In New Spain, the Manila Galleons were Spanish trading ships which made one or two round-trip voyages between Manila and Acapulco every year. They were called La Nao de la China, the China Ship, because the trade largely consisted of Chinese goods, such as porcelain and spices, which were traded for silver.
The Manila Galleons, also the name for the trade route itself, was in effect for 250 years, from 1565 to 1815, roughly the same period of Spanish colonial rule over the Philippines, ending just before the Mexican independence from Spain.
One of the first motivations for land exploration in Alta California was to scout out safe landing spots for ships arriving to New Spain, on the last leg of their journey to Acapulco. In 1769, the Portola expedition established ports in San Diego and Monterrey, relatively near Santa Cruz and the Villa de Branciforte.
According to historian David M. Brownstone, the Chinese established themselves as fishermen, sailors, and merchants on the Spanish galleons. A small number of them settled in Alta California by the mid-18th century.
The Mantón de Manila
In the play, Mr. Sun displays a fringed white shawl as part of his wares for sale. This shawl is known as a Mantón de Manila, a result of the cultural as well as material exchange that occurred with the Spanish Manila Galleons.
The Mantón de Manila became very popular in Spanish society, worn by women throughout the Empire. Over time, the Mantón became less practical for everyday wear, but remains a ubiquitous element of Flamenco dance.
“By 1625, Mexico City had become one of the richest cities in the world. Thanks to the establishment of silver mines in Peru and Mexico, and direct trade route via Acapulco and Manila, Mexican merchants quickly rose in power and wealth. As Asian goods like silk, porcelain, and tea, made their way into the Atlantic World, they also infiltrated Mexican society” (Zappia 2).
Brownstone, David M. The Chinese-American Heritage. Facts on File, 1988
Hays, Jeffrey. “History of Chinese Americans and Immigrants In The United States.” Facts and Details, factsanddetails.com/china/cat5/sub29/item2746.html
Klimczak, Natalia. “Trading Treasures and Curiosity: The Fascinating History of Manila Galleons.” Ancient Origins, Ancient Origins, 25 Feb. 2017, www.ancient-origins.net/history/trading-treasures-and-curiosity-fascinating-history-manila-galleons-007607
Zappia, Natale A. “Chinese Porcelain, Mexican Identity, and the Early Modern World Economy.” Commodity Biography, UC Santa Cruz, humwp.ucsc.edu/cwh/Porcelain.pdf