Chow: The Cantonese–Chinese cultural minority in the Philippines

The Great Wall: Chinoy Corner

MOST Chinoys in the Philippines trace their roots from Fujian, a province on the southeastern coast of mainland China comprising 90 percent of the Filipino–Chinese population. With this majority, the Minnan dialect of Hokkien became the unofficially adopted business language. It is no doubt that the Chinoys of Fujianese ancestry brought economic wonders in the Philippines owning huge businesses and/or companies earning in billions of dollars annually. But there's this cultural minority less heard of whenever we speak of Chinoy influences—the Cantonese.

As we mentioned in our first article dated May 1, Chinese–Filipinos are most commonly called Chinoys, assigned to Filipinos of Chinese heritage. Chinoys can be divided into three groups by their language of origin and geographic location: Fujianese, Mandarin, and Cantonese.

Cantonese people have a history of over 3,000 years living in places like Guangdong, Foshan, Hongkong and Macau. The closest recollection of Filipinos to Cantonese would be our favorite dimsum and perhaps the Cantonese language.

In the Philippines, most Cantonese are from Taishan and Kaiping City.

According to Teresita Ang See of Kaisa Para sa Kaunlaran and Bahay Tsinoy, although the Cantonese are a minority in this country, their need to organize themselves for mutual aid and protection highlights the factionalism and regionalism in the Chinese community in the Philippines as well as their heterogeneity.

During the wave of arrivals of Chinese in the Philippines before and after World War II, most of them exited from the port of Macau (later identified themselves as Macaus). The Cantonese were skilled workers as most of them were cooks, construction workers, furniture makers, gardeners, shoemakers, etc.

Cantonese people were once the majority in the Cordilleras, specifically in Baguio City / Benguet in numbers, buying and spending powers.

Restaurants, groceries, bakeshops, farms were owned by the Cantonese during the ‘30s to ‘90s. Farmers who introduced commercial farming in Benguet that made the province as the salad bowl of the country were mostly Cantonese. You may stumble upon families in areas like Atok, Buguias, Kapangan with family names Lee, Wong, Ching, Leung, Ng, etc.

Indeed, the Cantonese flourished back then. Baguio’s restaurant food would always be Chinese-Cantonese food (recognized by many as one of the world’s best).

Many famous restaurants along Session Road were owned by the “Macaus.” Our uncles and aunties may recall dining in Dainty Restaurant, famous for its coffee and streamline cakes. You can also enjoy a Tenderloin steak for only P4. City Bakery with its Pan de Vienna and cinnamon bread that would make a long queue from 3 pm onwards daily. Star Cafe’s pancit, Sunshine Lunch’s tasty large siopaos. And still operating today—Rose Sky Cafe, that tiny panciteria along Diego Silang operated by the Siak family and of course—Luisa’s Cafe with a setup that still looks like you were in the ‘60s owned by the towering uncle Chong Loy. Lap chang (chorizo) and lap ap (Peking Duck) are still on display through their vintage glass window.

Throughout the years, Cantonese-Filipinos made Baguio City and Benguet their second home having married locals and assimilating to the Cordillera culture. Many changed family names to avoid painstaking processes of owning land, securing business permits, and experiencing prejudices.

In 1999, Dr. Charles L. Cheng organized one Cantonese banner that ruled two existing associations: The Baguio Cantonese Association and the Brotherhood of Filipino-Cantonese Mestizos and renamed it the Baguio Filipino Cantonese Association CAR (BFCA-CAR), one of thirty Filipino Cantonese associations in the Philippines.

The organization celebrated its 20th anniversary during the celebration of the mid-autumn festival in 2019 with 300 of its members in attendance. BFCA–CAR is encouraging all Filipino Cantonese in the region to join the association and participate in its advocacies in enriching the Filipino-Chinese heritage like their Language Program.

Today, although some speak Cantonese at home or in their circle, they were trained to speak the Minnan dialect which is the Chinoy business language as we mentioned. The Cantonese–Filipinos are not as well-off as their Fujianese counterparts in the city which makes them apprehensive of joining the association. They sometimes have a mindset that the association is only for the rich, but definitely not. That’s one of the reasons perhaps why the Cantonese influence declined over the years.

Our cultural heritage may be the minority in this country, bet let us all be proud of it, join the causes of the association, and enrich it. Pass it on to the next generation and so it may flourish once again.


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