Stan Sy: A Radio DJ Seeking to Shock the System

CHiNOY TV has recently launched the 1CH1NOY campaign as part of an effort to give insights on the Chinoy community and correct some of the common misconceptions. The ultimate goal is to show that despite having Chinese blood flowing through their veins, Chinoys are undoubtedly Filipinos by heart. 


When asked about his sentiments towards the 1CH1NOY campaign, this is what radio DJ and podcaster, Stan Sy had to say: “I feel privileged to be part of the One Chinoy campaign because I want to be the voice that starts these uncomfortable conversations and it’s high time that they happen because, we have to look at who we are to understand where we come from and that’s a conversation that’s long overdue. It’s time to shock the system.” 


Indeed, he does demonstrate the importance of uncomfortable conversations throughout his interview, starting with the way he introduced himself. Aside from being a radio DJ and a podcaster, he is also an events host, a voice talent, and a writer, which are things that you wouldn’t normally hear from a Chinoy, according to Sy. He further adds that being a Chinoy comes with the underlying expectation that your career would be corporate or professional, and anything that involves making a living out of creativity is discouraged. 


Identity Crisis

His unconventional career path would have been enough to induce an identity crisis, but on top of that, there’s also the matter of being caught between two cultures. Sy shared that he constantly asks himself whether he’s  Filipino enough or Chinese enough. “It has always been a question of aling side yung mananaig over the other, right? I’m born and raised in the Philippines and yet I look very different from a majority of the population and my cultural experiences are also pretty different.”


However, Sy didn’t become aware of the identity struggle until he went to college at UP Diliman. According to Sy, one of the first questions his classmates asked him was which side he would take if ever there was a conflict between the Philippines and China. “Which to me is such a stupid question to ask somebody who was born and raised in the Philippines,” Sy remarks.  


Although he’s aware that he’s Chinese Filipino and not one or the other, Sy still has a lot of identity issues that he needs to unpack, which is why he came up with a way to acknowledge both sides of his culture. “Notice that I never refer to myself as Fil Chi or Filipino Chinese,” Sy points out. “It’s always Chinese Filipino; Chinese being the antecedent, and Filipino being a noun. That is because I am a Filipino with Chinese descent, so that’s also why I identify as Chinoy: Chinese Filipino. Semantics matter.” 


Inaccurate representation in media

Because of the tricky cultural identity of the Chinoys, there are often a lot of inaccuracies when it comes to Chinoy representation in Philippine media. This is a subject that Sy is very passionate about, as he revealed that his undergraduate thesis was an ethnographic analysis of the Chinese Filipino lived identity juxtaposed against the ABS-CBN teleserye My Binondo Girl.


“People were really into chinita [around 2012-2103] you know, to the point of borderline exoticizing the chinita looks on TV. So, Kim Chiu starring in My Binondo Girl, a series that also launched Xian Lim into the mainstream, and I had a big problem with the way they represented the Chinese Filipino identity kasi napaka exoticized din niya,” Sy laments. “I feel like it was a big misrepresentation of our identity. I don’t know how many Chinoys there were in the writer’s room of that show, if there were any. But you know, looking back on it I have the same criticisms of it that I did a decade ago as I do right now.”


Sy also shared that one of his childhood idols was Yao Ming. This is something that can easily be mistaken for a pro-China sentiment, but in truth, Sy was only looking for representation. “If you look through my pictures or pictures of me wearing the Chinese themed jacket back when the Olympics were held in China, that was because I love Yao Ming, who was my favorite player. Kasi you know, growing up watching the NBA,  he was the only guy who looked like me. Wala naman Pilipinong umabot ng NBA eh.”


The lack of representation and inaccurate representation in media was what led Sy to be more open about his cultural identity as a radio DJ. “ As a broadcaster I decided to do that in my own way. So I started being open about being Chinoy, I did that on air, a lot. I would openly talk about ‘Ah hindi kasi, sa family namin nung pinalaki kami ganito, ganun’ so there was that, you know. When somebody asks me: ‘How do you identify?’ ‘Yeah, I’m Chinoy. I’m Chinese Filipino.’ Previous generations of radio DJs weren’t as open to that, so that was a risk for me kasi no one else did it. But I want to be that voice for other Chinese Filipino listeners like myself,” Sy says. 


Aside from his stint in the media industry, Sy is also a prominent figure in the local pro-wrestling scene. However, instead of donning a completely different persona, he presented a character that was an extension of his personality. He was Mr. Sy in the ring, a benevolent general manager of a company, who also had a bad side. His goal during these performances was to represent the Chinoy community, so he played off of different Chinoy stereotypes (such as giving ang paos and tikoy) and subverted them. 


