Former Possessions of the Spanish Empire or Why my Last Name is Peñaloza

by Michelle Peñaloza

People name us
with the separation of their teeth,
the long z of our naming.

It used to be
we were named for our proximity:
kato tabing dagat, the parentage of the sea;
the forest’s lineage, kato ginubatan.

Or we were named for our parents—
anak ni Lina, bunso ni Boyet.
The song of our names
led to the discovery of garlic
growing from our palms,
the scapes forming a second green hand.

But it was in the name of good King Philip
that songs changed to names
and the naming of names became law.

A governor general made a name for himself
with the Catalogo de Apellidos—
a dissemination of empire, a naming of parts
to trace and tax everyone:
whole provinces renamed with efficient alphabetical phenomena:
Padilla, Pacheco, Palma, Paz, Perez, Portillo, Puente, Peñaloza.

Still, there were names we kept to ourselves,
a shorthand between us:

windows lined with votives
jars of holy water

the papaya’s
lush coral and beaded seeds,
shining fish roe

Can legacy exist in short hand?

Papal papa
papel papaya
paalam permission

What are the root words
for what we simply know?

How do children born of empire
once removed,

possess the history
of their naming?

Last updated December 17, 2022