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Navigating the Spanish Lake

The Pacific in the Iberian World, 1521–1898

University of Hawai‘i Press

Navigating the Spanish Lake examines Spain’s long presence in the Pacific Ocean (1521–1898) in the context of its global empire. Building on a growing body of literature on the Atlantic world and indigenous peoples in the Pacific, this pioneering book investigates the historiographical “Spanish Lake” as an artifact that unites the Pacific Rim (the Americas and Asia) and Basin (Oceania) with the Iberian Atlantic. Incorporating an impressive array of unpublished archival materials on Spain’s two most important island possessions (Guam and the Philippines) and foreign policy in the South Sea, the book brings the Pacific into the prevailing Atlanticentric scholarship, challenging many standard interpretations. By examining Castile’s cultural heritage in the Pacific through the lens of archipelagic Hispanization, the authors bring a new comparative methodology to an important field of research.
The book opens with a macrohistorical perspective of the conceptual and literal Spanish Lake. The chapters that follow explore both the Iberian vision of the Pacific and indigenous counternarratives; chart the history of a Chinese mestizo regiment that emerged after Britain’s occupation of Manila in 1762-1764; and examine how Chamorros responded to waves of newcomers making their way to Guam from Europe, the Americas, and Asia. An epilogue analyzes the decline of Spanish influence against a backdrop of European and American imperial ambitions and reflects on the legacies of archipelagic Hispanization into the twenty-first century.
Specialists and students of Pacific studies, world history, the Spanish colonial era, maritime history, early modern Europe, and Asian studies will welcome Navigating the Spanish Lake as a persuasive reorientation of the Pacific in both Iberian and world history.

Overall, the authors deserve credit for their contribution to re-centring scholarly focus on the Pacific Ocean. Attention to the complexities of the Spanish presence in the Pacific Rim and Basin provides a welcome corrective for studies that have neglected the broader dimensions of the Spanish Empire. This study is indispensable reading for those interested in Asian history, global history and the history of Spain in the Americas. Asian Studies Review
Scholars and other readers hoping to learn more about the Spanish presence in the Pacific especially in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, which probably is the period least familiar to most Hispanists, will find this slim volume rewarding. . . . Readers seeking to learn more about the presence and impact of the Spanish in the Pacific . . . will find a great deal of interest here. Historian
Navigating the Spanish Lake . . . [is] at the vanguard of a contemporary challenge to the Anglo-French
centrism of Pacific colonial history.
Journal of World History

Iberian Pacific Navigations
In 1761, an army captain in Manila who was also a Jesuit theology student drew a symbolic map of the Spanish empire.1 While defending his thesis that unified the Americas, the Philippines, and the Iberian kingdoms, Vicente de Memije arranged the Hispanic world of Charles III into a sketch of a global woman (see Figure 1). Orienting the map from east to west, Memije depicted Spain as her head with a beatific face and a crown of curlicues labeled with the names of Spanish domains like Cataluña, Sevilla, Asturias, Castilla, and Toledo. A dove, representing Rome, flew above the crown of Spain. A necklace with galleons serving as individual links in the chain was attached to a compass radiating outward in thirty-two directions, filling the Atlantic Ocean. The emerging woman’s hair is labeled as the Line of Demarcation granted by Pope Alexander VI in 1493, which divided future discoveries between Portugal and Spain, although by the mid-eighteenth century it was for all intents and purposes “in the historical trash bin.”2 Surrounding the woman, the two American continents emerge as a wide cloak with the less explored northern regions of North America fading away. Significantly, Memije labeled the woman’s belt as the Mexican gulf, refuge, and womb. Below this central Mexican location, the long-legged female spanned the Pacific Ocean. Lines delineated the routes of the Manila Galleons while illustrating the island discoveries and future Kingdom of the Austro (in the south). Finally, the symbolic map with accurate geographic features ended on petite shoes, labeled “I. Luzon” and “I. Mindanao.”
