Nicole Cordoves: Living the Best of Both Worlds

Nicole Cordoves is living the best of both worlds. Given that she is the title holder of both Miss Chinatown 2014 and Binibining Pilipinas Grand International 2016, she demonstrates how Chinoys truly are Chinese by blood and Filipinos by heart. She definitely has a lot of unique insights to offer to the Chinoy community, and when asked what she thinks of the 1CH1NOY Campaign, this is what she said:


“I’m really honored to be part of One Chinoy because I feel like we need to tell our story more. We need to open up a conversation more, and I know that andami nating Chinoy community members na naghahanap ng kausap, naghahanap ng mahuhugutan ng advice. So we need to be more present, we need to be more visible. And with everything that is going on with the world now, especially with Asian hate as well…all the more we need to be louder. All the more that we need our presence felt because we need to remind them that we are not different from any of them,” Cordoves says, although she adds that she is fortunate to be in the Philippines, where people are more accepting of different cultures. 


Proving her identity

Photo from Yahoo Lifestyle Singapore

Cordoves says that the best part about being a Chinoy is the rich cultural heritage. She believes that Chinoys have a unique way of approaching life, which creates funny and relatable stories that she can easily share with her Chinoy friends. But despite being part of a relatively small community, Cordoves says that she never felt any different from the Filipinos. In fact, she actually spends more time proving to people that she is a Chinoy. 


Upon first glance, Cordoves does not look like a Chinoy, and even her last name is an oddity. “So I didn’t look anything like what you would think a Chinese would look like. And then yung last name ko pa is Cordoves, so people would automatically assume I’m Spanish. But actually since my great grandfather was fresh off the boat, literally he had to buy a surname para we’ll be allowed to stay in the Philippines,” Cordoves explains. This potentially became a problem when she joined Miss Chinatown. She said it was her grandmother who encouraged her to join, but they both thought she didn’t have a big chance of winning because she doesn’t look Chinese. 


“So honestly in Ms. Chinatown, I felt lost because parang pinupush away ako ng Chinese community,” Cordoves says. “And do I belong in Filipino community? So I was really trying to find my middle ground. And in pageants it is really important to be able to establish your core, because that’s who you are.” 


“But I knew that my edge over all the other candidates was that I can speak Fukien and Mandarin fluently. So that’s what I did sa mga events, akala nila I can’t speak, but I would approach the guests one by one and talk to them in Chinese. And they would really be surprised. So that got the buzz going.” Cordoves shares. 


“When I was crowned Ms. Chinatown, it was like an affirmation talaga for me na you don’t need to look a certain way or say certain things to belong to a certain community,” Cordoves says. This is why she believes that conversations about identity are important because not all Chinoys are packaged the same way. They don’t always look the same, but that doesn’t mean they’re not part of the community. 


“I went to Binibining Pilipinas carrying that kind of mindset na I thought I would have to prove naman this time na I’m Filipino. So I was like okay, how was the public going to respond when they find out that I’m actually Chinoy? Would they say that I’m less Filipino? But that’s when I actually realized that yung Philippines talaga, not only are we so welcoming and so hospitable to people around the world regardless of their nationality, their race. So doon ko na-realize na they would really embrace you. And siguro kaya ang daming gusto talagamg maging Filipino din because of those traits. And I won a crown in Binibining Pilipinas without ever having to defend myself or my birthright.”


The struggles of being a Chinoy

Cordoves might not look like the typical Chinoy, but she definitely has a fair share of Chinoy experiences. She talks a lot about the struggles that come with her culture, and how she was able to cope with them or overcome them.


“I think the biggest misconception is that we keep to ourselves. We’re not so emotional because we grew up in a Chinese family. We don’t state our feelings, we don’t show our emotions, we’re not touchy at all. And our parents don’t give us encouragement. Not that it’s not entirely a bad thing, but more of they want us to stay humble. They’re afraid na once we once they compliment us, baka lumaki yung ulo namin,” Cordoves says, although she also wishes that her parents were better at communicating their emotions. 


She also mentions how Chinoys are always expected to pursue a career in business, which became a hindrance when she planned to take on an unconventional path. “Honestly my parents were really worried when I wanted to join pageantry. I didn’t want to at first in Ms. Chinatown, and I got into a really big fight with my mom because she was like, nasa corporate ka na eh ‘di ba? That’s a safe path. So when I decided to join Binibining Pilipinas by myself, doon na sila medyo natakot. But I had this drive talaga to show them na you know what it doesn’t mean that if it’s unfamiliar territory for you guys I won’t be able to succeed anymore.” 


Of course, it wouldn’t be a conversation about Chinoy culture if there wasn’t a mention of the Great Wall. Cordoves says that her family doesn’t really have a Great Wall, but there is still a significant difference between Chinoy and Filipino culture, and she recalls having to train her Filipino boyfriend to be more Chinese to make a good impression on her family. She points out that Chinoy parents have standards that might hit differently for other people because they tend to ask questions that might embarrass you on a first date, but Cordoves understands why they do it because they’re only making sure that their child is not basing their decisions on their emotions alone. 


