The Manila-Acapulco Trade started in 1565 as the world’s first global trade system, connecting Asia with the Americas, Europe and Africa through trade of commodities and manufactured goods. There was also an exchange of language, food, clothing and ideas.
The flow of people between Manila and Acapulco during 250 years of trade is estimated between 40,000-60,000. Some estimate up to 100,000. Mostly Chinese and native Filipinos made up that population shift. Many Filipinos ended up in Latin America and vice versa.
Filipinos came to Mexico wearing the Barong Tagalog. Since these were shipmen and laborers, they most likely wore plain white opaque work barongs made of cotton or other durable fabrics (see pic below), and not the delicate, fine, translucent and fancy barongs with embroidery that were exclusively worn by the upper classes.
Artist rendering of working class native Filipino in Barong Tagalog in Spanish Colonial Philippines
These barongs inspired the Guayabera, which is a warm weather shirt worn untucked that are usually made of linen, silk or cotton. Current designs have two or four patch pockets in front and vertical rows of pleats or embroidery on the front and back. They may have long or short sleeves. Some have vents or slits at the sides. Certain variations are considered formal wear in different countries. Guayaberas are worn in Mexico, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and other Latin countries. (See pics below)
Cuban man in Guayabera circa 1956
John Wayne (left) and Gary Cooper (right) in Acapulco wearing Guayaberas
Ernest Hemingway wearing a Guayabera
Though the origin of the Guayabera is disputed in Latin American cultures, the evidence points to it being inspired by the Barong Tagalog. Filipinos introduced the base barong design across Mexico and into Cuba and the rest of the Caribbean since trade and products moved from the western coast of Acapulco east towards Veracruz and Yucatán on its way to ships bound for Spain that often stopped in Cuba and other Caribbean islands. (See map below. Yucatán’s capital is Merida.)
Map of Southern Mexico with cities circled that were occupied and influenced by Filipinos and Filipino culture
A reasonable theory is that Mexicans, Cubans and other Latin Americans made changes and additions to the barong design to suit their needs and preferences. The front pockets are believed to have been added to carry guavas. The Spanish word for guava is guayaba. Other strong evidence of Filipino influence: people in Yucatán refer to Guayaberas as “Filipinas” and consider it as traditional formal wear for men, with the terno being traditional formal wear for women, similar to the Philippines.
The Guayabera is a historical snapshot (without the pockets and full button down design) of what the barong looked like during the Manila Galleon Trade. Trade formally ended in 1815 with the Mexican War of Independence. Though trade still continued between the Philippines and Mexico, news of revolution against Spain and other revolutionary ideas made their way to the Philippines.