Philip II, thus engendering royal support. The name did not find immediate acceptance. Neither Domingo Ramón, the missionaries, nor officials used Nuevas Filipinas in the period 1716–17. Martín de Alarcón’s title as governor of Texas, issued by the viceroy in December 1716, refers only to the Province of the Texas. Nuevas Filipinas surfaces again in the address of a letter written by Fr. Isidro Félix de Espinosa from East Texas at the end of February 1718. The instructions issued on March 11, 1718, for Alarcón’s expedition to reinforce Texas does, for the first time in an official document, refer to Texas as “Nuevas Filipinas, Nueva Extremadura. ” In his journal of the expedition Alarcón calls himself “Governor and Lieutenant Captain General of the Provinces of Coahuila, New Kingdom of the Philippines Province of the Texas.”

These bits of Texas history reminds me of California which almost became a Philippine territory (one of the subjects of my first book soon to be published in United States).

Two places which impressed during my roaming around here with family were the big State Capitol in Austin, the capital of Texas, and its vast verdant lawn with grass and tall trees, some of them old, teeming with monuments and mementos of the historical past of the state like the Heroes of Alamo and a small version of the collosal Statue of Liberty, a symbol of hope and freedom in New York. Austin’s mini version is an attraction at the back of the Capitol near the Capitol underground extension which is almost invisible as it is camouflaged with planters, among others. We learned that a statue of the Goddess of Liberty was once on the dome of the Capitol itself.

At the Capitol, we met George W. Bush,  US President from 2001 to 2009 and Texas Governor from 1995 to 2000. Of course, not him personally but his official painting  displayed among the governors and leaders of Texas.

Yes, we also saw the legendary David Crockett, and the marble busts of Sam Houston and others at the groundfloor entrance rotunda of the Capitol.

By itself, the Texas State Capitol is an impressive and historic edifice cum museum with treasured paintings, photographs and sculpture, among others, in the city of Austin which is the seat of the American state of Texas. The stately four-storey capitol with a taller dome houses the offices and chambers of Texas State Senate and State House of Representatives and that of the governor of Texas.

According to records, the State Capitol is the sixth tallest State Capitol in the United States and is taller than the US Capitol in Washington D.C. Unlike the DC Capitol which is white or cream, the Texas Capitol is said to be granite pink.

Attracting hundreds of tourists everyday, the Texas State Capitol building is surrounded by 22 acres (8.9 hectares) of well manicured grounds.

On good weather, many people play and picnic in the grounds apart from walking and running. Coming from a long drive in Fredericksburg,  city known for its German heritage, peaches, wineries and elegant shops, we laid blankets for a much needed respite and had our sumptuous snacks there as birds perch on the branches in the green canopy and sing.

Austin, when will I see you again?

Then we visited the Alamo, the historic Spanish mission and fortress and the River Walk, an oasis in San Antonio and touted as one of the top tourist attractions in Texas. If you plan to revive the Pasig River, to give you and our authorities ideas and lessons on how to do it and succeed, visit the the San Antonio River Walk. It is not just a river but an iconic landmark with “vibrant culture, captivating history and endless charm, where unforgettable experiences await around every bend.” A leisurely walk along its banks dotted by old trees, spectacular rainbow-colored flowers and tropical plants, museums, art shops, theaters, hotels and inns, unique coffee shops, bars and restaurants and monuments will give one an impression that everything can blend well for people to enjoy. A 30-minute circuitous yet enjoyable boat ride would further cement one’s love for this very livable river, functuated by history and religious and telltale stories and humor by the boat captain, especially in bends full of anecdotes and the “most dangerous” parts with malls filled with expensive yet memorable items.    

Day and night, thousands of people simply stroll by the banks, ride the cruise or do other activities that the San Antonio River Walk offers and enjoy, my daughter and family and myself included. These speak of the popularity and importance of the River Walk, often described as the soul of the city. It is said that thousands more visit during special events, festivals and shows.

Wow Texas! Dadalas dalasan ko pa sa Dallas o sa Texas, San Antonio and its capital Austin!

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