However, when asked if his representation had positive effects on Chinoys, Sy recalled a few instances where Chinoy viewers would thank him for helping them feel seen, but there are also people who are quick to express their disapproval for his career choice. 


“More often than not I get the questions na parang ‘Bakit ka pa nandiyan? May kinikita ka ba diyan? May pera ba diyan? Stable ba yan?’ You know the usual questions that the parents of the people you’re courting would ask, I get that from the community at large…which I think is very dismissive and reductive of what we do,” Sy shared.


The importance of having difficult conversations

Photo from Shawtout


The disapproval of an unconventional career choice is among one of the many stereotypes of Chinoy culture, but despite being labelled as such, most of them still remain true today. Most stereotypes tend to stem from certain traditions, which Sy believes must be reevaluated, even if it involves having uncomfortable conversations.


“When I think of harmony, it’s not: “Oh what a happy relationship!” It’s more of the absence of gulo, the absence of strife, right? And I think that it’s a good value to have. Who doesn’t want peace, right? Who doesn’t want a quiet existence. At the same time, yung peace na yan, underneath it, there could be issues bubbling under the surface na hindi natin na eexplore because of that desire for harmony,” Sy points out. 


Among the many issues that Sy thinks should be confronted is the problematic nature of the Great Wall. “It’s so racist to me because parang on the basis of genetics or on the basis of pinanganak ka as hindi Chinese something which you didn’t pick by the way hindi ka na eligible para pakasalan nitong taong ‘to ‘di ba,” Sy says, although those who believe in the Great Wall aren’t intentionally racist, as he later adds. “Racism is something that we aren’t conscious about agad because it’s inherent and it’s systemic. When I say it’s systemic, it means na nakabaon na siya dun sa pagpapalaki sa’min. And you’re conditioned to believe that it’s correct or that it’s true because it’s just the way it is.”


There’s also the issue of bigotry that’s present even within the Chinoy community, which Sy likened to the concepts in Harry Potter. He points out that Chinoys tend to value the idea of being “pure Chinese” similar to the way Hogwarts values pure-blooded wizards, and if ever you were a half-blood, or in the case of Chinoys, half-mestiza, then you’re treated as if you’re lacking something. Next are the muggle-borns, which refers to wizards who were born from non-magical parents, and Sy compares them to the non-Chinoys who are attending Chinese schools. They are often treated differently because they don’t have similar lived experiences with their peers, and they also feel isolated at home because they can’t exactly ask their family to help them with Chinese subjects. The last are the squibs, a derogatory term used to describe someone  who was born into magical abilities but has no magical powers themselves. Sy compares it to the term Hua Na Gong, which describes Chinoys who are unfamiliar with Chinese language and culture. Sy finds them all incredibly problematic, especially since it dictates who is considered “Chinoy enough” and who is not.


Lastly, there’s also the issue of overemphasizing filial piety in Chinoy culture, which turns into a matter of blind obedience. Sy acknowledges the importance of filial piety, but he also believes we should learn to develop our own perspectives rather than simply doing what we’re told. 

“I’m already bracing myself for all the older generation Chinoy saying, “Ah yang Stan Sy na yan boleso [no respect in Fukien] talaga yan. ‘Di pinalaki nang maayos ng mga magulang niya”. And I’m gonna tell you flat out that’s absolutely incorrect because [my parents] did send me to the best of schools, which is why I am capable of  having this independent critical thinking, questioning these long standing systemic beliefs that have been embedded in us,” Sy asserts. 


The modern Chinoy

With all that being said, Sy believes that modern Chinoys are on a steady path to change. When asked what makes a modern Chinoy, this was what Sy had to say: “To me, the idea of a modern Chinoy is somebody who is unafraid of stepping outside their little bubble…somebody who is willing to ask these questions, willing to ask why or how, somebody who is willing to see that there is a world outside of what’s in front of them.”


Sy further adds: “Modern Chinoy also involves knowing where you come from and understanding that a lot of the things that you were conditioned to believe were not all probably correct. Understanding that a lot of these deeply held beliefs and thought patterns are  problematic. Understanding and being conscious that we have a long way to go towards respecting one another, respecting the women in our lives, respecting the LGBTQ+ community; some of whom are Chinoys you know. Being a modern Chinoy is also somebody who I think who’s willing to be someone outside of the blueprint that has been laid out for them.”


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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