Memije’s symbolic rendering of the Spanish empire, crossing from Europe to the Americas and into Asia, highlighted both its Atlantic and its Pacific dimensions. East Asian and Malay regions filled the bottom left corner of the map, with references to Korea, Kamchatka, Japan, Nanjing, Fujian, Formosa (Taiwan), Borneo, and Celebes. Spain’s reach—for Memije—went well beyond Europe, and its wealth, power, and majesty emerged from American and island possessions in both the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans.3 Indeed, Memije drew the Philippines as the very foundation of the Iberian world with legs crossing the Pacific Ocean and connecting to the rest of the imperial realm. The Memije family benefited from these connections, being among the wealthiest families of eighteenth-century Manila.4 Vicente was most likely a criollo (creole of exclusive European ancestry) with access to the most recent scientific knowledge contributing to Spain’s “circumscribed” but still strong “imperial aspirations.”5 Taking the Memije map as a point of departure, this book’s objective is to examine the oceanic space not just as a linear crossing with the Manila Galleon’s flow of commodities, but also as an area governed by the circulation of peoples and their histories. In addition to the Philippines, other Pacific islands with early modern Iberian legacies must also surface in a history of the Spanish empire. The Mariana Islands (such as Guam) may be small, but the lives of the people, indigenous and newly arrived, were as significant as the Pacific Ocean that embraced them.
Vicente de Memije’s representation of the Spanish empire on both Pacific and Atlantic principles suggests the existence of alternative conceptualizations of the “Spanish Lake.” The authors of this volume approach diverse Iberian episodes in the Pacific Ocean by focusing on three particular aspects. First, we argue that, for the Spanish empire, the Pacific should not be arbitrarily separated from the Atlantic Ocean; a multilayered connectivity existed between these two oceans in the Iberian world. Second, there simultaneously existed two competing visions of the Spanish Lake: in one it was an administrative realm of control stretching to actual colonies in the Mariana and Philippine islands; in the other vision, it was an imagined or conceptual counterpart that became a geopolitical extension of the Peruvian and Mexican shores and as such clashed with emerging Franco-British conceptions of the Pacific. Third, the dynamics between the literal and conceptual Spanish Lake gave rise to a more tolerant program of cultural assimilation compared to the draconian version imposed on New World inhabitants, based—for the most part—on negotiations and compromises with local elites.
The Atlantic and Pacific Dimensions of the Spanish Empire
The Spanish presence in the Pacific Ocean was accidental, never encompassing, largely imaginary, and in the end unsustainable. Although attempting to emulate the Portuguese maritime experiences along the West African coast and later in the Indian Ocean, early explorers and conquistadors operating under the banner of Castile claimed a vast transoceanic terrestrial empire. Wayne E. Lee has recently pointed out that the incomplete conquest of the Americas through a small but desperate force of European soldiers was a unique event in history, a Spanish model that other European powers sought to emulate but never obtained. Similarly, the combination of maritime and terrestrial empire under Habsburg control lent itself only to incomplete comparison with the developing empires of other early modern European nations.6 The uniqueness of encompassing two oceans, the Atlantic and the Pacific, as well as two continents, North and South America, does not facilitate the task of the historian to arrive at a fair assessment of the long-lasting Spanish presence. If one is to embark on an assessment of a neglected part of this empire—the Spanish Lake—one needs to look at the establishment and development of the whole before turning to its constituent parts.
Experts in the sprawling field of the Atlantic Ocean rightfully point to the innovating Iberian exploration of the novel seascapes, with its winds and currents, as a bedrock event in the formation of the field. Over a generation ago, J. H. Parry wrote a sentence that would make many historians cringe: “The discovery of the sea, in the sense of the discovery of continuous sea passages from ocean to ocean, was a European, specifically an Iberian accomplishments. Rather his aim was to shift the historian’s view to the fact that the frequently extolled “discovery” of the Americas first necessitated the decoding of the Atlantic wind and ocean current patterns, an activity that was less planned and more haphazard than one is likely to assume. The problem for “Atlanticists,” however, is that the Iberian exploratory endeavor did not limit itself to the first ocean that was crossed. Although Columbus claimed to have reached Asia, subsequent exploration revealed landmasses the outlines of which were represented by cartographers as early as 1507. The separation of “America” from Asia served as a conceptual midwife to a new watery expanse, one that Vasco Núñez de Balboa stumbled upon in 1513, when he crossed the Isthmus of Panama.8 Although Balboa claimed the Pacific for Spain and christened it El Mar del Sur, Oskar Spate eloquently delineated the degree of uncertainty that surrounded the newfound ocean. Balboa’s South Sea still haunts the pages of many books, but few authors point out how the term emerged simply in opposition to El Mar del Norte that the Spaniards had crossed to reach the Americas.9
For Atlantic scholars studying the Spanish empire, this “South Sea” has always been an anomaly falling outside of the neat analytical category that delineates the Atlantic in geographic and temporal dimensions. Their coping mechanism has been to include the new ocean in the Atlantic: “As ships grew larger and swifter and maritime power shifted, the Pacific Rim of Spanish America also was drawn increasingly in a ‘greater’ Atlantic world.”10 Economic historian Murdo MacLeod even suggests dividing the Spanish possessions into a “Near” and “Far” Atlantic. He differentiates the near Spanish possessions located in the Caribbean and the Atlantic shores, with their economies focusing on bulky products such as sugar and hides, from the far possessions of New Spain and Peru whose economies produced precious metals.11 Some Atlantic scholars maintain that when British and French exploration of the Pacific Ocean started in earnest in the second half of the eighteenth century, “their” ocean served as an incentive for exploration—whether as a training ground for James Cook’s famed circumnavigations or as the beginning of a Northwest Passage uniting the two oceans. Once consolidated on European maps, the Pacific then served as a philosophical alternative to the darker abusive aspects—especially the slave trade—of the Atlantic.12 Small wonder, then, that the so-called Atlantic World is featured in the title of a growing number of books and articles that are restoring Iberia’s rightful place among other European nations in the development of the sciences. This field of scholarship highlights the important centers of learning (universities, botanical gardens, and so forth) at the periphery of the Spanish empire and undermines the assumption that knowledge production can only occur in the metropole.13 We take the argument even further, underscoring that, in its relationship with the Pacific Ocean, New Spain was not simply a dependency of its Iberian namesake; economically, politically, and culturally it behaved as a metropole itself.
