Every Wednesday, I have an essay on any topic that catches my fancy!
I don't seem to have the words to describe the kind of relationship the Filipinos have with the Chinese. An over-simplification would call it a love-hate relationship but that's not quite accurate either. On one hand, the Chinese are one of the earliest "immigrants" the country had--and one that didn't attempt to take the country by force unlike the Spanish, Americans, or Japanese (of course I expect there were the occasional pirate clashes or perhaps even raids ala the Vikings). Of course by the same token, Philippine culture is remarkably distinct and different from the other Chinese-influenced nations in Asia such as Japan or Singapore--precisely because the Chinese didn't attempt to assimilate us into their culture. Spain, on the other hand, was more than willing to jump at that particular opportunity (see Culture and Histsory by Nick Joaquin for more references), giving the Philippines a more European--and later Western--atmosphere as opposed as to what is usually perceived as "Asian"*.
Trade was one of the earliest methods in which the Chinese interacted with Filipinos and so it should be no surprise why Ongpin or "Chinatown" was located in Manila, a popular port and market hub several centuries ago. Even before the Chinese Revolution, migrating to the Philippines seemed like a lucrative opportunity: it was the new frontier and a gateway to the West yet remaining familiar because of prior experiences with trade. Later on, the Philippines became a haven for those wanting to escape the Chinese Revolution or its one-child policy.
Perhaps what many people are unaware of is the Chinese minority that actually fled to the Philippines. China is a huge country that has variations in language and dialect. People wanting to learn "Chinese" are actually studying Mandarin or the other prominent dialect, Cantonese. In the Philippines, majority of its Chinese immigrants speak Fookien (I can already imagine the mnemonic technique of "fuck!"), a remnant from a southern Chinese province. I don't think a modern Chinese citizen would be able to understand Fookien, although we get to use Fookien when bargaining with some vendors in Hong Kong. Suffice to say, Fookien is the dominant Chinese language in the Philippines despite the fact that Mandarin is the language being taught at schools (and in the case of my generation, more students are proficient with the former than the latter).
With the history lesson out of the way, I can begin to talk about the Filipino-Chinese culture. Many Filipino-Chinese families take a more conservative stance when it comes to tradition. I suspect this is one of the last few ways they cling on to their culture. The Chinese elders that I talk to don't consider themselves Filipinos for example. They consider themselves Chinese. The term Filipino-Chinese is in many ways a modern construct that is accepted only by the recent generation who grew up in Philippine culture. Even today, whenever I talk to my parents about a friend, the first question they'll ask me is langna or huana which translates to "Chinese or Filipino?" A classmate even asks me the same question when I bring up an unfamiliar name. Suffice to say, for the Filipino-Chinese, there is a divide between people they consider Chinese and people they consider Filipino.
Of course if the Filipino-Chinese community is arrogant and prejudiced in their disposition, Filipinos haven't really attempted to dispel this notion either. I'm sure there are many Filipinos who perceive the Chinese as grabbing the business opportunities that should have gone to them. There are those who would, given the chance, deport all the Chinese from this country, making it a "Philippines for Filipinos" ideal--never mind the fact that many modern Filipino concepts such as SM Megamall or the fast-food chain Jollibee are run by Filipino-Chinese entrepreneurs. When the Spanish originally inhabited the Philippines, they labeled the natives as "indios" in much the same way America labeled its natives as Indians or its slaves as negroes. The Chinese were once called "instik" by native Filipinos although the label has lost its derogatory meaning over time.
Going back to the conservative stance of the Filipino-Chinese community, purity of blood is still a tradition that is still valued. There are some traditions that we've dropped (i.e. arranged marriages) and some that we've kept (i.e. dowries). But the last bastion of tradition the Filipino-Chinese will fight to the death is probably its preservation of its pure Chinese blood (which similarly leads to the popularity of exclusive Filipino-Chinese schools). Currently, it is still taboo for a Filipino-Chinese to marry someone who is not Chinese. There have been many actions taken to reinforce this belief. A friend once shared with us that his father took him to a strip bar when he was just a teenager to show him that there were many beautiful women in the world and not to fall in love with the first woman who caught his interest. Another friend was threatened to be kept out of the will and disowned should he marry someone not Chinese.
What interests me is the hypocrisy of exemptions that occur under these practices. Filipino-Chinese families will have qualms if you marry someone Filipino but if you're some other foreigner--let's say an American--that's perfectly fine (having said that, there are still some racial combinations that is frowned upon such as an Indian marriage). If you're a Filipino who's particularly wealthy, the family will probably also make an exemption. What baffles me are the Filipino-Chinese families who aren't of pure descent to begin with: the father who married a Filipina but is forbidding his son or daughter from marrying someone not Chinese.
That's not to say people haven't broken taboo. It's probably easier these days for a Filipino-Chinese person to marry someone not Chinese compared to one or two generations ago but the stigma is still there. My uncle married a Filipina but he eventually migrated to the US. Whenever he visits us and my late grandfather, he never brought his family. Whether this is simply a logistical problem (accommodations, expenses, etc.) or simply avoiding bringing up old wounds, I don't know. Having said that, this exemption mentality has also brought up a new prejudice: if anyone in the family is going to marry someone not Chinese, let it be the male child.
A friend once asked me why this is so and I replied that she should remember that China is a patriarchy and most of the benefits go to the men. She replied that if that were truly the case, then they shouldn't care who their women should marry. Well, for one thing, humanity has always been contradictory. For another, I see it as the Filipino-Chinese having this belief that if anyone should break tradition, it should be the person with the most authority. So while there's been progress when it comes to Filipino-Chinese marriages, we're not there yet. The males can break taboo with some difficulty but that's not the case with females.
*Sadly, friends recount numerous anecdotes of Americans asking them if they know kung-fu when they claim that they are Asian.