Why F. Sionil Jose may just be our Donald Trump, Part 1

Patricio N. Abinales

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Why F. Sionil Jose may just be our Donald Trump, Part 1
Racists – including, but especially the old ones – often see the world in black-and-white terms. Real history, however, is a lot much grayer and complicated than what his jaded xenophobic mind wants us to believe.

The book store owner thinks he has a resilient armature to protect him against critics who have taken him to task for his racism. To the criticism that he knows very little, there is wisdom that comes with age; to a jaded view of an ever-changing reality, a sensitive awareness of the world around him thanks to a chico de calle acumen seamlessly merging with book knowledge; and to an absence of any philosophical foundation, there is that lineage that dates back to 400 BC. 

And if you are a nasty third-rate scholar (undefined) woe upon you for attacking a fragile 90-year-old man!

This is a quaint iffy script. It is also bogus.

As Caroline S. Hau, Lisandro Claudio, and Benjamin Pimentel have pointed out, Jose is barking at the wrong tree. 

Targets of racism

The targets of Jose’s racism are Filipinos; they are not aliens or clandestine waiguoren. Some of their elders may have migrated from southern China but our Tsinoys have never left the country ever since, and adopted Philippine citizenship. Their heirs are all born here and know of no other country than Filipinas. They may be curious about the origins of their ancestry (China) but they are equally fascinated with their Filipino lineage (see Kathleen Yu’s wonderful piece). There is no record of these young Tsinoys going back to their elders’ homeland to acquire a new citizenship. 

And some are in fact more wedded to local culture than the crazies now rallying around Jose’s racist flag want us to believe. Who knows more about Cebuano history, some Manila pundit in one of the country’s rags or John Gokongwei? Who has a much better sense of what is happening politically on the ground, say in Isabela, Quirino, or Southern Leyte provinces? Faustino Dy, Dakila Cua, or Jose Yuki Lim, respectively, or the nattering nabobs in those dull talk shows who rarely visit the provinces? The choices for me are obvious.

If birthright is not the issue, then the subtle theme of Jose’s racist track is that treachery is discoverable in the blood. But he cannot say so openly because his prejudice would be too obvious. Alas, blood does not a race make and Jose may just be treading on some dangerous waters here too (Just to humor the book owner, here are two questions I’d like him to answer: How can Chinese-ness and being a future traitor be tagged in a person’s blood? And if the suspects are of mixed-ethnicity, how will one determine the percentages to separate the loyalists from the turncoats?)

Eluding a minefield

But more compelling is the prospect of being associated with the world’s foremost racists: Adolf Hitler and Joseph Goebbels or J. Calvin Jones and Frank O. McCord, to name a few. Jose is already at the doorstep of these despicable company’s domains, when he bellowed that we should send our fellow citizens to “prison camps,” seize their wealth and treat “them as the enemy.” And how, via pogroms, public executions, or maybe the cheaper method of gassing? Already, Jose’s threat has some Tsinoys worried about what will happen to them. 

So he eludes this potential minefield by telling us that is it is actually about language and a community’s culture. Jose is being generous here: Tsinoys can keep their culture and language, like what the Ilocanos are doing, but only after reiterating their allegiance to the flag. If they refuse, then it’s back to treating “them as the enemy.” This time, we should erase Tsinoy culture by forcing the national state to close all Chinese schools.

But even this language-as-basis-of-difference argument is as spurious as the first two. It assumes that a plural society exists where the different groups are separated from each other because of language. And this in turn enhances the distinctiveness of ethnic cultures, of which the Tsinoys’ is the most exclusivists. 

Chop suey

But you don’t need to roam and chat around, or read books to know that in the last 20 years or so, these linguistic walls have fallen down, and that – while crude in form – ABS-CBN Tagalog has become the de facto Filipino language that everyone uses to communicate with each other across ethnic lines. Those conversations include the mutual sharing of norms and values supposedly associated with each group. Moreover, a lot of Filipinos having mixed lineages (some Spanish, many Chinese) also aid in these interactions.

The fact that external influences that came to the archipelago were gradually incorporated and indigenized (from Spanish Catholicism, to Sunni Islam, to American English and mentality, and, yes, even Hokkien culture!) means that what Jose is ranting against are facets of a multi-dimensional, rich Filipino culture. Even the worst of textbooks mention how much “Filipino culture” is permeated with “foreign” influences, including Chinese. This is the attractiveness of our culture – it’s being chop suey, and yes, the term is Chinese in origin but now part of the local argot. 

F. Sionil Jose in his 70 years of wisdom-gathering did not even notice this transformation. But this may be understandable. Racists – including, but especially the old ones – often see the world in black and white terms. Real history, however, is a lot much grayer and complicated than what his jaded xenophobic mind wants us to believe. – Rappler.com


Patricio N. Abinales is an OFW

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