Peter Coclanis has rightfully criticized the Eurocentrism of the Atlantic World paradigm. He forcefully injected Asia and the Pacific into the discussion with the following insightful commentary:
It defies logic to proceed under the assumption that the Atlantic world was a discrete economic unit when roughly 75% of one of its most important (and certainly celebrated) economic resources, American silver, ended up in China during the early modern period and when the Spanish real functioned as the international trading currency over much of Asia. . . .How can one consider the Atlantic world a discrete unit after 1571 in light of the Manila Galleon and its repercussions?14

Coclanis advocates expanding the Atlantic World to include a wider global context. His Atlantic/World paradigm looks westward to the Pacific and eastward toward the Indian Ocean.15
The Literal Spanish Lake
It is easy to fault Atlanticists for omitting the Pacific Ocean in their consideration of the Spanish empire, since scholars have traditionally defined Spain’s presence in the Pacific as secondary to the Atlantic and the Americas. Even the person generally credited with the coining of the phrase “Spanish Lake” in the 1920s, William Lytle Schurz, acknowledged that “the Pacific was, after all, a secondary phase of Spanish world imperialism. It was always subordinated to the Indias Occidentales, or West Indies—that is, to America.”16 Over the years Schurz’ term took on two meanings. The first was a conceptual or intellectual meaning that propelled Spanish exploration from 1521 to 1898, which will be discussed in detail shortly. The second meaning was more literal (i.e., generated by the administrative bureaucracy), following the narrow path of settlement from New Spain over the Mariana Islands to Manila in the Philippines. It was in this literal direction that Schurz continued his research, writing for the first time a comprehensive account of the Manila Galleon trade from around 1571 to 1815.17 El Mar del Sur was in the eyes of the Spanish court an extension of its New World possessions. Nationalistic scholars have for generations argued that the emergence of a Spanish presence in the Pacific was in essence a continuation of Columbus’ voyages. Christopher Columbus’ dream of a direct westward route to Asia found its continuation in Ferdinand Magellan’s circumnavigation a generation later.
