IIn the Philippines, the most sought-after dogs are those with a breed and preferably a certificate proving their provenance. Whether it’s Alaskan Malamute, German Shepherd or Siberian Husky, the rule is: the purer, the better. Partially purebred dogs, called can lahi Where nalahian (literally, “with race” or “high”), come a little lower in the ranks.
At at the very bottom are the humble aspins, or Filipino dogs (a portmanteau word mixing too, or dog, and Pinoy, an informal term for Filipino). Also known by the more negative term aqueous (street dogs), these local mixed-breed dogs vary in appearance and are often perceived by Filipinos to be inferior in beauty and intelligence to “breeding” dogs.
DDog owners sometimes separate their dogs based on these ranks. An animal welfare advocate working on behalf of aspins describes how this trend has historically played out: indoor space with their owners. These owners often only took their purebred dogs for a walk or to the groomer.
The practice of certifying, evaluating and classifying dog breeds is common throughout the world; for example, certain breeds of dogs are associated with gentrification in New York. What is peculiar to the Philippines, however, is the way the hierarchy of dogs is how a particular group of humans, Filipinos, ranks in terms of race or ethnicity.
JJust as with dogs, Filipinos with a recognizable foreign heritage are celebrated, especially those of European or East Asian descent. The country’s celebrities and beauty queens are regularly portrayed in popular discourse with the offensive terms of “half-blood” or “half-blood” and praised for the attractiveness of their “foreign blood”. Those without manners, on the other hand, are sometimes described as having “no breeding.”
AAs an anthropologist, I find this interspecies parallelism deeply fascinating, as it reveals not only how Filipinos view non-human animals, but also how we view ourselves. It is an example of how humans and dogs around the world have been entangled for millennia in a process of coevolution, cohabitation and companionship.
RResearchers agree that dogs were the first animal to be domesticated by humans sometime between 15,000 and 40,000 years ago, although they disagree on the details of when, where and how it happened.
IIn the Philippines, scientists estimate that dogs existed for thousands of years before Spanish colonization in the 16th century. Archaeological evidence of the remains of domesticated dogs, including a dog buried alongside a human child between the 12th and 15th centuries, suggests that dogs were considered valuable companions. This probability finds corroboration in folk tales in which dogs feature prominently. In Biag ni Lam-ang, for example, an epic passed down among the Ilocano people of the northwestern Philippines region, the titular hero, Lam-ang, had a magical companion dog.
BBut colonial encounters with Spain changed the way Filipinos viewed dogs and themselves. In a world where whiteness came with privileges, people with foreign pedigree – and certain physical traits, like lighter skin – had more opportunities in life. This provided a form of power that scholars today refer to as “racial capital,” or the socio-economic benefits conferred by racial identity.
SAs early as the 19th century, scientific racism gave shape and form to these ideas on privilege by attempting to divide the human species into biological races and to prioritize them. (These ideas have since been discredited, and anthropologists today recognize the reality of race not as biological but as a “culturally created phenomenon.”)
AIn other parts of the world colonized by Europeans, foreign dog breeds arrived in the Philippines alongside their human counterparts. They have become popular pets, first for the colonizers and ultimately among the Filipino elites. At the same time, other Filipinos continued to keep local dogs as versatile companions: partly as a pet, partly safe, and for some also a food source.
VSOlonizers brought with them the idea of valuing “purebred” dogs, which had emerged in England during the Victorian era, around the same time as the rise of scientific racism. Proponents of these ideas argued that some dogs had fixed breeds or lineages and that these “pure and ancient” breeds were superior to “trades.” Popular breed designations, however, were based on arbitrary characteristics perpetuated by invented classifications and breeding practices.
IIn many ways, the creation of dog breeds mirrored how categories of the human race were created, defined and ordered. It is no coincidence that some promoters of dog breeding were also early supporters of the eugenics movement, which is the unethical and dangerous idea that human populations can be “improved” through reproduction. selective for “positive” traits.
In the beginning of the 20th century, the relationship between humans and dogs in the Philippines changed again. With the advent of the American occupation of the country, the role of dogs in the diet of Filipinos was exaggerated. Filipinos were exotic and pejoratively described as “dog eaters,” a racist label that still informs the Filipino American experience today.
IIt is a reminder that relationships between humans and dogs vary widely between places and times, but those in power often determine what kinds of interspecific relationships are considered acceptable.
FUntil today, and status continues to determine the types of dogs found in Filipino households and the roles they play. Purebred dogs continue to grace upper and middle class households.
EEven though purebreds tend to have higher rates of genetic defects due to inbreeding and can be difficult to maintain due to their unsuitability for tropical climates, they tend to live longer than their local counterparts. According to veterinarian and anthropologist Michael Tan, class differences are the reason purebred animals live longer.
“Yes, it’s the upper classes that can afford to pay thousands of pesos for a purebred dog or cat, ”says Tan. “And while they can have all kinds of genetic disorders, their humans can afford the best veterinary care possible, along with better nutrition and housing, sometimes better than poor humans will get.”
OOn the flip side, local dogs often end up living in poor urban and rural communities. They are sometimes left to fend for themselves on the streets, leading many residents to attribute negative characteristics to these dogs, such as foul smells and bad behavior. Similar to how human differences are mapped to breeds, dog characteristics are “naturalized” to legitimize a breed-based hierarchy.
VSHowever, certain categories can be challenged, and this is true for both humans and non-human animals.
IIn the late 2000s, when the Philippines re-energized their football team, they were dubbed the “Azkals” after the “mixed race” nature of the players, many of whom came from overseas. The name has also come to refer to the resourceful and resilient character of the players and, indirectly, perhaps the perceived “underdog” status of the team and the nation compared to global competitors. By embodying a new identity that embraces characteristics perceived as “Western”, such as fair skin, soccer players are also helping to change notions of what it means to be Filipino.
Mirrigating this discourse are increasing efforts to defend the local dogs. In 2006, a ‘native dog beauty pageant’ was organized by the Philippine Animal Welfare Society (PAWS), which led to reports extolling the virtues of askals and recommending that they be referred to by the more positive name instead. of aspin. A newspaper columnist noted the remarkable change that had occurred in just a few short years: “I have witnessed how the native dog or asp has created its own loyal following among pet lovers.
WAlthough these reports only explicitly spoke of dogs, these discussions are not separate from the comparisons made between humans on the basis of race and nationality. “When someone says you’re just an Askal, it’s like saying you’re just a Pinoy,” as one PAWS vet put it, referring to the colloquial name used for Filipinos. “Does this reflect the way we see ourselves? “
IIn this vein, it should be added that some depictions of aspins reverse this script by referring to the positive traits that these local dogs are seen to share with Filipinos. As one newspaper writer put it, the stubborn but loving nature of his Aspin is what makes his beloved dog “really, so Pinoy”.
VSHeart Evangelista, advocate of the native dogs of elebrity, encourages people to view the mix, whether it is purebred or purebred, as a point of pride and not of embarrassment. Evangelista, who featured in an ad campaign for PAWS posing with her dog, Charles, a “half terrier, half native dog,” said: “I have a mixture of Filipino, Spanish and Chinese blood, so I am also a mixture of ‘many races’.
“It’s something to be proud of, ”she added,“ because Filipinos and Aspins are [both] 100 percent beautiful.