Wilson Lee-Flores Chinoy TV Profile: On Writing, Constantly Adapting and Thriving in Business Against All Odds

Launching the #1CH1NOY campaign, CHiNOY TV unveils a new season that aims to spotlight modern Chinoys, currently airing on CNN Philippines. Among these personalities who represent a modern take on Chinoy cultural values is renowned columnist and entrepreneur Wilson Lee-Flores.

Wilson Lee Flores is a prolific Chinoy businessman who has definitely brought honor to the family. He owns a bakery, invests in real estate, is a writer in the Philippine Star, and Chairman of an Entrepreneurship Association. On top of all these accolades, he is an advocate for education who is well-versed in Asian history and culture. In this exclusive Chinoy TV interview, Mr. Flores will shares about life as a Chinoy, growing up in a multicultural household, the differences between Chinese culture vis a vis Chinoy culture and more!


Chinese By Blood

Wilson Flores at Kamuning Bakery


As a kid in Ilocos, Wilson Flores lived with his mother and younger sister. (His father died when he was only seven years old) They lived a simple life, and his mother was a Chinese language teacher. Growing up as a Chinoy, he felt that one of the biggest benefits was learning an additional language: Mandarin, as well as the Hokkien dialect. 

“We have additional traditions and cultures added to our lifestyle. I think our childhood and youth is no different from anybody else in the Philippines, except for these added customs and languages/dialects.” 

Unlike many Chinoy parents, Wilson’s mother wanted her son to become a writer! While many Chinoy kids were made to pursue business, Mrs. Flores encouraged him towards the arts.

“I think my mother was the only Chinese parent in the Philippines who wanted her only son to be a writer. I was shocked! I was in Grade school and I said ‘What?’ At that time, my mom wanted me to be a novelist.” The reason for his shock was because he did not know anyone in the country who was a full time novelist. 

Wilson goes on to explain one of the key differences between mainland and Filipino Chinese. “The reason why my mother was like that was because she grew up in a Chinese tradition that loves writing – that loves art and culture more than business.” For his mother, being a writer was better than being a tycoon or a politician. 

“To make her happy, I kept writing throughout the years. It helped me because I enjoy writing as a hobby.” Little did she know that he would eventually become a successful businessman and writer.


Chinese Cultural Values

Mr. Flores shares that there are four very important values in Chinese culture: loyalty, integrity, legacy and bravery.

“Loyalty is ingrained in Chinese culture. It’s one of the most important virtues in Confucian culture or Confucian values. In fact, loyalty is the center of Chinese tradition. Loyalty to parents, loyalty to family etc. it’s called Xiao Sun. In Hokkien, it’s called Hao Sun.”

“Integrity is very important for business, for profession. It’s very essential because integrity has something to do with reputation. So, your personal integrity affects your personal reputation and affects the reputation of the whole family also. People think if you don’t have integrity, you not only bring shame to yourself and your family but to all your ancestors.”

“Legacy is very important because number one, the Chinese love history very much. Number two, the Chinese love the family reputation. So, legacy is very important to leave a good name. Remembrance is very important in Chinese culture. Remembrance of the past. Remembrance of what others did.”

He reveals that for Chinese people, legacy may be even more important than wealth.

“Bravery is essential also for Chinese culture. In fact, built in Chinese culture is the concept of risk taking. Uh, do you know that Chinese word, the Chinese word for crisis is, in Mandarin it’s called Wei Ji. Wei Ji, in Hokkien, it’s called Wi Qi. Wei Ji. Very unique Chinese culture, the face crisis is called Wei Ji, two words. Danger and opportunity. You combine danger, opportunity, and you get the character for crisis.”


Filipino by Heart

When asked about the phrase “Chinese by blood, Filipino by heart,” Wilson Flores gives a hearty reply, his love for history shining in his eyes.

“Ah, that’s very true! Not only for me, but for my ancestors. I love history. We’ve been here since the 1750’s. I’m actually the seventh generation already in the Philippines. And even though we are ethnic Chinese by heritage, we have been part of the Philippine culture and society for 260 years. So, it’s the best of both worlds. You combine Chinese culture and Chinese identity with Filipino experiences and influences.”

It is this combination of cultures and hard work that allowed Chinoys to establish a unique yet Pinoy identity in the Philippines. The country is home to the oldest Chinatown, and there are about a million Chinoys who live here today. 

“So, that’s a plus. It’s not saying we are half Chinese in Culture of half Filipino. It’s times two. You’re like 200%. Like you are 100% Filipino in culture and identity. You are also 100% Chinese in culture and heritage. So, it’s a very enriching experience.”