Valuable life lessons

From the way she discusses the struggles of being a Chinoy, it’s evident that Cordoves tries to find the silver lining in every situation. For example, the Great Wall might be a practice that’s frowned upon by most modern Chinoys, but Cordoves is able to see the brightside to it. 


“I feel like going through the great wall is not even a huge thing because once you want to be part of someone else’s family, that family carries their own cultures, traditions, and quirks also that you have to get used to and not hate. ‘Di ba? So when you do get into the great wall, I feel like it’s just a thing that the Chinese community shares, but it’s the same act as trying to incorporate yourself in another person’s family. So if the guy is not willing to do the hard work, honey, get rid of him, quick.” Cordoves advises. 


She even cites own boyfriend as an example because he was willing to go through lengths to learn her culture and be part of her family. “Naappreciate ko yung strictness ng family ko that they made him work for it because they would know your value more kasi pinaghirapan ka niya.”


In addition, she was able to learn valuable lessons from filial piety. Chinoy culture values filial piety above all, which means children are expected to follow their parents and not talk back to them. This could easily cause Chinoy youths to become rebellious, but Cordoves says that the authoritarian nature of her family actually taught her to respect others first.


“I feel like there were a lot of times in my life na I had to choose to forgive. There would be instances na I would feel wronged, but I needed to respect the person first instead of asking for forgiveness….and it actually made life easier because you just learn to submit and give respect first, and then you don’t sacrifice your character and who you are just because you need affirmation….So I feel like it builds your character more stronger by being able to respect the person first,” Cordoves points out.


Lastly, despite taking an unconventional career path, Cordoves was also able to apply her family’s business-related teachings to her life. “Since I grew up na sinasabi ng parents ko and grandparents ko lagi na: ‘Alam mo dati ito lang ginagawa ko. Tagabuhat ako ng ganitong product ilalagay ko lang sa truck.’ And then they always give you this oral family history of the small jobs that they’ve been doing. And then they raised me also na mag kotiam so you see how unglamorous business really is. So when I got into entertainment, I expected that also. Like yun yung mindset ko na anything related to work, it’s not gonna be glamorous,” Cordoves says, which is the same reason why she is always willing to take on any gig in the entertainment industry.


“I never really turned down a job, especially when I was starting out…I feel like every small role contributes to my success later on, which is what we hear from our parents also like how they started out carrying heavy things into trucks lang and then they’ll eventually set up their own business because they learned from their menial jobs na ah ganito pala dapat makipag-usap sa supplier, ganito pala yung connections, ganito pala dapat paano i-set up yung stores. So those little things I knew would contribute to my success stories later on. So I never was so choosy. I was never really demanding. And I took jobs as it is like it was work.” 


What it means to be a modern Chinoy

Cordoves is a perfect example of someone who was able to break out of the classic Chinoy mold, and she believes that modern Chinoys will be able to do the same. According to Cordoves: “The modern Chinoy is not afraid to be loud, is not afraid to make their voice heard. The modern Chinoy knows when to say that I am ready to forge my own path and create my own legacy.” 


She went on to list the qualities that make a modern Chinoy, and despite creating a new path for herself, you will notice that she still cites a lot of traditional teachings from her parents and grandparents.


“I think the first one would definitely be hard work,” Cordoves asserts. “I would want my kids to grow up with my grandparents, [and hear] their stories so that they could appreciate the surprises, the lows, and the highs of life like I did also growing up. And you can never really learn business [better] than with your own family who built something out of nothing.”


“The second one would probably have to be humility because my parents have instilled in us that whatever success that we reach, we don’t need to show it, we don’t need to prove it to people, we don’t even feel the need to say it. And I feel like that’s just the next level character that you want to achieve. Like you let your success speak for yourself, dress down, don’t be too showy. I feel like I’ve always appreciated that from my family. They always discourage me from buying branded bags. They wanted me to always be practical, to always put my needs first rather than my wants.”


“The last one would be loyalty to my family because I would probably be a difficult parent to my kids,” Cordoves says with a laugh. “I think I would still be strict to an extent to them, and I feel like [it has to do with] some of the years that I lost with my own parents because I didn’t understand where they were coming from. But now, I can’t believe I’m saying this, but yes mom, dad, ama, angkong, you were right. You were right for being strict with me but it’s important to be loyal to your family because there will be a lot of times that you won’t understand why they’re asking you to do certain things, why are they telling you not to do a lot of things, not to choose certain people, but they are the only ones who have your best interest.”


This article spotlights the personalities featured in our TV show entitled CHiNOY TV Presents: Chinese by Blood, Filipino by Heart. To watch the full episodes, tune in to CNN Philippines every Sunday at 8pm, starting August 8, 2021.

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