Being a modern Chinoy means learning to balance the joys and practicalities of life.
That said, returning to CNN Philippines is CHiNOY TV’s Chinese by Blood, Filipino by Heart, a documentary series that presents dialogues with notable Chinese-Filipino personalities who have defined what it means to be a modern Chinoy. Now on its second season, the show follows the theme of going #BeyondBorders, sharing insightful stories from beyond the boundaries of Metro Manila and beyond what seems to be the expectations of Chinoy society today.
With more than fifteen years of experience in the media industry, events host and entrepreneur Valerie Tan talks to CHiNOY TV about her pursuit of a non-traditional Chinoy career, as well as the struggles of the modern Chinoy youth, from work-life balances and discipline to the cultural heritage that the current generation has gained and lost — and more.
On career, expectations, and representation
Even while she was a child, Valerie Tan always had a love for public speaking. Her roots in her current occupation as a TV and events host were actually grounded in elementary declamation pieces — a unique passion that was once encouraged by her second-grade teacher.
“I always knew that I wanted to be on TV to host. That has been a passion of mine ever since I was a child. And I think I would credit it to my grade 2 teacher. I still remember when I was joining a declamation contest,” recalled Valerie. “I know the grade 2 teacher who really believed in me. She held me. She trained me. She even hired a tutor for me for that particular declamation contest.”
When a passion like that is nurtured, it evolves into an opportunity — into something of a lifestyle. This is why what Valerie remains most grateful for is all the support she received while growing up. “I’m very fortunate in the fact that my parents are very supportive with my career of choice. Because as a Filipino-Chinese, ‘di ba the usual stereotype is you’re expected to be a doctor, an accountant, an engineer, and of course, an entrepreneur. But for us — me and my siblings — we all had different career paths. And my parents were very supportive of each of our choices.
“So when my parents saw that I had the inclination towards arts and public speaking and media, they were so supportive. They would bring me to all the auditions, each and every audition that I had. And up until I was starting and struggling to get a project on TV, they were there for me. They gave me 100% unconditional love and support and I’m very lucky in that aspect,” shared Valerie.
Rather than struggling with expectations from family, Valerie revealed that her anxieties stemmed from what she thought the industry expected from her. During the beginning of her career, Chinoys were not yet a common sight in the field of media. As a result, in order to blend in and feel more accepted, Valerie decided to change her surname.
Valerie revealed: “My surname is [made of] two words: Roxas Tan. It’s quite unique, but, you know, that’s the surname that my parents gave me. So when I was starting to enter theater and mainstream media and audition for commercials, I dropped Tan. I just used Valerie Roxas. To be honest, I was insecure of my background [and] of the way I look because it was really the mestizas who stood out [and] were on mainstream media.
“And then, finally, when I got into a TV network, my boss then said, ‘What was your surname?’ I said [that they could use] Roxas, and then he told me, ‘No! Use Tan. Use Valerie Tan because it’s what makes you unique.’”
At that point, Valerie realized that representation — or the lack thereof — is what affected her perception of her role in media. “Now, when I think about it, I think it’s because of my own perception, because of what [the] media has molded me [to believe]. Like, I was also insecure with my eyes. You know, I would put on very thick eyeliner just to have bigger eyes, to have rounded eyes. So I guess it’s good that, right now, there are more people who look like me on mainstream media. Because for [the] younger Chinese, when they see role models or influencers who look like them, it’s normalized. It doesn’t seem like such a faraway dream. It’s a dream that they can achieve — that they can reach.”
On Chinoy values gained and lost
It may be a stereotype in itself to label the Chinoy community with certain positive or negative traits — whether it be being hardworking or being kuripot — but the fact remains that there are constants that remain in almost every household. Valerie recognizes that these would only begin to differ with time, from generation to generation.
“It’s really hard to stereotype a whole community, but based on observation and my own experience, there are a lot of Chinoy qualities that are constant in almost every family or any person that I [have met]. First is hard work, ‘di ba? Working hard. Second is discipline. Then, of course, frugality. And so all these things [are what] I learned from my family,” said Valerie.
Among all of these, Valerie adds that she finds discipline to be the biggest lesson in her life: “I see that discipline is so important. [The previous generations] would be at their shops from morning until night. All of these things and qualities, I think, were passed on from generation to generation up until now, but I see, in the younger generation, there’s more balance when it comes to their lives. We are all set to take care of our mental health. We always have to have time for family and for relationships. So it’s like a merging of old values na [with] the younger generation — embraced, but they also have the additional input din.”
On the other hand, Valerie also acknowledges that there is a loss of cultural understanding with each generation that rises.
Valerie explains: “The older generation, especially mga seniors, medyo na-tuturn-off sila with the younger generation [because they] can’t speak the [Chinese] language. They get sad na parang sayang naman hindi niyo inaral ‘yung language, and I understand that kasi ‘di ba it’s your culture, it’s your ancestors, it’s your blood. So as much as possible, personally, I would like to value all those traditions. I respect those traditions, but on the other hand, it’s inevitable na nag-eevolve kasi the world becomes bigger and smaller at the same time because of the internet.”
“So some Chinoys would be more westernized when they grew up abroad. Syempre ‘yung worldview nila, it opens up. And I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing. But I feel Chinoys also have to hold on to our values and our traditions and our beliefs because a lot of these values and beliefs are very good. The discipline. frugality, perseverance, hard work,” she continued.
At the end of the day, Valerie believes that the main point to take away is to make the most of our time and circumstances. “It’s an amazing time to be a modern Chinoy because while we’re holding on to the traditional Chinoy values that our parents and grandparents instilled in us, we are now open to pursuing more diverse options for more diverse career paths, whether in medicine, sports, TV, content creation, publication, etc. It’s now all open, and our parents? They support us more.”
Valerie concluded, “So it’s really a great, great time. It’s a balance of the old, and the new, and the values that our parents instilled in us.”
Be sure to catch Valerie Tan on Chinese by Blood, Filipino by Heart on CNN Philippines! The series airs every Sunday at 8PM. Stay tuned on CHiNOY TV’s and CNN Philippines’ Facebook pages for further updates.