Episode Recap: SM Supermalls president Steven Tan reveals what it means to be a modern Chinoy

CHiNOY TV’s fourth episode of its documentary series Chinese by Blood, Filipino by Heart strongly continues the #1CH1NOY campaign with an insightful look into the life of SM Supermalls president Steven Tan!

As someone’s who watched the entire series up to this point, I’ll admit that I’ve had some apprehensions about how much defining a modern Chinoy identity can endure. It was to my understanding that the series aimed at attempting to break the stereotypes of who a Chinoy should be. However, when I saw the lineup of personalities spotlighted for the first few episodes of the show, I first thought, “This is as traditional as it can get. We have wealthy and successful business people sharing once again the formula to success — but this time with the backdrop of Binondo!”

But the series proves that it’s definitely more than any old formula. Anyone who’s watched the series can tell that its message transcends the usual and polished image of success. It’s about the mold that we Chinoys have grown up in, the values we’ve been raised with, and the family who has brought us up this way. It’s about how all of these are not merely a manifestation of our Chinese blood but also of the Filipino society that we grew up in. 

Viewers, so far, have been vocal about their appreciation for the show’s emphasis on the modern interpretation of Chinoy culture.



“I know how it feels… You are not Filipino enough. ‘Pag nasa Taiwan or China ka, you are not Chinese enough,” commented one viewer. 

“This will make Pinoys and Chinoys get to know and understand each other’s mindset. Actually, Chinoys are real Pinoys,” said another.

Chinese by Blood, Filipino by Heart gives voice to the thousands of people navigating through their own diasporic experiences in the Philippines. This week, that voice belonged to Steven Tan.


On modern Chinoy values

Right at the onset of this episode, Steven made a clear remark about his identity as a Chinoy. He said, “I’m very, very Chinoy. We speak the languages Tagalog and Chinese. In one sentence, you would have English, Tagalog, Fookien, and sometimes even Mandarin.”

Being able to speak multiple languages is a common ability for any multicultural family, but what’s most telling here is that out of the four languages that Tan is fluent in, two are Chinese in origin while the other two are considered to be the national languages of the Philippines. And if that isn’t enough, a peek into his house would show you both a figure of Sto. Niño and a scripture of Buddha. This is who Steven Tan is — a fusion of the Filipino and Chinese identity.

As the episode progressed, Steven revealed more about his childhood, which was marked with a strict sense of discipline: waking up early at 6 AM every morning, eating dinners together in silence, and washing the dishes when they finished. Not all Chinoy households are the same, but there are common values to be shared. In this case, discipline is an expression of the things Steven’s father values — there is tradition, and there is heritage. 

Back then, Steven’s father didn’t believe that Steven himself was Chinese enough. This is why Steven was sent to Taiwan to reacquaint himself with his Chinese roots. 

“I lived in Taipei for almost nine years. I worked there until the late ‘90s.”  But even there, there was a dissonance to how others perceived his identity. “When I say I’m from the Philippines, they tell me I’m not Filipino because I don’t look like one. So there’s always this ambiguity with people’s perception of me, but it doesn’t bother me. I’m used to it,” said Steven.

After Taiwan, Steven then moved out west. He finished his MBA and fell so in love with the city of Paris — to the point where he made an effort to visit France at least once every year. Afterward, he came back to the Philippines, became a hotelier for the Barcelo Group, then somehow found himself managing the largest shopping mall chain in the country. 

And this is where the ambiguity comes further into play. Not only is Steven a product of his own lineage but also of his own experiences stemming from the East to the West and to everywhere else in between. 

Each Chinoy’s identity is both unique and shared at the same time. Ultimately, one of the greatest things to appreciate in this episode is that Steven’s story brought in a ray of honesty. There has always been the notion that to be Chinoy, you need to try your very best to fit yourself into the boxes that other people have designated for you. If you are truly Chinese, then you need to do this. If you are truly Filipino, then you need to do that. 

But at the end of the day, identity is something that evolves. It is a fusion of all the things that you wish to keep for yourself and all that you wish to learn. Steven Tan is now the president of SM Supermalls, by virtue of the experiences that he has earned in Manila, Taipei, Paris, and more. 

What does it mean to be a modern Chinoy? 

Steven concludes, “A modern Chinoy for me is somebody who’s not afraid to explore. Explore new things, explore new cultures, travel and all the things that you don’t know, absorb all the things around you but also at the same time keeping the tradition of the Chinese family.”


Chinese by Blood, Filipino by Heart will next feature film producer Roselle Monteverde and TV host Tim Yap. Catch the show on Sunday at 8 PM on CNN Philippines.


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