Note: The original version of this article was first published in Ateneo Celadon’s Elements Magazine.
Given the prevalence of Asian hate crimes in Western countries these days, a lot of Asian-Americans, Asian-Canadians, British-Asians, etc. have come forward to share their experiences about being Asian. A common theme emerged among these discussions, as most of them agree that they are treated like foreigners in their own home. It doesn’t matter if they were born in Western countries or if they grew up speaking English. The fact that they are Asian in ethnicity makes them different from everyone else. This usually results in a dissonance between identity and allegiance, as Asians become unsure of where they truly belong.
You don’t even have to look to Western countries to see this dissonance because this has always been something Chinoys have struggled with here in the Philippines. Chinoys have always been regarded as more Chinese than Filipino, even though that’s not necessarily true. They might be Chinese in name, but most of them haven’t even been to mainland China, and even if they have, it would most likely lead to culture shock because they grew up in a completely different environment and aren’t even that fluent in Mandarin. They would most likely feel more like tourists in China, and yet they are also treated like tourists in the Philippines–where they most feel at home. It seems that the main source of the Chinoy’s identity crisis stems from the fact that they are always expected to choose a side, but they can’t shed either of their identities as if it were as simple as changing clothes. They are both Chinese and Filipino, not one or the other, and yet their Filipino identities are always overlooked. But what makes someone Filipino anyway?
Filipinos have always been quick to claim other Filipinos as their kababayans even though the people they are pertaining to are famous personalities who are only one half or one fourth Filipino. They usually grew up in foreign countries and have never been to the Philippines. Some of them don’t even know how to speak Filipino, but they are still considered Filipinos and kababayans. If that’s the case, shouldn’t Chinoy’s be considered Filipinos too? After all, they were born in the Philippines. They are well-versed in Philippine culture and history because they had learned about it extensively in school. They are fluent in Filipino and are sometimes even more comfortable with speaking it over Mandarin, and they like eating Filipino food. The only thing that sets Chinoys apart from Filipinos is that they still maintain certain Chinese customs such as speaking Hokkien and giving offerings to ancestors, but that doesn’t make them any less Filipino. In fact, there’s no point in trying to enforce a separation between Chinese and Filipino when the two cultures are already so deeply intertwined.
The Philippines has always been involved with China in terms of trade and migration, which means that the Chinoy community has been a staple in the Philippines even long before the first Chinatown was established in Manila in 1594. The prolonged presence of the Chinoy community also comes with the influence of Chinese culture, and you can see hints of it manifested in Filipino culture today.
One of the prime examples is the Filipinos’ love for haggling with vendors, which originates from the Chinese practice of frugality. The Chinese would never purchase anything without asking for a bargain, and this practice is reflected by the Filipinos whenever they are shopping at markets like Divisoria. The next example is the practice of wearing red during occasions of celebration. Red is a popular color in China because it is associated with good luck and fortune. This is the reason why Chinoys have a tradition of wearing red during special occasions; a tradition that some Filipinos adopted as well. Another example is how Filipinos have taken to using certain Chinese terms to address their family members. The words achi/shobe and ahiya/shoti are the Chinese equivalent for ate and kuya, and yet it isn’t uncommon to hear these terms being used in almost every household, regardless of whether they are Chinese or Filipino. In addition, Filipinos also celebrate the Lunar New Year and the Mid-Autumn Festival. They frequent Chinese restaurants, and there are even Filipino counterparts of Chinese foods. Some Filipinos even identify with Chineses zodiac signs and believe in Feng Shui.
When it all boils down to a single thought, it seems like there isn’t much of a difference between Chinese and Filipino. The two cultures are already intertwined, so Chinoy’s shouldn’t be expected to choose a side when there isn’t even a side to choose from. They are products of the hybridity between two cultures, Chinese in heritage and Filipino in nationality, but they ultimately consider the Philippines as their home.