Sunday, October 21, 2018
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Sisyphus’ Lament

Rappler’s ‘Chinese’ count and casual racism

My first trip abroad at age 10 was one of my happiest and most bitter childhood experiences. I took in every detail of Hong Kong’s unfamiliar, crowded streets and my first Star Ferry ride across Victoria Harbour.

At the airport, I paused to identify the huge welcome signs, from Japanese to French. I searched in vain for a Filipino greeting. I was mildly disappointed.

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A sign with Filipino finally greeted me near Central: “Bawal magkalat” (littering prohibited).

Even a 10-year-old can infer from innocuous signs how the world treats Filipinos.

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How we use words sparked the same resentment as I grew up in my own country. I pestered the Inquirer on why media only specified as “Chinese” kidnap victims, drug smugglers and businessmen.

My third e-mail drew a thoughtful reply: The pushers were Chinese nationals, the tycoons were being complimented.

I was not unique.

Carmela Lao graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with a 4.9/5.0 average in 2015. She wore an embroidered piña blouse under her toga and carried a Philippine flag.

But she recalled winning an international math contest at age 12 and being featured in the news. The comments section shocked her: “Nasaan na ang mga tunay na Pilipino?” (Where are the real Filipinos?) (“We are all real Filipinos,” 7/1/15)

Tiffany Uy set the University of the Philippines grade record of 1.004 that year. “Tunay na Pilipino” barbs spammed every feature on her.

Former Ateneo Celadon VP-Publications Joshua Koa recalled looking up “pogrom” in high school, after an op-ed on Chinese-Filipinos used the word (“F. Sionil José and the crime of being born,” 7/30/15).

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Rappler sparked the same resentment last week.

Pia Ranada’s “Chinese businessmen flock to Duterte’s Malacañang” argued that President Duterte meets more Chinese than Filipino groups. The count was slightly inflated; it conflated Chinese-Filipinos with Chinese nationals.

The Filipino-Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry (FCCCI) was listed under China. Ranada justified this on Facebook, arguing it was founded to “serve as a link between Chinese nationals/their businesses and the Philippines.”

She even asked me to read FCCCI’s website. I wonder how Maranao folk lectured on Lake Lanao would feel.

Liong Tek Go Family Association Inc. (LTGFAI) was also listed under China. It donated P7 million for Marawi rehabilitation.

It has chapters all over the Philippines and includes Megaworld’s Andrew Tan.

Its website shows a Manila address and phone number.

(FCCCI, but not LTGFAI, was later removed from the article’s China list.)

Ranada strenuously defended the methodology, arguing Chinese is both nationality and ethnicity, and ethnic Chinese Filipinos have ties to China.

She drew indignant replies. Hubert Henry Chua protested: “We Philippine citizens of Chinese descent are incensed that we are being conflated with Chinese nationals as if we are the other.”

Vohne Yao quipped: “If African Americans met with Trump they would not count [as] African.”

Chua added: “Are Ayala and Aboitiz classified as Spanish businessmen?”

Alexis Leo echoed: “We chinoy are mostly natural born filipino just like you. Even if we are of chinese descent, we might even run for the presidency.”

Mark Christian Banag was more ominous: “Rappler is trying to stir a race uproar like what happened to Indonesian
crisis back in 1998.”

It should be a self-evident truth that a news report cannot casually group Filipinos with foreigners based on ethnicity.

But we can be oblivious to how hurtful something as innocuous as a news report can be.

At 10, I felt the same resentment when I saw that “bawal magkalat” sign in Hong Kong, and when the news made me wonder if I was “tunay na Pilipino.” Resentment can fester in a 10-year-old for a very long time.

It is 2018. No child should feel that way in his or her own country. One hopes media reviews editorial policies — the Rappler article was news, not opinion — to be sensitive to every kind of Filipino.

As Chua lamented: “Sadly, we may always be seen as the ‘other’ in this country we love.”

* * *
React: oscarfranklin.tan@yahoo.com.ph, Twitter @oscarfbtan, facebook.com/OscarFranklinTan.

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TAGS: Chinese, Chinese-Filipinos, Oscar Franklin Tan, Pia Ranada, Rappler, Sisyphus’ Lament
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