Many Chinoys refer to the term “Great Wall”. What is it exactly? It is the barrier between Chinoys and Filipinos. It is a barrier that delineates an “us” versus “them”. This barrier creates a sense of otherness—casting Filipinos on one side (the “others”), and Chinoys on the other side (“us”).
Growing up in my conservative Chinoy family, the Great Wall existed. I was vehemently, repeatedly told that no matter what happens, I cannot marry a non-Chinoy. This is the story of how I broke that Great Wall. And because of what I did, I opened my family to growth.
The year was 2005. I just graduated from my Master’s degree in psychology and decided that it was time—time to marry my non-Chinoy boyfriend. It was time to take the leap.
Building up to that moment, I had been scrimping and saving: I’ve gotten a stable job; I finished my advanced studies, and I had a solid plan. I was prepared to be cut off by my Chinoy family. You see, that was the price of defiance. But I had to choose: it was between me, my boyfriend, and my future. Versus the Great Wall and versus my Chinoy family.
The way I saw it was, if I didn’t take a stand then, the me that I knew would quietly die. I won’t be living an authentic life. My life.
It all sounds so dramatic, doesn’t it? Fast-forward 17 years later, its’ 2022. Spouse and I have two kids, my Chinoy family’s acceptance, and more importantly, my siblings are now “permitted” to marry whoever they wish: Chinoy or non-Chinoy. In fact, my brother married a Filipina single-mom (let’s call her “S”). She is good friends with my mom, and me and S are allies.
There’s a relevant side-story here. A year into their relationship, my brother and S had a falling out. My brother moved out of their home and the relationship seemed in shambles. My Chinoy mother stood silent. I took it upon myself to mediate. As I mentioned, S is Filipino.
Nobody in my Chinoy family overtly said it, but I felt it, we all felt it. Because I married a Filipino, it was a reality I dealt with: For Chinoys, Filipino spouses can be considered outsiders—yes, it is that Great Wall that divides—it’s still there, even after the marriage vows. Even years after we’re married to “them” and consider “them” kin.
When I chose to act regarding S and my brother’s situation, I did so because I felt that it was important to take another stand. No, Filipinos are not “others”, our Filipino spouses are family, chosen family. Our marriage vows to them, as Chinoy to Filipino are meant to hold, they are meant to last. These marriage bonds tie “us” Chinoys to “them”, Filipinos, so that in the future there will be no “us” and no “them”, and no Great Wall. The next generation of Chinoys will render that great wall obsolete. That’s the way it should be.
Long story, S and my brother reconciled. Admittedly, I did use some of my psychotherapist powers, but mostly, it was my conviction that mattered. At the thick of it, I recall asking my mother boldly, “Do you want S and Bro to be together?” What is your stand, Ma?”
Asking that question probably nudged my second-generation, conservative Chinoy mom towards the right direction. And like it or not, mothers have a very strong pull on their sons. I still think that somehow, after I mediated, I influenced my mom to talk to my brother about going back home. So, there. My brother and S eventually patched up.
Looking back at the whole scenario—I’m talking about Chinoy-Filipino intermarriages, there were cracks in the Great Wall when I chose to bring it down in 2005. I may have exploited those cracks to my advantage. When I married 17 years ago, I was the first one to do so among my cousins. Before me, there were only rumors about relatives sneaking about with Filipino girlfriends or boyfriends. After I married “E”, things got easier for the rest of my family. My brother included.
Going back to my story, there’s a reason why I mentioned graduating from my masters at the start of this essay. I mentioned it because of the church. You see, I used the same church where my baccalaureate mass was held to get married in. At that moment, I wanted to drive the point in. I wanted to say to my Chinoy family, “I am my own woman.” When I decided to marry who I wanted to marry, I was prepared to be cut off from my family.
But they didn’t cut me off. My likewise second-generation, conservative dad was somehow convinced to attend my wedding. But for years after 2005, there was a stigma attached to my name. I was notorious as “that” rebel daughter my parents were not quite proud of.
Before he died, my father and I eventually made peace, but that was many years after.
The main point of what I’m trying to say is, I think it’s important, vitally important to chose yourself and your lover/potential marriage partner. There is, of course, a price to pay. A stigma attached. But breaking old traditions that do not fit us as modern Chinoys has to start somewhere.
As a Chinoy, I am unconventional. But it did work out in the end.
ABOUT Melany Heger
Melany is a Chinoy work-at-home home mom, she’s 42. Trained as a psychologist and Human Resource professional, she chose to work full-time as a writer. She lives with her two kids and husband in Manila. Her maiden surname is Chua.
Follow her on https://www.facebook.com/melanyhwriterpsy