WHEN Cebu City Councilor Jerry Guardo filed his proposed ordinance creating a Chinatown in the city, he must have known that others suggested it before but the idea had been shot down.
Reasons for reluctance, if not opposition, in the past:
* The belief that the entire city is Chinatown.
* No particular enclave that the Chinese populace set up and held on to as theirs.
* A Chinatown “evolves” on its own, if the Chinese themselves want it and create it.
* The city and its businesses, through the decades, have prospered without a Chinatown.
* The Chinese generally have blended with the locals. The absence of a Chinatown is testament to the fusion or, at least, the peace and harmony among them.
Mayor Tomas Osmeña is credited for the “Cebu is an entire Chinatown” quote in at least two records: (1) a Feb. 19, 2015 Rappler article, which apparently picked it up from (2) a Cebu Province Facebook post of Jan. 21, 2014, which “shared” the mayor’s comment.
Tomas said there’s no Chinatown because for almost 500 years and even before that, Chinese settlers had been doing business here and had assimilated themselves into the mainstream.
I first heard it though, many years before, from Emilio “Lito” Osmeña when he was governor. Gavin’s, a historical, art, culture blog, in its Dec. 3, 2013 post, acknowledged it as Lito’s quote: “The whole of Cebu is a Chinatown. There’s no family in Cebu who does not have Chinese blood.”
No special place
There’s no specific place, as an enclave in Cebu, where Chinese settlers exclusively had occupied and stayed. They started at the port but soon spread all over: Parian, T. Padilla, C. Padilla, Sanciangko, Magallanes and other places place where pockets of business could thrive.
The reason is they didn’t keep themselves within their group: they learned Cebuano, mixed with, some even inter-marrying, Cebuanos, and embraced the local faith (in 1596. all the Chinese in Parian became “Chino-Christians,” according to Gavin’s).
It’s all over
Unlike “Little China” in Binondo, Manila, home to the Chinese settlers there, or the “Chinese Triangle” in Iloilo City, there’s no place the Cebu that the Chinese call their own. Because they’ve been all over, they’re not clustered in one area. As Gavin’s put it, “Cebu Chinatown is not in nooks and crannies of half-forgotten places but in the big picture of a dynamic metropolis.”
Councilor Guardo cited the Magallanes and Borromeo area as the hub of Chinatown. Not only there: the Chinese went where business prospered; when the uptown hummed, they moved, without totally shutting down their outlets downtown. Ethnic ties have nothing to do with it. They don’t regard themselves as minority in Cebu as they feel they’re part of Cebu.
As business move
Guardo’s proposal may fly as a tourism and business move: reviving part of the old vigor of the city’s downtown by using the Chinatown concept.
If the Chinese community thinks the business strategy is doable by identifying the zone as center of Chinese attractions, then there’s some chance of success. But the Chinese themselves must embrace the idea.
Lawyer-journalist Frank Malilong is right: Chinatown evolves, from and by the people in it. It’s mostly security armor for foreigners in a strange and hostile place. Obviously, the local Chinese don’t regard themselves as strangers in Cebu.
In one locale
Any project for such a center or showcase may require government fiat and private sector help. In Bacolod City, Chinatown was introduced in 2005 by ordinance and in Davao City in 2003 by mayor’s executive order. They put up arches of friendship -- four in Davao and two in Bacolod -- to welcome Chinese tourists. But the Chinese folk themselves made things happen.
I heard Lito say the entire city is “one large, f**king Chinatown.” Probably it is, to this day, but it also helps if there’s a place in the city where visitors can see parts of that Chinatown up close in one trip, one locale.