Living in a country far from your home or perhaps growing up with a mixed identity is a unique experience, especially with a blend of cultural differences for Chinese and Filipino-Chinese students residing in the Philippines. This Chinese New Year, we’re reminded to recognize and celebrate diversity alongside fellow Benildeans who have roots in Chinese culture.
Let’s first brush up on our history. Many Chinese people in the Philippines go way back to a few centuries ago when Chinese immigrants arrived in the Spanish-colonized country to profit from the Galleon Trade. Many Chinese people integrated into Filipino society, intermarrying with Indios and Spaniards. With the success of trading back then, many intercultural families could acquire farmlands, becoming relatively well-off and sometimes achieving social status.
But that isn’t to say that all Chinese and Filipino-Chinese families are automatically well-versed in business and are wealthy. There’s a lot to unpack and understand about the Chinese and Filipino-Chinese communities in our country, such as differences in ethnicity, nationality, background, and culture.
Growing up in a new home
It’s important to know that a person’s environment can shape their way of life. For some students, growing up and moving to a different country can affect their practices and traditions. Some families easily integrate foreign cultures into their lives, while others take some time to maintain their original roots.
Senior High School (SHS) GAS student Sabrina Sin is Filipino by nationality and Chinese by ethnicity, hence being Filipino-Chinese. Born and raised in the Philippines, she shared that her family would still visit China every year to see relatives and friends. As a Benildean, her experience as a Filipino-Chinese student has been great so far as she got to meet fellow Filipino-Chinese students and become friends with them. In line with that, Sin also imparted how she was able to maintain her Chinese culture through language as she got to speak to some of her friends in Mandarin.
While for Filipino-Chinese Multimedia Arts student Yashwina Co from batch ID 121, her family is rooted in the practices of Catholicism and Buddhism. Her family celebrates the festivals of Chinese New Year and Qingming, which is the Chinese day of the dead, wherein people remember and honor those who have passed. Similarly, Co mentions a shared culture of Chinese and Filipino families that emphasizes respecting one’s elders.
There’s more to what meets the eye
With some background in Filipino-Chinese culture, most people still have a lot of misconceptions., which leads to many misunderstandings and false assumptions about Chinese and Filipino-Chinese people.
ID 120 Interior Design student Hillary Ang has had her fair share of misconceptions, including the stereotype of Chinese people only living in Binondo and that she only takes Chinese medications to remedy illnesses.
Sin and Co both shared the same misconceptions that Filipino-Chinese and Chinese people are very good at business and academics in general when in reality, people have different skill sets and strengths regardless of their ethnicity. Sin added that she wishes people knew that not every Filipino-Chinese has the iconic “Great Wall”— a term used to describe the concept of one’s Filipino-Chinese or Chinese family discouraging their child from dating a person outside of their Chinese ethnicity. Although, that does not apply to all Filipino-Chinese.
Discovering your own identity
AB-MMA ID 121 Jamila San was born and raised in the Philippines, albeit entirely Chinese. Before transferring to a Filipino school, she studied in Chinese schools for most of her life. The transfer had given her a culture shock, subsequently forming an identity crisis—including the idea of said “Great Wall” when it came to dating.
Being raised in a more traditional Chinese household, San faced multiple restrictions that had to be followed, as per her culture, including the “Great Wall” Sin. She longed for the liberty her Filipino peers had in their lives, even to the point where she had not wanted to become Chinese anymore. Despite the struggles, she embraces her Chinese identity, as well as her newfound Filipino identity, because, in her own words, she is “Chinese by blood, Filipino at heart.”
As for SHS ABM student Samantha Chua’s experience, their identity has become an essential part of them as the eldest child and grandchild in their family. Chua is responsible for teaching their younger siblings and cousins the practices they grew up with to keep their Chinese culture alive. Like the others, Co mentions how she’s learned to appreciate both sides of being Filipino and Chinese, as these are integral parts of herself and her family.
Creating safe spaces for intercultural identities
Benilde is known to be inclusive, and this inclusivity did not miss out on Chinese and Filipino-Chinese students. In fact, Benilde International Student Emissaries (BISE), an organization for international students, hosts different cultural events from other countries belonging to members of the group; one such event is the 2022 Chinese New Year celebration which San hosted.
Moreover, Ang suggests that the College could start offering elective classes on Chinese studies for students so that they have the option to learn the language, culture, and history. This would certainly not only ensure more inclusivity but will also be useful for students’ future endeavors, especially in this age of globalization.
While Benilde’s efforts towards inclusivity are commendable, San adds that inclusivity cannot be said to be the same for the general public. She is often targeted by racist remarks such as “Mag-Chinese ka nga,” as people expect her only to be able to speak Chinese dialects and make fun of her for her accent. She similarly believes that the government makes no effort to untangle Filipino-Chinese from those Chinese immigrants associated with negative connotations, such as the Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGO), a popular harmful stereotype given by Filipinos.
It is heavily noted by Sin that the stereotypes need to be stopped. She adds how being Chinese or Filipino-Chinese doesn’t mean that they are automatically biased toward particular political parties or issues—everyone possesses different opinions and thoughts regardless of what other people with the same identities might do.
Transcending borders and cliches
There is much more to Chinese and Filipino-Chinese people than their stereotypes. Most Filipino-Chinese people can speak Filipino fluently, and not all of them speak Mandarin. Yet again, they may be Chinese, but they’re Filipino, and most people tend to forget that.
An open mind and some research can help to prevent making assumptions about your Chinese and Filipino-Chinese friends. Don’t expect your Chinese friends to automatically translate a phrase to Mandarin; don’t assume that all Chinese and Filipino-Chinese people are rich; moreover, as harmless as the joke sounds, they don’t owe you Tikoy every Chinese New Year.
It’s crucial to remember that despite similar nationalities, people can still grow up with different cultural backgrounds and be influenced differently by their environments. This includes Chinese and Filipino-Chinese people who have gone a long way back in history with Filipinos.
Gōng xǐ fā cái and Happy Chinese New Year, Benildeans!