Revisiting my Tsinoy dilemma: A response to F. Sionil Jose

Kathleen Yu
Kathleen Yu is Chinese-Filipino and doesn't think anyone has the right to treat Chinese-Filipinos any differently. She is, after all, a Filipino too.

I am 23-years old and my life experiences have not yet approached the level of celebrated wisdom, but I like to think that in my own humble way, my opinions could perhaps play a small role in shaping public sentiment. I am a Chinese-Filipino, a Filipino national with Chinese heritage and ancestry.

Not too long ago, I wrote an article called “My Tsinoy Dilemma,” which explored a conflict I had with my personal identity—how, in spite of seeing myself as a Filipino, many of my countrymen would not recognize me as one of their own because of my Chinese ancestry. They called me a “Chinese,” even after I spoke to them in Tagalog, even after I told them that I’d spent all 23 years of my life in the Philippines and had come to see myself as a Filipino in thought and spirit. 

The responses to my piece were very colorful and enlightening for me and while some people demanded I “go back to Motherland China,” most of those (some of them were Filipino American, Chinese-Filipinos, Filipino-Spanish and many others) who responded were open-minded and kind about sharing their experiences on a cultural level.

What I learned from going over most of the reasonable and well thought-out comments was this: Being a Filipino is hardly about blood, since we are as a country a melting pot of different cultures and races. Rather, being a Filipino is about your words and your actions.

To be a true Filipino is to love your country and to show this love in the things that you do in service of that country. And part of this love, part of this sense of nationalism and belongingness, is rooted in how we look at our fellow countrymen. 

As President Abraham Lincoln so aptly put it, “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds.” 

Contrary to President Lincoln’s ideas about mutual respect and acceptance, F. Sionil Jose — one of our national writers — declares of his demands to the Chinese-Filipino community, “I asked them to invest the money they make here in the Philippines, to be different from the Spanish mestizo elite who sent their money to Spain and elsewhere, and from our leaders like Marcos who stashed billions in Swiss banks.” (READ: F. Sionil Jose’s controversial article)

This is taken as something that will prevent “anti-Chinese riots,” because if that happened “the whole country will suffer.”  I have several concerns about these assertions. 

First, why not ask the same of the Spanish mestizo elite? If we will need all our country’s resources together for a potential unpleasantness with China, why just pinpoint Chinese-Filipino businessmen? Shouldn’t the Spanish mestizo elite (as Filipinos) be equally accountable as well to building up the Philippines? Shouldn’t leaders like Marcos also be accountable toward this end? Why impose this responsibility on just the Chinese Filipinos in particular? Is it because their “loyalty” to the Philippines is “in question”? Is it because we are at war with China, and were never at war with Spain or corruption?

To be clear, I disagree with a lot of the unpleasantness in the Spratly Islands and I hope that we can find a constructive way to resolve these issues soon. I am open to speaking out against injustice, and to finding ways to make the “Chinese Filipino voice” heard in this issue. I want to help the country in any way that I can, but how can I offer my assistance if I am treated as an outgroup in my own society? 

If great national patriots in the wisdom of old age claim that many of my peers are probably going to side with China anyway?

What I am trying to say is this: I have very strong Filipino sentiments, and would like to do what I can to help protect Philippine interests, but being treated as an outgroup doesn’t encourage me to go out of my way to help at all. 

Why should I be treated differently from the Filipino-Spanish, and the Filipino-Americans, and the indigenous Filipinos—as if my unwavering loyalty to the Philippines is in question—just because my ancestors happen to be Chinese? Why should the Chinese schools I grew up going to be closed, even when they do not exclude Filipino families in enrollment and in spite of the fact that they share very positive elements of Chinese culture here in the Philippines?  

In short, why are those who claim to love the Philippines more than anything subjecting fellow Filipinos like me to isolationist tactics that can only promote divisiveness and suspicion among our countrymen?

Schoolyard mentality

As a Chinese Filipino, I kind of feel I am being subjected to a sort of schoolyard mentality, where “outgroup” cultures are forced to work harder to benefit “all of society,” while “ingroup” cultures in the society can thrive without a negative backlash. 

That said, psychological studies on cultural minorities have actually shown that outgroup cultures are more likely to cooperate in the interests of the collective if they are treated with respect and consideration. I say this not only to point out the fractious nature inside every society, but also to show that there is great potential for growth and progress when people learn to collaborate in spite of their differences.

The kind of patriotism that demands for “assurances of loyalty” from smaller cultures in the interest of “peace-making”, to my mind, is not very constructive at all. It does not promote camaraderie between different cultures of Filipinos, but it serves to promote suspicion and encourage racism. This will not help our society in the long run, as it will divide people who would otherwise be able to work together constructively. 

Also, should the responsibility only be on the Chinese Filipino community alone to ensure that no “anti-Chinese riots” destroy the country? Shouldn’t we instead promote a culture of open-mindedness where everyone is judged as Filipino first, regardless of cultural background? 

Shouldn’t we say, “All Filipinos should work together to ensure that the Spratly situation will not escalate into something that will hurt everyone in the long run, and we would like to hear the voices of these groups in the discussion,” as opposed to saying, “This anti-Chinese feeling could fester and grow, depending on how our ethnic Chinese behave. It is their duty to stop it from growing?”

For me, I would rather work with the first kind of patriotism, because it is rooted in the principles of democracy that “all people are equal,” and that by working together as one without distinction between race, culture, and religion, we can build a Philippines that we can all be proud of.

Personally, I believe that a culture of acceptance and mutual respect is stronger than all the righteous anger and violent prose that we can produce to stir a bubbling cauldron of patriotic sentiments. Why? Because when we accept each other as Filipinos, when we learn to look at each other equally and to respect our similarities as well as our differences, we can capitalize on our strengths and weaknesses to build a future that everyone can benefit from.

I write this article in the hope that we can all build on a constructive definition of what it means to be Filipino and a patriot. I wish that we—as Filipinos—could all look beyond our own anger to a more constructive kind of patriotism, where instead of playing the part of the oppressor and oppressed in  society, let’s perhaps build a new narrative for the next generation.

One where the Philippines and Filipinos are respected the world over for their strong principles, discipline and integrity—where we are able to take the best of the many different cultures that we have in our country today, and build a more solid and lasting identity for those who will come after. —

Kathleen Yu, 23, is a start-up founder and machine learning student currently working on HR tools online

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