Mr. Flores goes on to share that some people do not like being Chinoy, because being “different from the rest has its difficulties.” Many Chinoys feel that they do not fully belong in the Philippines, despite it feeling like home. Some have described it as being a foreigner in one’s own country.

With a touch of optimism, the entrepreneur shares that “different” is good! Not only for Philippine society as a whole, but for culture, food, traditions, and life! Filipino cuisine would not be what it is today without Chinese influence. And Chinoy life would not be the same without Filipino influence.

“Uniqueness and difference is not only good for us as a minority, it also enriches the Philippine culture and society. Because if we retain our Chinese culture and traditions, we only not enrich ourselves but we also help enrich Philippine culture which is uh Philippine culture is actually multi cultural. It comes from many rich influences.”


Chinoy by Spirit

Wilson Flores says that being Chinoy is not about the passport. It’s about culture. When asked about who the term “Chinoy” refers to, he says “I think it refers to people who are ethnic Chinese with Filipino cultural background and upbringing. You have Chinese and Filipino culture, I think. That, that is my belief. You are an ethnic Chinese with Filipino and Chinese cultural upbringing. It’s not about the passport.” 

When asked if he thinks a lot of Chinese culture has been lost, he agrees.

“I think so. Because some parents are not good at upbringing. They idolize Western culture too much. So, they speak English. Some of them speak English to their kids, thinking it is better.”

An avid advocate for education, he stresses the importance of passing on values to the next generation.

“Some parents bequeath companies. But the most important thing parents could give to their children are values and culture. Those are priceless and those cannot be stolen. Those cannot be gambled overnight or lost in a pandemic.”

Mr. Flores shares his admiration for the older generation of entrepreneurs who came before him. In his words, they “not only work very hard, but they study nonstop.”

“Like Lucio Tan, I could not forget, even in old age, he still has a personal tutor in his house. And he is already a grandfather!”    


On Chinese Education and the Future

As a seventh generation Chinoy, Mr. Wilson confesses that he was among the first to experience a very low standard of Chinese education.

“When I was a kid in the 1970’s, there was a move to limit the Chinese language courses in the schools. The government also opened up citizenship to the Philippines. For the first time in centuries, the ethnic Chinese minorities were allowed to become Filipino citizens.”

This move had its perks and drawbacks, because while it allowed for further Chinoy integration into Philippine society; it also downgraded the level of Chinese education locally. The effects of this can be felt today, as most Chinoys only know basic Mandarin.

“During the time of my parents, grandparents, great grandparents, they used to have better Chinese language education. So, in our generation, I think, I am the first generation of the local born here in the Philippines with a very shallow sense of Mandarin. Our Mandarin is not good and all that.”

While the demand in the job market for Mandarin speakers increases, there is a growing opportunity for Chinoys to represent the Philippines. 

There is a worldwide push to improve Chinese education. Even the owner of Facebook, Mark Zuckenburg, studies Mandarin everyday for one hour. For our generation, the challenge is to retain our Chinese culture and hone our Mandarin skills. Because the world now needs to trade with China, we need to do more business with the world’s rising economic superpower. In ten or twenty years, it will become the number one economy in the world.”

Mr. Flores sees this as one of the roles for Chinoys in the economic development of the Philippines. 

“If we retain our culture, we could help the Philippines compete with other countries for China’s business.” The businessman shares his hopes for young Chinoys today, to make maximum use of their heritage and potential as children of both cultures.

“My hope is that the young generation of ethnic Chinese should not lose out our Chinese culture and use that to make the Philippines and ourselves better. If we lose our Chinese culture, we would not be of as much advantage or benefit to the Philippines.”

He continues. “If the local ethnic Chinese, the young ones, lose out the Chinese culture, the Philippines is the big loser. Do you know why? Because if there’s a Chinese community in the Philippines with Chinese culture, Chinese drive and Confucian values, you would add value to the Philippines. You would add more philanthropy. You would have made more, you’d be a world class exporter. You’d be a world class competitor in whatever field you are in.”

As the interview draws to a close, he shares some parting wisdom for ChinoyTV’s readers.

“We should always analyze ourselves in order to be better human beings. And our ethnic Chinese minority in the Philippines, non stop changes, we are experiencing non stop changes every generation. We should be better. We should always try to be better.”

Tune into the TV show to listen to Mr. Flores talk about Chinoy entrepreneurs in the Philippines such as Steven Sy, Kevin Tan, Pinky Tobiano, and more!

CHiNOY TV Presents: Chinese by Blood, Filipino by Heart #1CH1NOY airs on CNN on Sundays, 8PM. Stay tuned to CHiNOY TV’s and CNN Philippines’ Facebook pages for further updates.

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