Saturday, November 10, 2012

The prosperous peacetime

During the 1930s, as the Great Depression unfolded -- scarring the lives of millions of Americans and spurring debates amongst seasoned economists as to what caused it -- the Philippines, a US protectorate, radiated confidence despite some dark clouds that hovered over its economic and political landscapes.

Although ruled ineligible for American citizenship and barred from immigrating to the United States, the Filipinos somehow never lost their faith in the Great American Dream. To ease this astonishing prohibition, the Tydings-McDuffie Act of 1935 allowed a quota of 50 Filipinos a year to immigrate to the US, though the anti-miscegenation law enacted two years later deemed inter-racial marriage (between a Filipino and a white American illegal.

Nonetheless, this seemingly unwelcome mat didn't sully the inherent hospitality of the Filipinos.

During the late 1930s, while a Miami port turned away the liner St. Louis with a boatload of 900 Jews (reflecting America's anti-Semitic policy during that period), about 1,200 German and Austrian Jews found sanctuary in the Philippines. They arrived in Manila's port from Shanghai while it was then under siege by the Japanese. Thousands more of these European Jews were to come and call the Philippines their new home.

And as millions of folks across the United States grappled with the oppressive burdens of the Great Depression, over at the ultra-modern Crystal Arcade building on Escolta -- which had become Manila's "peacetime" stock exchange -- stockholders of mining firms feverishly traded stocks amongst themselves, though most were worthless. That was because these gold companies very rarely conducted any actual mining; thus, the "gold profits" they boasted, if any, were nothing more than paper profits.

The blinding prospect of becoming rich overnight somehow obscured reality, allowing the gold mine boom of the hard-up 1930s to continue undeterred.

But what was to eventually become a major hit amongst the local folks, which made many of them rich overnight indeed, was the Sweepstakes. In one instance, on September 8, 1935, jockey Ordiales rode "Sugar Babe" to a victory, giving a 12-year-old peasant girl from Tayabas -- who was the holder of the lucky ticket -- a whopping 75 thousand pesos. An enormous fortune at that time.

Meanwhile, back in the States, it was also a race horse that was becoming a symbol of hope; a cultural icon, in fact.

This stallion's riveting tale of grit, grace, luck, and an underdog's stubborn determination was swaying over the nation's imagination. Over terrible handicaps this horse triumphed; becoming a champion and a legend of the racetrack. But more astoundingly, this horse healed the wearied soul of a nation battered by a staggering financial collapse. The horse's name was Seabiscuit.

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The Philippines: A Unique Nation
by Sonia M. Zaide
All Nations Publishing O, Inc.

Manila, My Manila
by Nick Joaquin

Seabiscuit: An American Legend
by Laura Hillenbrand
Ballantine Books

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  1. i cried a bucket watching Seabiscuit.:p
    i didn't know Jews found sanctuary here in the 30's.

    1. The book is even better, Luna. As for the movie, I watch it every now and then because it is so inspiring