By the end of the sixteenth century, two viceroyalties (one in Mexico City and another in Lima) along with ten audiencias (Guadalajara, Mexico, Guatemala, Santo Domingo, Panama, Santa Fe de Bogotá, Quito, Lima, Charcas, and Chile) made up the administrative wheels of the Spanish monarchy. The Viceroyalty of Nueva España (New Spain) also included the Philippine and Mariana islands, where American silver arrived annually on the Manila Galleon and was exchanged for Asian products (mostly Chinese silks and porcelains, Indian textiles, and spices). Royal decrees and exchequer accounts housed in the Archivo General de la Nación in Mexico City reveal how the situado from New Spain (subsidies derived from taxes on the Asian trade in Acapulco) underwrote both secular administration and evangelical activities in the Philippines, the Marianas, China, and Tonkin (Vietnam).18
This literal Spanish Lake is underscored also by the extensive paper trail housed in the Archive of the Indies in Seville. The organization of this archive follows pulp and ink across the Atlantic to the administrative centers of New Spain and Peru, where secular and religious officials in the Marianas and the Philippines sent their reports and petitions through New Spain and hence were subsumed under the administration of the Indies (i.e., Americas). An independent section for the Philippines (Audiencia de Filipinas) exists in Seville, suggesting to many historians, including Schurz, that Spanish priorities were concentrated on this literal connection linking the Philippines to New Spain.19
Despite the vastness and depth of the Pacific Ocean, the literal Spanish Lake was more akin to a narrow surface current that circulated peoples and products elliptically from Manila to Acapulco, as shallow as the amount of seawater displaced by the weight of Iberian sailing vessels. By the seventeenth century, the Spanish Crown possessed a land-based trading empire. A mere handful of Pacific islands and their inhabitants had direct contact with the “Castilians” (for the most part those born in or living in New Spain) during this era. With every Crown vessel that dropped anchor in Manila and Cebu in the Philippines and Hagåtña on Guam in the Marianas—colonial centers with soldiers, missionaries, and settlers—these ports reinforced the links between Spain, New Spain, China (and Japan initially), Southeast Asia, and India.20
From the time Manila became a Castilian-controlled entrepôt in 1571 until the last “China Ship” departed Acapulco in 1815, the Spanish Lake was an extremely dynamic entity. For two and one-half centuries it exhibited physical characteristics and movements analogous to the viscous substance inside of a lava lamp: nebulous, fluctuating, expanding, contracting, and finally breaking apart. The internally and externally generated energies influencing its shape were foremost the commercial, diplomatic, and cultural exchanges between kingdoms, colonies, states, and empires of Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas, alongside technological innovations in ship making and navigational improvements that developed in due course. Balancing the complicated web of relationships with a Spanish point of view, the literal Spanish Lake divides into three discernible evolutionary stages: 1571 to 1662, 1662 to 1762, and 1762 to 1815.
It would be more appropriate to describe this Spanish Lake in its first stage of development (1571–1662) as an Iberian Lake, primarily for the reason that the Lusitanian-Castilian alliance was its most prominent feature. Admittedly, the links at Manila between Portugal’s Carreira da Índias and the Spanish trans-Pacific circuit were subjected to a tremendous amount of stress. Even before the 1571 conquest of Manila, the Portuguese had long established a network of trading outposts in Asia that connected Japan, China, Cochinchina, the Malukus, Melaka, Siam, Burma, Ceylon, and the western and southern coasts of India to others farther afield in Persia, the Arabian Peninsula, and Africa. In 1580 when Philip II claimed the throne of Portugal as his rightful inheritance, the ensuing sixty years’ union between the Iberian kingdoms would expand the Asian boundary of the Spanish Lake all the way to the shores of Africa.21 A series of archival documents from Sevilla written in the 1680s, for example, describe the ethnic/geographic origin of slaves in and around Manila who still bore the brand of Portugal on their skin: Cabo Verde, Guinea, Angola, Mozambique, Bengal, Malabar, Cochin, Timor, and Makassar.22
Aside from Lusitanian feeder lines to the Philippines, Manila’s own government undertook successful conquests of the Malukus and Taiwan before 1626 as well as failed expeditions to Borneo, Cambodia, and Siam. Outside of the primary corridor with Cathay via Portuguese Macao, a temporary trading post was established for a decade in China near Canton (El Pinal); and direct maritime relations between New Spain and the Tokugawa regime (1610–1620) fed rising expectations at a time when the western boundary of the Spanish Lake reached its maximum size. Moreover, on the American side of el lago, Peruvian vessels were dispatched to the Philippines from Callao, and there was a good deal of legalized traffic with Acapulco until the early 1600s (followed by two centuries of unsanctioned trade).23
In spite of the heady growth of Castilian power in this ancient Asian maritime trading region, the last three decades of the first stage witnessed its rapid contraction owing to the separation of Portugal from Spain and the loss of commercial and evangelical privileges in Japan. More important, competition from the Dutch East India Company (VOC) precipitated the abandonment of Taiwan and the painful loss of many Portuguese outposts in West Africa, the Middle East, India, and Melaka. The tumultuous dynastic transition from Ming to Qing in Cathay sent shock waves across the South China Sea that rattled the stone walls protecting Manila. Iberian troops permanently withdrew from the Maluku Islands in 1662 to defend the Philippines from Ming dynasty loyalist Zheng Chenggong (a.k.a. Koxinga), who had recently wrested Taiwan away from Dutch control, concluding an extremely active preliminary phase.
