Who should be considered Filipinos? Should it be based on someone’s blood? Since foreigners with Filipino blood are still considered Filipinos, even if they don’t know the culture and can’t speak the language. Or should it be based on someone’s sense of belonging? Since there are people like Chinoys, who don’t necessarily have Filipino blood, but they live in the Philippines and are more in touch with Filipino culture. Is it right for one to be considered more Filipino than the other?
These were the questions raised by Richard Juan, an online and TV personality who was born in the Philippines but raised in Hong Kong. Richard’s grandparents migrated to the Philippines from Fujian in the 1930s, which technically makes him a 3rd generation Chinoy. However, when he was 1 year old, his family moved to Hong Kong, which was where he grew up until he moved back to the Philippines for college.
When he began his studies at the University of the Philippines, Richard was met with a considerable amount of culture shock. He had a hard time connecting with his classmates because he didn’t speak Tagalog, and he also felt alienated from the Chinoy students in UP because they knew he wasn’t from the Philippines and regarded him more as an international exchange student. This resulted in an identity crisis, but Richard soon realized that learning Tagalog was the key to belonging.
“I think language is very important because it’s the way that you connect to people. The best example is I recently just went on a trip to Hong Kong, and it was for business, and they instantly connect with you a lot more if you speak the language. And when I moved to the Philippines, my reason why I learned Filipino as early as I can is because I want to be able to connect with people so that when I take a taxi, they will think that I’m a local. Even in C-Dramas, if you understand what they’re talking about, mas nafefeel mo siya eh. Unlike, if it’s in subtitles, it loses a little bit of the meaning.”
“So I speak five different languages; Cantonese, [which] I learned in Hong Kong, Mandarin, [which] I learned in school, and Hokkien, [which[ I learned to speak at home. And a lot of people always say that, ‘hey, Richard, that’s all just Chinese, that’s their dialects.’ But in linguistics, the way to find a language is when it’s mutually unintelligible. Meaning if you never learn that language, you won’t understand the other person.”
“Even Tagalog, Bisaya, Ilocano are all languages. They’re not Filipino dialects. And people in the Philippines or around the world should give [themselves] more credit [because] I have so many friends who speak Bisaya and Tagalog and feel like it’s just one language. But no, they’re actually two different languages.”
However, despite knowing these languages, Richard didn’t know if he should define himself as Chinese, Filipino, or both. He describes his parents as traditionally Chinese. They were training him to be a businessman from a young age, and Richard was intent on following that path until he came to the Philippines and was given a chance to join the “You’re My Foreignoy” segment of Eat Bulaga. It was meant to be a gig to earn him extra money while he was still in college, but Richard ended up being a fan favorite and was asked to come back as one of the hosts for Pinoy Henyo. His career grew from there, and he even became a housemate in Pinoy Big Brother. However, in showbiz, there are only so many roles available to someone like Richard, who is often deemed as “not Filipino.”
“I mean because of how I look on the outside, people don’t think I’m actually Filipino But [then] again, PBB is Pinoy Big Brother, so how do you define [a] Pinoy, nationality wise then? On social media, I always get comments from people who don’t know me, [and they would say] ‘Richard, you’re not even Filipino. Why are you doing this and doing that?’”
“Sometimes, I just make a joke out of [it and] show them my passport. What else can I say? I’m actually a natural born Filipino, which technically means I can run for president one day if I want to. Ganon ka-Pinoy ako technically on paper.”
“It just gets frustrating sometimes when you see someone that’s only like a quarter or or even an eighth Filipino, a lot of people [are] like ‘ay, Pinoy yan, Pinoy pride.’ And yet, someone who embraces themselves as a Filipino does not get the same recognition, even though they don’t have Filipino blood.”
Eventually, Richard found his footing and took inspiration from Catriona Grey, who defined herself as 100% Filipino and 100% Australian. “I think how I embody being a Chinese by blood, Filipino by heart is that I see myself as two of them 100%. I uphold all the Chinese values and also uphold a lot of Filipino values. I mix the both together, and I’m able to be who I am and make the most out of being in the middle of both cultures.”
“I’m lucky to have all these different cultures in me [because[ I understand a lot of different sides. It makes me realize like ‘ah, the Chinese think like this, the Filipinos think like this because that’s how [their culture is]. And I learned to be a little more accepting understanding in different situations in life. And that is what empowered me to make some changes and make a stance about things because I tend to be more understanding [after] being exposed to so many different cultures.”
Catch Richard Juan’s episode on Sunday, June 11, 2023, 8pm on CNN Philippines. Be sure to follow CHiNOYTV’s Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube for the latest updates.