We are all real Filipinos
“Ay, Chinese pala. Nasaan na ang mga tunay na Pilipino?”
I first encountered this statement about 10 years ago. I was in Grade 5, fresh from a win for Team Philippines in an international math competition, and had my dream of being in a news report come true.
That dream quickly transformed into a nightmare when I read the comments section.
There were only three comments, but each delivered a shock worth a lifetime of trauma for a 12-year old. More than anger or hurt, my primary reaction was confusion. Like a young child yearning for her parents’ praise and acknowledgement, I wanted to plead for answers: Did I not do well enough? Should I try even harder? What can I do to make you proud of me, Philippines? After a long day’s work, I found myself lost in a place that should have felt like home.
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I recently came across similar comments to an article lauding Tiffany Grace Uy’s unprecedented achievement of graduating with a 1.004 GWA from the University of the Philippines. While I do not know Tiffy very well, she is well-regarded by many people I highly respect. What could she have done to deserve bitter questions such as “Wala bang pure Pinoy naman,” and suggestions that she “go back to China”? Is it a question of what she didn’t do? If she had perhaps changed her surname, gotten more sun, or publicly condemned China’s actions in the West Philippine Sea, would the hateful comments then have never been made?
It’s perhaps easy to argue that as a UP summa cum laude, Tiffy is intelligent enough to filter comments of blatant racism, and focus instead on the many other messages of support and congratulations, both from Chinoys and non-Chinoys alike. However, even Superman—in this case, Superwoman—has feelings too.
More so, there is no denying the reality that such shortsighted and insensitive people exist within the Philippine population masquerading as patriotic Filipinos, and that there are enough of them to stir up disorder. Some of them are sufficiently prominent to attack an entire ethnic population. Some of them choose to attack relatively better-known achievers. It is a blessing that many writers and Filipino netizens voice out their disapproval.
But then some choose instead to attack some helpless elementary school students whose achievements were featured in a stub 20 clicks away from the main page. As I passed through high school and college, I feared for my sisters, my younger schoolmates and my friends, who, upon Googling their name, might be told to go back to China, when most of them have never even heard of home outside the Philippines. While some would be fortunate enough to have parents to defend them from these comments, as mine did, other impressionable children without a voice would not be as lucky.
More dangerously, while these comments are tinged with the color of racism against Chinese-Filipinos, they are fundamentally stark manifestations of crab mentality, of a mindset where, instead of celebrating achievement, we denigrate it and promote mediocrity. This cancer plaguing Philippine society can potentially evolve, manifesting itself as discrimination against other ethnic groups, religious minorities, or even by geographical borders. And undeniably, this cancer is already among us.
In today’s society where content is a simple click away, and where anyone with a social media account holds as much power as Rizal did, I fear for a generation of Filipinos who might be forced to grow up tormented by questions of identity. I fear that they might grow up thinking that hard work is for naught if one’s name is foreign-sounding, if one hails from a certain part of the Philippines, or if one practices a certain religion. Most of all, I fear that they will grow up with the mindset that it is okay, too, to judge a person’s worth and love for country by unavoidable circumstances of birth.
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During college orientation, I was with a group of nine other freshmen, all Americans. We were playing an icebreaker called “Two truths, one lie.” Each person says three statements, two true and one false, and everyone else attempts to find the lie. My three statements were:
“I’m from the Philippines.”
“I like riding bicycles.”
“I’m of Chinese ethnicity.”
Everyone assumed that the third statement was the lie. How could you be Chinese? they said. “You’re definitely a Filipino.”
I learned through this experience, and throughout my four years of studying in the United States, that how people perceive me on the outside is relative to their own experiences. The truth I believe in that will never change is that through me flows Chinese blood, and in me beats a Filipino heart.
I am certain that anyone who sincerely wishes to see the Philippines progress, and strives to help achieve that goal, also has a Filipino heart, whether they be a Chinese-Filipino summa cum laude, a nationalized African-Filipino basketball player, or a Greek national who decides to stay and open a business. While actions do speak louder than words, sometimes, aside from just giving our nation all that we can, we need to speak out as a reminder that we are all Filipinos as well, with the best intentions of the nation at heart. United for the country’s progress, against racism and bigotry, we can move forward, or in Tiffy’s words: “When grounded and motivated by an inherent love for our country, our people can make the crafting of the sustainable and stable future for our nation, not just possible but rather inevitable.”
Carmela Antoinette Lao just graduated with a 4.9/5.0 grade average from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston. She went to high school at Saint Jude Catholic School.
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