The second stage of development (1662–1762) was the most stable and uneventful. The Dutch, British, and French battled over trading posts in India, Ceylon, and the Malay Peninsula, and initially redirected to Europe substantial quantities of Oriental cargoes that were formerly shipped to Manila, although by 1700 the trade with British and Dutch factors was flourishing through third parties.24 With Portuguese power in the region ebbing, Spanish influence in Asia was now limited to Manila and the Philippine archipelago, projecting a short and weak beam on the walls of Macao. As for the Manila-
Acapulco route itself, serious feuding between Mexican and Andalusian merchants over the scale of profitability gradually prompted royal decrees increasing the tonnage of vessels and the legal tally of silver remitted to the Philippines.25 The great expanse of the Pacific—and more specifically the sea lanes plied annually by the galleons—was a virtually unchallenged province of the viceroyalties of Nueva España and Peru. Areas outside of the circuit were part of a conceptual Spanish Lake that officials in Lima and Mexico City sought to preserve through diplomatic means and nebulous rights of “first discovery.”
The final stage was frenzied and transformational, foreshadowing the disintegration of the Spanish Lake. Britain’s conquest and occupation of Manila (1762–1764) touched off a series of events that would forever alter the South Sea and its significance to the Philippines and the Americas. In the aftermath of the Seven Years’ War (1756–1763), Spain began reasserting its political and economic prerogatives in the colony, implementing a series of Bourbonic reforms that would strengthen the ties between Madrid and Manila while simultaneously weakening the bonds with New Spain. The creation of the Royal Philippine Company in 1785, for instance, enabled
peninsulares, Spaniards born in the Iberian Peninsula, to send shipments directly to Cádiz around the Cape of Good Hope and to various ports in the Americas.26 Even though the Mexican-dominated elite community of Manila maintained the still profitable galleon route, aggressive competition from Castile (economically and demographically) began to erode the relevance of both.
Immediately after ransoming Manila back to Castile in 1764, the “blue hole” in the middle of the Spanish Lake quickly filled with British and French adventurers.27 From 1764 to 1770 successive expeditions captained by John Byron, Samuel Wallis and Philip Carteret, Louis-Antoine de Bougainville, and James Cook removed the cloak of mystery that heretofore shrouded the Spanish Lake from the rest of Europe’s envious gaze. Ironically, just as the “blue hole’s” membrane was increasingly permeated by continental interlopers, the American shoreline of el lago was expanding northward along the California coast. The Viceroyalty of New Spain launched another conquista from its newly founded Naval Department at San Blas, firmly establishing military garrisons and Catholic missions in San Francisco, Monterey, and San Diego as safe havens for Spanish vessels traveling from the Philippines. Exploration as far as Alaska sought to forestall establishments based on real and imagined British and Russian incursions along the Northwest Coast.28 Knowledge of the lake was becoming ecumenical and was widely disseminated, enticing more powers to join in the feeding frenzy that the old sharks of Europe had unleashed the moment Spanish blood had been spilled in Manila Bay. The common scholarly assumption is to regard the Spanish-British confrontation over the Nootka Inlet in 1790 as the beginning of the end of the Spanish Lake, yet a closer look at the conceptual dimensions of the Spanish Lake reveals why the Bourbon monarchy managed to hold on to its literal possessions for another century.
The Conceptual Spanish Lake
The literal Spanish Lake, with its extensive paper trail created by an imperial bureaucracy, obscures somewhat the imagined or conceptual dimensions of Schurz’ Spanish Lake. Geographer Oskar Spate’s trilogy, The Pacific since Magellan (although occasionally in the crosshairs for its Eurocentric biases), framed the Spanish exploration of the Pacific onto a more globally historical canvas.29 Times had changed and the Pacific had developed into a bona fide field of study. Spate employed Schurz’ term “Spanish Lake” not to focus on the narrow Manila Galleon trade route but to consider the Pacific as a geographic unit including both the Rim and the Basin. Aware that the Spanish Lake was neither Spanish nor a lake, Spate did not seek to belittle the largest geographic feature on our planet, which commands roughly one-third of its surface and can comfortably accommodate all of the continents combined. Nor did Spate, by calling the Pacific “Spanish,” seek to negate the original settlers’ nautical accomplishments. Over the past few thousand years, Austronesian mariners not only braved the Pacific Ocean’s tremendous distances, but they also managed to reach and settle most if not all of the 25,000 islands that constitute Oceania’s aquatic world.30 Spate was convinced, however, that the Pacific was an “artifact”: a geographically defined area created by European minds.
