When Ferdinand Magellan circumnavigated the world in 1521, a feat which for daring and technological innovation compares with the Moon Landing, he incidentally caused an expansionist and still militant Roman Catholic religion to go head to head with Islamic missionaries in Southeast Asia. Through an accident of history, part of what would later become the Philippines would wind up Roman Catholic and later become, for a brief period, American territory while the southern tip would remain largely Muslim.
The consequences of that happenstance unfold and diverge over the centuries. The seeds of religion and American culture have grown up into deeply rooted cultural forms; subtly evident in the work of Gerry Alanguilan, an artist based in Southern Luzon who has drawn for the X-Men, Wolverine, X-Force, Fantastic Four for Marvel, Superman and Batman comics. The original influences have evolved so long that they have become indigenized; no longer borrowed but as native as the potato has become to Ireland. The potato was introduced to Europe in 1536, only a few years before Magellan made his fatal landfall.
Alanguilan’s site on YouTube contains his hilarious recipe for Filipino spaghetti, a concoction which contains, among other things, banana catsup and hot dogs. But don’t laugh; it’s real spaghetti, just not the Italian kind. The language he uses, like the cuisine and religion, shows that it has also taken its own form. If F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote pitch-perfect American, Alanguilan has its equivalent in “Filipino English”, a variant that has developed its own cadences and use, with its own verbal hot dogs and catsup.
Culture, though we deny it, is often an accidental thing. Today, the Times Online reported that “the sole Mumbai gunman to be captured alive … claimed that his father introduced him to the Pakistan-based militant group suspected to be behind last week’s bloody attacks in exchange for cash.” How much of what separates the attitudes of an illustrator for Batman comics from the Mumbai gunman is ultimately due to an accident of navigation in 1521? All humans have the same hardware. It’s the software that separates us. Culture matters, both to the man from Pakistan and, as I think you will find from the video clip below, to the illustrator from Southern Luzon.