Rafael Nadal’s roots in Iloilo

13 Jun

“Some people are your relatives but others are your ancestors, and you choose the ones you want to have as ancestors. You create yourself out of those values.” RALPH ELISON

By Alex P. Vidal

In La Paz public market in Iloilo City where we regularly buy our meals, NBA fans wait on tenterhooks if Erik Spoelstra’s genius can prevent Gregg Popovich from becoming an Albert Einstein in court.

La Paz district is a football hotbed, home of the finest booters in the region next to the municipalities of Barotac Nuevo and Sta. Barbara when it comes to quality of players.

La Paznons so love soccer that they demolished an age-old outdoor boxing arena to further enlarge their football field in the plaza (You should have opposed this unpopular move, former First Lady Ming Ramos; but we heard it was because of your “beautification” project why the iconic boxing ring was obliterated).

But when it is NBA finals time, football or FIFA World Cup takes a backseat. NBA championship is a down-the-wire headline-grabbing event. Never mind if super grandmaster Wesley So will soon push the pawns for the Americans in the FIDE chess.

Never mind if Manny Pacquiao will coach KIA in the PBA (we saw the world’s best boxer pound-for-pound and PBA Commissioner Chito Salud shake hands in a sports page recently. In September 2001 when we covered Gerry Penalosa’s WBC super flyweight fight against Masamori Tokuyama in Yokohama, Japan, Salud was impressed more with Penalosa than with Pacquiao, then fresh from winning the IBF super bantamweight crown against Africa’s Lehlo Ledwaba on a 6th round TKO in Las Vegas, Nevada. It’s understandable because his father, the late former WBC secretary general Rudy, was Penalosa’s manager at that time).


We are aware that several days after the NBA finals, Ilonggos will continue to make a post mortem analysis whether it is the Spurs or the Heat that will end up bringing home the 2014 NBA title.

It would be a crime against sports, meanwhile, if we ignore Rafael “Rafa” Nadal’s most recent record-breaking conquest in the French Open just because the more glamorous NBA finals and 2014 FIFA World Cup are lording over the sports pages and in the social media nowadays.

The NBA finals series between Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs was tied at 1-1 when world no. 1 Nadal collected his unprecedented ninth French Open title by whipping world no. 2 Novak Djokovic of Serbia last June 8, or five days after his 28th birthday.

Nadal holds a special place in the hearts of the Ilonggos. Many local tennis fans can identify themselves with the talented Spaniard, who has won 14 Grand Slam singles titles, the 2008 Olympic gold medal in singles, a record 27 ATP World Tour Masters and a record 15 ATP World Tour 500 tournaments.


There are Nadals in Jaro district. Their siblings are mestizos and mestizas and it’s not hard to conclude that they have Spanish blood running in their veins. We heard the Nadals in San Enrique, Negros Occidental also traced their roots in Castellon de la Plana, Torrelavega, Valladolid and Pamplona, Spain. The tennis heartthrob was born in Manacor, Balearic Islands, Spain. We were colonized by Spain for more than 400 years, after all.

It is possible some of Rafa’s foreparents had roots in some Filipino families somewhere in the Philippines, if not in Jaro and San Enrique. Some of the friars, according to Jose Rizal’s novels, sired illegitimate children with Filipino women. We remember Maria Clara, among other victims of sexual abuses by these Spanish ruffians, in Noli Me Tangere.


Nadal can, in fact, be mistaken for a Filipino if he plays in the SEA Games or Asian Games. There’s a lot of handsome tennis, fencing and even soccer players who look like Rafa. Richard Gomez plays fencing in the SEA Games and his height and physique are similar to Rafa. His hairstyle, color of skin, and the way he dresses outside the clay court (where he is considered the “king”) are similar to some matinee-idol-looking Filipino athletes. No one will question his nationality on the spot if he will carry the RP flag in the World Olympic Games and other biennial events. Unlike decathlete David Bunevacz and brothers Phil and James Younghusband, who really look like children of white parents (although their late mother was a pure Pinay).

But the sad reality is Nadal is not a Filipino. Because we hanker for a sports icon so much admired for his skills and talent in clay court, we can always claim Rafa to be our own—but only in our dreams.

As we went to press, the 2014 FIFA World Cup blasted off in Brazil, triggering a worldwide sports mania that is felt even in the remotest African countries.

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Posted by on June 13, 2014 in Uncategorized


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