We argue that the first period of the imagined/conceptual Pacific, from 1521 to 1615 (which corresponds to the timeline of the first volume of Spate’s Meisterwerk), emerged with the consolidation of the Americas under Spanish rule as a “New World” on European maps sometime in the first decade of the sixteenth century. Epistemologically speaking, the “Pacific was only a nameless naked space between the known to the west and the known to the east.”31 It was Magellan’s paradigm-shattering circumnavigation of our planet during this period that illuminated the vastness of the Pacific Ocean and obliterated Ptolemy’s centuries-old accepted “truth” of a landlocked positioning of the Earth’s oceans. It was an epiphany for Europeans, who henceforth understood that the Pacific was a great deal more extensive than originally thought.32 Magellan’s voyage furthermore uncovered an alternative route to the spice-rich islands nestled in between the Celebes Sea, Banda Sea, and South Sea that precipitated a heated controversy with the Portuguese Crown over the Malukus.33 A flurry of exploratory activity ensued that culminated in the Spanish conquest of Manila in 1571. At the same time, Spanish geographers feverishly worked on establishing what Ricardo Padrón sees as the beginning of the Pacific Rim, a terrestrial border surrounding the immense Pacific Ocean, which included an imagined continent (called Terra Australis Incognita) located in the southern hemisphere. Their intention was to declare this new oceanic space a mare clausum.34 The second half of the sixteenth century was dominated by searches for the Austral Lands, fueled by numerous stories about gold-and-silver-covered islands in the Pacific derived from Incan legends. This initial phase more or less ended with Pedro Fernández de Quirós’ 1605–1606 exploration of the South Pacific, which produced numerous proposals for a follow-up voyage supported by Franciscan and Jesuit clerics.
Diverging from Spate at this juncture, we disagree with his interpretation of the second period from 1615 to 1764 as one of declining Iberian activity in the Pacific. Although new exploration ceased at this point, the emerging metropolises in the viceroyalties of New Spain and Peru consolidated their control over the Pacific shores in the Americas and existing territories in the Pacific, namely, the Philippines and the Marianas. In opposition to British and French geographers, who postulated the existence of unknown continents in the Pacific, Spanish intellectuals—in an attempt to close the ocean to foreigners—refuted the existence of such features and intentionally linked the Pacific to the Americas.
As simple as this formula may have seemed at the time, it required making the mental connection between the newer archipelagic domain in the South Sea and the older colonies in the Americas. In addition to the Marianas and the Philippines, the terrestrial anchors of New Spain and Peru were considered vital for the defense of the Spanish Lake. It comes, thus, as little surprise that royal diplomats throughout the eighteenth century would evoke the Treaty of Utrecht (1713) in their attempts to deny the Pacific to rival powers. This treaty, despite disastrous repercussions for Spain’s European holdings, did secure grudging recognition for its “New World” territories. Silent as the treaty was about the nautical kingdoms surrounding Central and South America, it nevertheless provided some diplomatic reassurance.35 The labile validity of such agreements was illustrated by the reversals suffered by the Spanish navy throughout the eighteenth century. The capture of both Havana and Manila during the final stages of the Seven Years’ War illustrated the realpolitik of the Spanish empire spanning two oceans. These two key links in the chain connecting Asia, the Americas, and Iberia were temporarily severed by the British navy as a means to expand their own empire into the Atlantic Ocean, Indian Ocean, South China Sea, and South Sea.
The third period for the imagined Spanish Lake (1764–1815) began with the onset of the famed Franco-British voyages into the Pacific. Departing from a general tendency to regard Spanish reaction to the voyages of Cook, Bougainville, and others as one of passive indifference, we argue that this stage witnessed the most intense spikes of Iberian nautical activity. The British and French incursions of 1764 and afterward were of grave concern to high-ranking administrators in Madrid, who regarded the Spanish Lake as a closed sea. Their orders to intervene quickly were interpreted in the colonial centers of Lima and Mexico City as royal approval to expand naval capacity and explore heretofore uncharted regions. The port of Callao, for example, transformed into a busy hub for South Pacific exploration, with several expeditions touching upon Easter Island and Tahiti. The newly established naval station at San Blas in New Spain became the point of departure for a number of forays set on expanding Iberian control along the North American Northwest Coast.
In Manila, trepidation over the Franco-British expeditions merged with debates about alternative sailing routes to the Americas and discussions contemplating direct voyages from Spain to the Philippines. For the king’s viceroyalties and kingdoms, the Pacific increasingly acquired the status of a defensive perimeter to North and South America. Especially for the eighteenth century, Christon Archer, postulated the existence of a defensive triangle in the Spanish-controlled Pacific.36 The first side of the triangle followed the shoreline of the Americas, stretching from Cape Horn over Lima/ Callao to Acapulco and from there to the far reaches of California. Two sides of Archer’s triangle stretched across the Pacific. One followed the regular routes of the Manila Galleon trade, with a well-established presence in the Mariana and Philippine islands. The last side was the weakest of the three, since it was based entirely on the conceptual basis of Spanish discoveries before the early seventeenth century. This imaginary line stretched from Peru deep into the southern Pacific and greatly increased Iberian encounters with the inhabitants of Oceania. Exploration during this period climaxed with the famed expeditions of Alejandro Malaspina (1789–1794), which sought to strengthen the relationship between the Pacific Ocean and the American continents under Spanish rule.37 Malaspina’s political agenda found its validation in the respected scientific writings of Alexander von Humboldt, which attempted to steer European interest away from the Pacific toward the unexplored lands of the Americas.
