Before I went off to university, my parents reminded me of their hopes and expectations of my potential romantic life: “If you start dating, we highly encourage you to find someone Chinese.”
Having grown up listening to similar lectures and parental words of advice, I just brushed it off. I was used to it. There was even a point where I grew amused. After all, it’s such a universally Chinoy experience that my university’s Chinese culture organization even made t-shirts out of it. “Climb the Great Wall,” it said, daringly. Defy expectations. Follow your heart. Overcome outdated traditions.
The Great Wall, in question — for those who are confused — isn’t actually the famous attraction that tourists often visit in Beijing. But it is inspired by it. It’s a symbol, a metaphor that proclaims the difficulty of dating a traditionally raised Chinese person when you’re a Filipino. It’s as hard as climbing a historical structure that’s meant to keep foreign invaders out of China.
Do you see where we’re going with this?
Often enough, the Filipino partner is viewed to be the foreign invader in the relationship. To the older traditional generations, they are often perceived as a threat to the cultural balance and hierarchy of the family.
Maybe, to put it bluntly, this is how it goes: Humans fear change, instability, and the unknown. So what do you do when you’re afraid of something that might cause all of the above? You avoid it. Hence, “Don’t date someone who is not Chinese.”
Of course, not all Chinoy families are the same. Each has their own differing views on intercultural relationships. But that’s not what we’re going to talk about today. What we are going to shed light on is the fact that humans are human, and that love has always had the potential to transcend the boundaries of race and culture.
So here are the questions: What happens if you pursue that *forbidden* relationship anyway? Where do you draw the line between human respect and tradition? What does family mean in all of this?
Sharing his experiences with CHiNOY TV is an anonymous contributor, aged 32, who has spent years trying to dismantle the Great Wall for his fiancee to pass through. This is their story.
(Note: In order to preserve the privacy of those involved, all names mentioned in the story have been replaced with aliases.)
I can’t say that I’m pure Chinese.
My gwakong (read: maternal grandfather) has Filipino blood, but the rest of my family are pure. I’m a fourth-generation Chinoy; and like most Chinoys in Binondo, my grandparents are from Fujian. I grew up speaking Hokkien. When I first attended school, I couldn’t even speak Tagalog because, at home, my mom would scold me. I also went to a Chinese school in Binondo, from nursery to high school.
Being born and raised in a strict Chinese family, I never thought I’d date a Filipina, until…
I met my fiancee Mara through my high school classmate. They were in the same class in college. She was 20, and I was 25. “Why were they in the same class?” you ask. Because my high school classmate had to retake college due to pregnancy. They had a Mandarin class back then, and I offered her assistance because I’m Chinese, and she was a pure Filipina without any background in Mandarin.
We became close through some calls and texts. Then we finally decided to go on a skating date. It wasn’t really love at first. I knew my parents wouldn’t allow me to be with a Filipina.
It’s just that, one night, after strolling with friends, we passed by my house to get something. I told Mara to stay hidden while I find my things. Unfortunately, my parents were on their way out and accidentally met her. I think that first encounter was what made my dad hate her until today. My parents warned me again to not marry a Filipina.
But Mara and I decided to get to know each other more. We went to Tagaytay, where I began to fall for her. At the time, I didn’t have the courage to tell her. Because of the Great Wall.
Back then, when Mara confronted me about our status, I told her that we should stay friends. It obviously hurt her. I also knew that I was lying to myself, so I made a decision. The next day, I apologized to her and took the courage to tell her that I love her. That’s where it all began.
I decided to share my story with CHiNOY TV because I want to raise awareness. We’re living in the Philippines. Falling in love with a Filipina is inevitable. But then there’s this connotation that when you marry a Filipina, you are degrading yourself: Their family will leech onto you. They have a different culture. They don’t know Chinese filial piety.
We’ve come to the point where we’re depressed and frustrated with how my parents treat our relationship. For seven long years, Mara and I tried our very best to please them — to prove to them that my fiancee deserves a chance to be in our family.
Our story goes back to the time when I decided to introduce my fiancee to my dad formally. I was sick, so I asked my fiancee to come over since my dad was also home. But when I introduced her, my dad wouldn’t even look at us. My younger brothers didn’t welcome her either. It was an awkward time. Mara was scared of coming over to our house again.
During that time, my family actually already knew about our relationship. They were against it. They were against us. The news spread to our relatives. Some were supportive, telling my parents, “A Filipina is still a human being. Why reject her? She seems nice.”
But some were also not.
Although I tried to convince my parents to accept Mara, I would often hear my dad insulting her when talking to relatives and friends. At that point, I think my mom sympathized with me. She finally agreed that I could take Mara to family gatherings. She even talked to my dad to try accepting her. But instead, she was scolded for tolerating me dating a Filipina.
Mara always gathered enough courage to meet my family and relatives. After a while, my uncles and aunties all began to have a good impression of her. I had even thought that things were starting to look up, if not for my dad. Once, my fiancee helped us man our company exhibit as the cashier, which she did a perfect job as at the two-day event. But still, my dad wouldn’t stop insulting her behind our backs. He would talk about every negative thing about her to his friends and our employees. He would even make up stories.
“Hwanapo,” he would say. We all knew it was derogatory, but he still defended himself. “Hwanapo means ‘Filipino girl.’ What do you want? How would you expect me to show up in the association when you bring that hwanapo?”
I tried many times to talk to my dad personally, but he refused. He told me that he would kick me out of the house.
Here’s another story. When we were in Taiwan, I wanted to buy a pair of shoes, but I didn’t have enough money. As a compromise, he told me that if I broke up with my fiancee, he would buy me the shoes.
