World book day in Intramuros (Dia del Libro at Instituto Cervantes)

“Do you speak Spanish?” a classmate asked me back in my days as a college freshman. Back then, Spanish was taught in my high school so I had a slight advantage over my classmates who had zero knowledge of the language.

Enriched by twelve units in college, I became adept at Spanish grammar, particularly in verb conjugation. It was good enough to be a Spanish tour guide but I struggled to speak it. Finishing Level 7 at Instituto Cervantes improved my tour guide spiels, but there weren’t enough Spanish tourists to practice with so I willingly guided French tourists with my Level 1 French.

I first enrolled in Instituto Cervantes in the 1990s. It was in a beautiful ancestral house across from De La Salle University in Taft. The last time I went there, the house was run as a restaurant by College of St. Benilde students. Then, it transferred to T.M. Kalaw right beside Casino Español, the oldest Spanish restaurant in Manila. The place was filled with a Castillian atmosphere and, unknown to many, a jai-alai cancha, the last of its kind, still lies in its back.

The latest resurrection of Instituto Cervantes is in Intramuros at Casa Blanca in Plaza San Luis, where you will also find Casa Manila, Barbara’s Restaurant, Tesoros, Bambike, and other souvenir shops. It houses two classrooms and a big library. They also have a branch in Makati, which has more classrooms and a library. Right now, they conduct Spanish classes online. With the introduction of Spanish call centers, Spanish classes are again in demand. 

Instituto Cervantes is a worldwide non-profit organization created by the Spanish government in 1991 to promote the Spanish language and culture. It is named after Miguel de Cervantes, the author of Don Quijote. It is present in 45 countries. In Manila,  it is the cultural arm of the Spanish Embassy. 

Philip Paraan, Jose Maria Fons Guardiola, JP Ordoña

On April 23, I was invited by media liaison officer Philip Paraan to attend the celebration of Dia del Libro, translated as World Book Day, at Instituto Cervantes in Intramuros. I remember attending the same activity in Makati pre-pandemic. It had a festive atmosphere with many people lining up to purchase books. In Intramuros, Philip introduced me to  Jose Maria Fons Guardiola, Gestor Cultural. Over cerveza and sangria, we chatted about Spanish culture, even football. I was curious if he was related to Pep Guardiola, the legendary former football manager of Barcelona but, except for their Catalonian roots, I confirmed that they were not related.

We were first invited to a recital of Fil-Hispanic poetry. The verses were written in Spanish by Filipino writers. I chose a verse related to travel. We were video recorded – after three tries! Next, we got to experience hand-copying a stanza from Don Quijote. The handwritten copy would be deposited in the Miguel Hernandez Library of Instituto Cervantes.

After this cultural event, my wife and I visited the Manila Cathedral and San Agustin Church where we witnessed two weddings. After which, we had coffee and snacks at Belfry Cafe and La Cathedral Cafe which has a good view of the Manila Cathedral. 

Dia del Libro (World Book Day) is celebrated annually on April 23 all over the world and it is trendy in Barcelona, Spain. The date was chosen to honor Miguel Cervantes and William Shakespeare who died almost simultaneously in 1616. The tradition calls for the exchange of books and roses. In the Philippines, the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) declared April as Filipino Literature Month to commemorate Francisco Balagtas whose birth month falls in April. 

The cultural celebration promotes reading, writing novels and stories, translating, and publishing. One does not have to be a Miguel Cervantes or William Shakespeare. In fact, writing was only a hobby for Cervantes who worked as a soldier, tax collector, and accountant.

Filipinos are not known as wide readers. YouTube and TikTok are more popular nowadays than books. We have lost our facility for the Spanish language. How can we read Jose Rizal’s novels in original Spanish? The compulsory twelve units of College Spanish have been scrapped. I hope our legislators and educators learn from this mistake of eradicating Spanish in the school curriculum. If one speaks English and Spanish, he will probably be understood by half of the world! So the next time somebody asks you, “¿Habla Español?,” say, “Si”!

Visit Instituto Cervantes in Manila at their Makati branch at the Ayala Tower I, Ayala Triangle, Ayala Avenue, Makati 1226 or at their Intramuros Branch at Calle Real, Plaza San Luis Complex, Intramuros, Manila 1002. You may contact them at (+63) 2 8526 1482 or send them an email at [email protected].

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JP Ordoña (Manilakad) leads Manilakad Walks in Intramuros, Binondo, Quiapo, and more. In between, he writes, dives, and more. Let him guide you to several walking destinations in Manila. Manilakad (JP Ordoña) can be reached on Facebook Messenger or through text at 0916-3597888.