The final era of our conceptual Spanish Lake (1815–1898)—which goes beyond traditional scholarship for the Iberian Pacific chronologically—was ushered in with the Napoleonic invasion of the Iberian Peninsula, an event that produced ripple effects across the Atlantic and the Pacific, including the cessation of the Manila Galleon trade in 1815 and the subsequent loss of its continental possessions in the Americas. By the 1830s the literal Spanish territories in the Pacific had lost their reason for being and necessitated new ways of conceptualization, creating an interesting confluence of the literal and the conceptual Spanish Lake. The surviving Spanish empire came under siege from the new imperial powers of Germany and the United States. Whereas previously Spanish intellectuals and politicians had initially rejected the geographic constructions of Oceania in the early nineteenth century, they suddenly realized that the conceptual construction of a Spanish Micronesia enlarged their holdings in the Marianas by adding the Caroline and Palauan islands. Despite a few minor acquisitions in the mid-nineteenth century, almost four centuries of an Iberian presence in El Mar del Sur came to an abrupt end in 1898, when brief but resounding defeats by the United States in Cuba and Manila summarily eliminated both the conceptual and literal Spanish Lake.
Archipelagic Hispanization: Local Negotiations and Compromises
The duality of the conceptual and literal Spanish Lake allowed for a uniquely Pacific version of Spanish imperialism to emerge on the islands studied in this book. Our volume examines this process at the local level, where Iberian cultural assimilation was achieved initially with oppression and brutality but over time more through compromise and negotiation with indigenous elites. What John Phelan categorized as an “indirect variety of Hispanization” in the Philippines more accurately describes the historical reality in the Pacific:
The Spaniards did not accomplish as much as they set out to do, and this result enabled the Filipinos to absorb a modest amount of Hispanic influence without breaking too abruptly with their preconquest way of life. The Filipinos were partially Hispanized with a minimum of psychological and physical damage. . . . From the viewpoint of the Church, the Catholicism of the Filipinos left much to be desired. . . . The quality of indoctrination was not always adequate, nor did the converts always participate in the sacramental life of the Church. . . . Alongside doctrinal or official Catholicism there also grew up a rich and varied folk Catholicism.38
Phelan’s analysis of Hispanization in the Philippines is in itself incomplete, however, for he only took into consideration the dynamics between Malay and Spanish cultures. Chinese traditions and practices unquestionably exerted a powerful influence on its development over the course of several centuries as well. Furthermore, the Micronesian islanders and their historical interactions with Iberian priests, administrators, merchants, and sailors were beyond the scope of Phelan’s research. Consequently, in order to better understand cultural assimilation strategies and outcomes in the larger comparative framework of Spanish imperialism, we prefer to describe the variety that evolved in the Pacific as “archipelagic Hispanization.”
The authors likewise wish to provide an alternative to the economically deterministic interpretations that dominate studies on Spain’s historical relationship with the Pacific. The scholarship of William Lytle Schurz, Carmen Yuste López, Pierre Chaunu, Katherine Bjork, and Andre Gunder Frank, for instance, focuses exclusively on Castile’s Pacific link as one of a flow of commodities—Spanish silver for Chinese silks and ceramics—hence downplaying its human dimensions.39 Asian immigrants and their numerous contributions to colonial Mexican society are noticeably absent from the narrative. Similarly, elements of African and Native American influences, writes Ida Altman, “were mostly absent in the core of New Spain and the Andean regions, where the direct manifestations of the influence and operation of the larger (and not just Atlantic) world probably were to be found principally in the material culture.”40
To counter the misconception that cultural matters were primarily material in nature, we examine Spanish military policy in the heat of the battle for Manila during the global scale of conflict that became known as the Seven Years’ War. A chronically undermanned “Spanish” army in the Philippines mobilized a Chinese mestizo militia in response to the invasion. The Real Príncipe (Prince Royal) regiment was hastily expanded in its wake and would serve as a model for an even larger number of native Filipino auxiliaries that were essential to preserving a Spanish presence in Asia when European rivals increasingly challenged Spain’s hegemonic status in the Pacific. Mestizo elites subsequently used this new and important military role as the phalanx of a multiple-front strategy to advance their caste’s social standing in the colony.
