Chinese-Filipinos are Filipinos

This is an entry I wrote a couple of weeks ago for an op ed column I have on a news website. It hasn’t been published, and no explanation has been given as to why, so I’m putting it here.

There’s this game we played as kids called “What Would It Take To Get You To Side With China?” It was an inane game, used to pass time before there was cable or internet or handheld consoles. “What would it take for you to side with China?”

“Side with China on what?”

Anything. War. Basketball. The Olympics.

Scenarios would be offered, always starting innocently enough. What if they gave you a million pesos (a big amount back then)? What if you were offered a house and lot? What if you were offered a fiefdom in China? And sometimes, it got not-so-innocent. What if they would kill you if you didn’t? And sometimes, it became simple: Don’t you want to be part of the winning team (I assume this referred to ping pong)?

I’ve been part of, and sometimes instigated many iterations of this, and not one Chinese-Filipino person, of any age, child or adult, me included, has ever said that they would side with China. The answers, too, ranged from the inane (“I don’t want to have to speak Mandarin”) to the underlyingly serious (“I’m Filipino”).

Which is why it baffles me that anyone would automatically assume otherwise.

There’s been a slow-burning reaction against a hurtful and offensive op ed National Artist for Literature F. Sionil Jose wrote in the Philippine Star last week, where he recounts his wartime experiences before segueing into anti-Chinese sentiments that included declaring with surety that he knew “that in the event of a war with China, many of our ethnic Chinese will side with China,” despite his having Chinese friends and his wife being of Chinese ancestry. Thankfully, the people in the comments section mostly think he’s wrong. It’s still disturbing, though, that some people think he’s not. The column was glossed over, and I wouldn’t have known about it had I not come across Inquirer Philippines columnist Oscar Franklin Tan’s indignant and intelligent reaction to it. Tan builds his argument on a judicial spine before stating the national artist’s sentiments, and that no one seems to care.

Tan has a point. In an age where even the smallest slight causes outrage, why hasn’t anyone gone to arms about this issue? Why are there no angry Facebook posts, no demands for apology? Why hasn’t it even reached the news?

A non sequitur in Sionil Jose’s article states that the Chinese control 60% of the Philippine economy. Even if this were true, so what? Does he really think that those businessmen are growing their wealth so that they can return to the Motherland? I wouldn’t be surprised if he actually thought that Chinese-Filipinos actually referred to China as “The Motherland.” If we go by his argument, shouldn’t we then actually be thankful that these people believe in our country enough to invest in it through the generations, thereby keeping us economically afloat? See how I used “us” instead of “you guys?” That’s because I’m Filipino.

But this is nothing new. As a third generation Chinese-Filipino, I’ve battled this prejudice in one form or another all my life. I’ve had to explain numerous times–to cab drivers, sales ladies, press officers–that my Chinese surname doesn’t make me less Filipino. Random people whose opinions shouldn’t matter, yet whose thoughts I try to change anyway. I’m sure other Chinese-Filipinos have experienced the same.

When you think about it, the Chinese-Filipino make easy targets. They generally aren’t confrontational or violent, and like to keep to themselves. They’re practical and don’t want trouble. This is probably why many from the Chinese-Filipino community haven’t reacted to it yet, though most probably, it’s because they know that the accusation is bunk, and they would rather not waste their time with it. Besides, they’re probably too busy raising families and running businesses, like the good Filipinos that they are.

Update: This essay later appeared on Spot.Ph.


Yvette Natalie U. Tan is a multi-awarded author of horror fiction and the Agriculture section editor of Manila Bulletin.

6 thoughts on “Chinese-Filipinos are Filipinos

  1. Just to add, methinks only the Chinese government is engrossed in the Spratlys issue. Ask a random Chinese citizen and he’ll most likely have another opinion or be indifferent altogether. Besides, even the Hong Kong people would think otherwise as the communist government fails to keep their end of the “one country, two systems” bargain.

    Though, FSJ makes a good point when he mentions the utter silence of the leftist groups about China’s actions. When America does something, they go all-out with their rallies – but when China does something at the disputed islands, they are nowhere to be found.

    1. “When America does something, they go all-out with their rallies – but when China does something at the disputed islands, they are nowhere to be found.”

      I agree 100%

  2. On the other hand I am a Filipino (Portuguese, Malay, Spanish ancestry) but will always love Chinese mythology, culture, art, food, etc. My most loyal friends are Chinese.

  3. Most of the people with chinese ancestrry here can’t even speak chinese. It doesn’t mean that if a person has a “chinese” surname he will always wanted to side with China. The same as those who has spanish ancestry that lives here ( those with spanish surnames dela cruz, de vera, etc) I do not think these people will also side with their “motherland” Spain.

  4. My father is pure Chinese who grew up in the Philippines and my mother is Filipino with a bit of Spanish and Chinese. So you can say that I look like a foreigner.. but certainly am not. I do embrace my Chinese heritage so much but that isn’t enough to make me side with China. I bet if you ask a Chinese citizen (like my grandma) where he/she would side given the facts about territories, he/she would most definitely side with the Philippines. The Chinese government itself and their supporters who ignore international rules are the only ones who are greedy enough to conquer foreign lands. In addition, as a Filipino, our government pisses me off so much that they don’t even give a damn about national territory and security. I also feel sad and insulted by F. Sionil Jose and all my other kababayans who treat me and other Chinese-Filipinos unfairly as if we don’t belong here and China owns us.

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