Chinese-Filipino Identity: A History Lesson that Hits Home

by Mr. Paolo Suapengco, High School English teacher, XS High School Web Editor
photos by Mr. Aay-Bee Go, Grade 5 Math teacher

“Intsik!”

“Hoan-á!”

The connotative meanings surrounding these two terms paint a picture of deep-rooted enmity that can be traced back to the 18th century—about the time that Chinese settlers began entering the Philippines. A talk on Chinese-Filipino identity helped shed light into how it all began, how it has evolved, and how things are different now.

Xavier School was very blessed to have Dr. Richard T. Chu as a guest speaker for a faculty development activity held last 8 August 2013 at the Multi-purpose Center. He had also given a talk to students prior to this event.

DSC_0258Dr. Chu is an alumnus of Xavier School (1982) who went on to study college at the Ateneo de Manila University. He became an educator in China, earned his masters degree at Stanford University, and obtained his doctorate at the University of Southern California. He is the author of  “Chinese and Chinese Mestizos,” “Chinese Merchants of Binondo,” and is now working on a book that analyzes Chinese articles. He is also currently an associate professor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

The special event began with Fr. Aristotle Dy, SJ giving his opening remarks. Fr. Ari’s introduction helped set the tone for the talk. Timely enough, when the school year began, it was one of Fr. Ari’s explicit objectives to strengthen the pillar of Chinese identity in the school. He had stressed that fortifying the Chinese identity of the school should go beyond just teaching it as a language subject. He expressed that the school should move forward to be more inclined toward evangelization. Dr. Chu’s talk, which gave an insightful understanding of Chinese roots in the Philippines, is definitely a big step in helping the school understand the identity of the community that it wishes to serve.

Fr. Ari’s opening remarks also warned of some information that might come out as unpleasant or distasteful. This made the audience more eager to know what was going to be said. True enough, Dr. Chu’s talk began with the analysis of two controversial and age-old terms: intsik and hoan-á, two words that have very negative connotations.

Hoan-á, which literally means “foreign barbarian,” was a term coined in China to refer to all foreigners, while intsik, which comes from the Chinese word “in-tsiak,” literally means “younger brother of a father” or “uncle.” This was the termed coined for the foreign settlers from China.

The derogatory meanings of both words were listed down, and this elicited different reactions from the audience. Some found it funny, while others were disturbed. In the end, Dr. Chu’s talk helped explain why and how the divide between the Chinese and the Filipinos began to exist.

The talk covered many historical details that contributed to the developing friction between the Chinese and the Filipinos. Without putting blame, and in a matter-of-fact manner, he also explained how government and religious influences also played a role in creating the barrier between the Chinese and Filipinos.

One of the examples pointed out was how the government, only when it stood to gain, had allowed legal naturalization of the Chinese in the Philippines. Another example is how the Church, which had created stipulations for Chinese men to undergo Catholic marriage in the Philippines (despite already having a wife back home in China), also criticized the Chinese for being labados, or “merely washed with baptismal water.” They were labeled as such for still worshipping Buddhist gods.

Dr. Chu’s talk went on to objectively explain further details that played a part in creating frictional undertones between the Chinese and Filipinos, as well as the rationale behind the behaviors and actuations of the Chinese, given the context of how things were back then. Fortunately, this lesson on history is exactly what it is—a lesson about the past. Things are much different now as expressed by several faculty and staff who shared their opinions and views on the matter during the open forum.

Although it cannot be denied that semblances of stereotyping still exist, it is good to know that the relationship between the Chinese and Filipinos has become more progressive.  Very specific examples were pointed out about how the relationship between Chinese and Filipinos has much improved since the historical battle of stereotypes and insults. The Chinese and Philippine governments now have stronger ties, helping each other in times of calamity. Whereas in the past, media was also used to worsen the already sensitive issue of Filipino to Chinese acceptance and vice versa, media, now, can be considered more positive in portraying the true identity of the Chinese-Filipino community. Scenes from the “Mano Po” movie series were shown to express the nationalistic spirit of Chinese Filipinos who deem themselves as truly Filipinos.

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Since our society tends to become affixed on terminologies, another term was explained by Dr. Chu that has overshadowed all other negative terms. The word Tsinoy (Tsino + Pinoy) expresses the fusion of having Chinese roots, but being truly Filipino in identity. With this now more commonly used term, the prospect of acceptance and a more positive understanding that we are all part of one community and nation is promoted.

The event ended with Fr. Ari’s closing remarks, emphasizing that being Chinese Filipino is no longer limited to just identity, and it is no longer just about racial divide.  He mentioned that there are so many ways of being Tsinoy and promoting it. In conclusion, he expressed a call to the Xavier community to facilitate reflection among Xavier students about who they are as Tsinoys, to better prepare them for what lies ahead after their lives in Xavier School.

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