The Real Príncipe example illustrates the issues of cultural change and the types of Hispanization that occurred on Guam and the Philippines during the period examined. We reflect on the native islander and immigrant Chinese cultures that blended with the Iberian but also maintained distinctive elements resistant to change. In these islands indigenous beliefs and practices connected more with each other than with the foreign missionary. As Joakim Peter, director of the Chuuk Campus of the College of Micronesia, explained, “it is a history . . . embedded within, among other things, claims for legitimacy and the evidence of land history, personal relationships and other Ettal Islanders’ struggles to deal with historical and contemporary challenges.”41 Surely, the islanders recognized that changes had come, but their lives continued, blending old with new. We are more comfortable noticing the hybrid mixing in our contemporary world. For example, take the celebration of Discovery Day on October 12, which could be taken as a clear sign of a Eurocentric position. However, as Vicente M. Diaz points out, “the primary significance of the celebration is to draw attention to the role that this locality [Umatac, Guam] played in an earlier period of foreign arrivals. The accent is local. . . . [It] is a moment of appropriating a thing from the outside and making it work for the inside.”42
Our book is thematically divided into four chapters that explore the Pacific as a “Spanish Lake” to add levels of complexity, depth, and definition, employing both low-power lenses for a comprehensive wide-angle view and high-power ones for microanalysis. In Chapter 1 we present a macrohistorical perspective of the conceptual and literal Spanish Lake, establishing a baseline for the three chapters of original, archives-based research that follow. Considering the conceptual Pacific, in Chapter 2 we argue for an alternative Iberian vision of the South Sea. Whereas the famous Franco-British expeditions of the eighteenth century identified new scientific and anthropological worlds in Oceania’s sea of islands, Spanish intellectuals and officials regarded the area as a mere extension of the Americas. The Spanish vision was born out of the need to provide a defensive perimeter against maritime incursions by foreign powers and ultimately gained transnational salience through the writings of Alexander von Humboldt.
The Spanish reconceptualization of the Pacific in connection with the Americas has far-reaching consequences.43 When this Iberian vision of the Pacific is contextualized in the largely dominant Anglo-American study of Pacific history, new avenues for indigenous counternarratives present themselves. While Spanish narratives were equally imperious and paternalistic toward the indigenous peoples of the Pacific and its surrounding continents, their geopolitical clash with the Franco-British vision of the Pacific could not fail to have local implications. Matt Matsuda has recently suggested an understanding of the Pacific as a region of translocalism, or “the specific linked places where direct engagements took place and were tied to histories dependent on the ocean.”44 The geopolitical engagement of the clashing Pacific visions allowed the multiethnic components of the Spanish Lake to advance their respective causes by skillfully manipulating and exploiting the conflict.
Accordingly, the next two chapters plot a course through the unsettled waters surrounding the Philippine and Mariana islands. Chapter 3 focuses on the Chinese cultural countercurrents that affected Manila and its environs before the 1800s. The “dragon’s share” of this chapter is devoted to the first serious study of a Chinese mestizo militia regiment (Real Príncipe) that emerged in the aftermath of Britain’s capture of the Philippine capital in 1762–1764. The significance of this mixed-race casta in Spain’s overall defensive strategy for the Spanish Lake is analyzed in the larger contexts of social, economic, and political changes resulting from Madrid’s postbellum efforts to align the Philippines more closely with the Iberian motherland following two centuries of de facto dependency on New Spain. In Chapter 4, a detailed study is undertaken of the changes that occurred on the island of Guam, the largest island in Micronesia, during the Spanish colonial era. Leagues away from any center of power, the small island represents a map of agency and values. As newcomers arrived from Europe, the Americas, and Asia, the continuities maintained by the islanders are as telling as the changes they faced. Our epilogue examines the nineteenth-century decline of Spanish influence against the backdrop of rival European and upstart American imperial ambitions in the Pacific and also reflects upon the legacies of archipelagic Hispanization into the twenty-first century.
The aspiration of our academic endeavor is to navigate beyond the charted waters of existing scholarly inquiry on Castilian undertakings in the Pacific Ocean in order to reach a theoretical terra incognita that will serve as a new port for further research expeditions on this topic. We feel that it is time to “reorient” the Pacific in both Iberian and world history, while prioritizing the sociocultural legacies of Spanish imperialism over silver and silk.

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