Being Chinese-Filipino
(The Philippine Star) - August 7, 2015 - 10:00am

(This is an open letter to F. Sionil Jose and all others who are calling on Chinese-Filipinos to “take sides” as a result of recent political tensions.)

My grandmother left China when she was a child to escape the horrors of a civil war initiated by her own people. She was torn away from her first home because her countrymen, who had previously shared a common history and a common culture, were torn apart by political and ideological differences. And though she was too young to remember the specifics of the Chinese Civil War, I like to believe that she came to the Philippines hoping to find a better place to stay: a place where people wouldn’t have to worry about racial tension, or political division, or intolerance based on ethnicity.

Yet here we are. In the wake of recent Chinese territorial aggression, accusations are suddenly being levelled at Chinese-Filipinos, questions such as “whose side are you on?” are being thrown, until it seems that my grandmother left one war-torn country to find herself in another that is being similarly beset by bigotry and discrimination. And, as a Chinese-Filipino high school student myself, I want to add my voice to the argument not because Chinese-Filipinos like myself and my grandmother need defending, but because the way so many people approach this issue – as a question of sides, as if this is a Captain America sequel – is fundamentally flawed.

Why? Well, I’m here to tell you something that might be groundbreaking: it turns out that Chinese-Filipinos are, at heart, human. That means that we don’t spend every waking minute of our lives planning our desertion to the Chinese invaders or mapping out the politics of a war. It turns out that my friends and I are normal teenagers who worry about who to take to prom and whether or not our crushes like us back and how to pass the math exam we didn’t study for. And, for older Chinese-Filipinos, the same applies; the Chua or Lim or Tan you saw walking by you on the street probably isn’t thinking about the Spratly Islands or the Nine Dash Line, but about what to buy his wife for an upcoming anniversary or what to wear to his meeting tomorrow. Our lives do not revolve around taking a political side in a divisive struggle that we feel distanced from because for us, these divisions are secondary to being human – living, loving, and growing up.

So, demanding that all Chinese-Filipinos make their side in the event of a war absolutely clear is, in my mind, dehumanizing. We don’t condemn all Muslims for the actions of ISIS; we don’t feel the need to stop Muslims on the street or to call them out in public to ask them to make it clear that they are on “our side.” We don’t do this because we recognize Muslims as humans first, and as political and religious viewpoints second. I only ask for the same recognition for people of my ethnicity.

I am not here to claim that all Chinese-Filipinos will side with the Philippines in the eventuality of war; in this sense, I cannot speak for the entirety of a race. But I am here to appeal to our collective humanity - to our ability to love and to accept without having to ask whose side someone is on. I am here to ask us to set aside political rhetoric and race-based generalizations to recognize that the person next to us on the MRT or taking a ride with us on the jeep or sitting beside us in school is a human before he is a soldier. I am here to ask us to understand that the identity of the Chinese-Filipino doesn’t revolve around the sides he takes or around the political beliefs he espouses; it revolves around the same essential humanity that we all share, Chinese-Filipino or not. – ETHAN CHUA,

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