Then three years ago, my dad also bought a family car. He told me then that he would let me drive it if I broke up with Mara. To this day, I still haven’t driven that car.
What’s more is that even though my mom seemed more open to our relationship, she also had her own misgivings. There was one instance when we were having a family buffet. My four aunties told my mom, “His fiancee is respectful. Why not let them be?”
Then my mom answered, “His shoti’s girlfriend is better.”
My shoti‘s (read: younger brother) girlfriend is also a Filipina — well, a richer Filipina. Don’t get me wrong. We’re on good terms. In fact, she and my fiancee are both kind and great women, so I wouldn’t like to compare them. But it’s just unfair. My shoti‘s girlfriend lived with us for almost two years before leaving for Australia, but she never felt rejected. Our family was happy with her around, and I just can’t understand why my parents cannot treat my fiancee that way too.
In my family, only one of my shoti would talk to my fiancee. Mara appreciated it so much that she gave him a Swatch. When I asked her why she gave such an expensive watch to my brother even though she wasn’t earning that much and was still sending money to her family, she insisted that he deserved it. He was the only one who was nice to her — the only one who talked to her.
But, as I’ve said before, the situation did get better. Fast forward several years, it was already a casual thing for Mara to come over to our house. Except for my dad, all of our relatives treated Mara as one of our own, and she actually began to feel accepted by them. She got along well with my gwama (read: maternal grandmother). My mom would give her gifts and advice. Mara even joined us on a family trip to Dinalungan.
Then the pandemic came, and things took a turn for the worse. Mara’s family moved to Cavite because her parents have a business there, and all of her siblings could work from home. She was left alone in Manila, so my mom decided to let her rent our warehouse condo in Binondo. Back then, everything was still going smoothly. Mara felt grateful to my mom for her help, so we’d even bring dinner to her.
Then, during January this year, I decided to propose to Mara. We were planning to have our wedding after the pandemic to save up for our future together.
But then, on February, my mom suffered from a mild stroke. And on March, the contract that Mara had with the condo-warehouse ended. My mom, during this time, was being treated with acupuncture therapy for her illness. The doctor requested to do the therapy at our residential warehouse in Malabon to avoid exposure to the COVID-19 virus. Because of this, my mom decided that Mara could live with us in Malabon.
For three weeks, Mara lived with us for the first time. It was a mess. The saying that mothers-in-law and wives don’t get along is true. My mom complained about a lot of things that Mara did, such as not waking up early, not helping out in household chores, and not cooking — things that you’d probably agree with my mom about if you didn’t know what really happened. She thought that my fiancee was acting like a senyorita because even though it was my mom who was sick, she was still the one who had to do all the cooking. Mara didn’t have the kusa to do things at home.
But my fiancee wasn’t given an orientation upon arrival. Nobody greeted her to make her feel at home. She was also in a state of adjustment, trying to overcome being an introvert. My mom even told me that she didn’t want to see me sticking to Mara all the time, so she often felt alone.
Every day, Mara would set the table for lunch and dinner, try to help out in the kitchen, and make the beds in the morning — even my shoti’s bed! During the day, she had to isolate herself because she was working from home. She would be on her phone often to reply to her manager, but my mom assumed that she was just always playing games for fun. So my mom would speak to the rest of the family in Chinese against Mara — in front of her, even.
But Mara could understand what was said because I taught her some Hokkien words.
There was a time where I actually got mad at Mara because I wanted her to give it her best. I confronted her and explained to her what my mom was trying to say. And Mara cried because she was trying, but she still felt so alone. Nobody in the family was talking to her. She was physically and emotionally drained. She had no outlet. The three weeks she spent with us felt like months to her.
Things went crazy when I confronted my mom. How could she accept even the family of our employees but not accept the person that her son loves? She shouted and cursed loudly in front of us and began throwing things, saying that she only accepted Mara for my sake.
Of course, everybody at home got mad at me, especially my dad. My mom would even broadcast her side of the story to her friends and relatives. I had to explain my fiancee’s side to them when I would hear it.
Now, things are back to zero. Mara was traumatized to the point where she cried to me for more than a week. She returned her engagement ring, telling me that she could only accept it when things turned out okay. She was scared to face my family again. When she texted my mom to apologize, my mom didn’t respond. Mara said that she knew she lacked something during her stay in Malabon. She was willing to learn. She even told my mom to tell her if she did something wrong. She was trying, but she was judged in just three weeks.
Mara has a good heart. No matter how harshly my parents treated her, she would endure the pain and disappointment because she understood that they only wanted what they believed was best for me. Whenever I would get unreasonably scolded by my mom, Mara would be the one to explain the objectives of why my mom had to scold me.
“Your mom is only alone,” she would reason. “She has to discipline four children, do work in the office, and manage the house. Of course, she can have a temper. You should avoid getting scolded by her to ease the pressure she feels.”
Mara just feels frustrated about my parents. She just can’t understand why they hate her so much. So I feel sad for us. I feel hopeless. I felt belittled by what my parents are doing to us. I never got to experience this kind of rejection from Mara’s side of the family.
My youngest brother saw how Mara struggled. He wants to try talking to my parents to explain my fiancee’s side. We’re still looking for good timing.
My friends are already suggesting that we should live our own life away from our family. Tell me that we’re selfish and greedy, but we just wanted to have our parents’ blessings before we actually do that. We just want everything to be peaceful. We just want my parents to support our happiness. We only live once, and we’re already in our 30s. How many years are left?
Why can’t they just accept us wholeheartedly?
Thank you for letting me share my story. I hope this can help people going through this to know that they are not alone. I hope parents who get to read this can contemplate their own personal views.
Right now, I’m still hoping for the best that can happen to us.