Fong: On being a Chinese-Filipino

I HAPPEN to have some Chinese blood running in my veins. My father’s father came from Canton, China, allegedly departing through Macau. This is probably the reason why the mostly Chinese men who came up to Baguio have been called Makaw by the natives. I did not have the chance to hear my grandfather’s personal migration story.

My grandfather’s first of two Igorot wives was from Pidpid, Sagpat, Kibungan. I also did not know how they met. My memory only tells me that when we were playing as very young kids at a vegetable farm on Km. 4, La Trinidad, the two were already leading separate lives. My Kankanaëy lola was living in Balili, La Trinidad and would come to visit the farm where her other children stayed, including us. I remember speaking in Kankanaëy. My grandfather was maintaining another family on Km. 3 (where the sewage treatment plant is now, yes, that used to be a vegetable farm). This was in the 1960s.

When my father died after a motorcycle accident on Km. 3 in 1969, we went to live with my lolo’s second family and Ibaloy wife. There I remember enjoying some Chinese dishes and candies. And my grandpa taught me to count from 1 to 10 in his Canton dialect. And that was all that was Chinese during my childhood.

In 1972, my grandfather left for Hong Kong, reportedly to join his Chinese wife and family. My mother also decided to take us home to her hometown in Kapangan. There I naturally learned Ibaloy.

Of course, I did not feel any different from the other children in our village. But they started teasing us, yelling that the Makaw had red butts or anus. “Ëmbalanga uvët Makaw,” I could still remember them shouting. I also recall that our village mates generally have this idea that Chinese people are smart. My brother and I had always been honor pupils and I would often hear the adults say that was because we were Makaw. They did not realize that my Ibaloy mother was also a consistent honor student during her elementary years. I’d like to believe that I inherited my mother’s genes.

Another stereotype about the Chinese people in the region is that they are rich. This is why I have always told people that I am only Chinese in name.

At one point, I remember my mother trying to make a decision about changing our family name for some unclear reason. She asked my father’s siblings and finally decided she did not need to do anything, although our birth records were reported quite late.

Growing up in Kapangan, I also encountered other Chinese descendants and relatives. It seems that several Chinese men took wives from Kapangan. Many of these relatives have been and still are the source of various forms of assistance to me personally and to the community in general.
As a UP Baguio, I had become more aware of my Igorot-ness as a member of an organization of students from the Cordillera. I had to wear a G-string in one of our campus presentations. We have also been active in advocacies related to the region.

Then I had to apply for a passport. Because of my foreign-sounding family name, I had to make a personal appearance at the Department of Foreign Affairs in Manila. I was issued a Filipino passport. I am aware that there are other Chinese Filipinos who are still having a difficult time securing a passport.

I don’t know why but I like going back to Hong Kong or China. One time I felt like I went to look for myself when I went to attend an academic conference in Guangzhou City in Guandong. That is exactly where my grandfather came from. Having plenty of time to spare I even visited cemeteries thinking that my lolo’s body lies somewhere in one of them.

Today I try to participate in activities organized by the Chinese community in Baguio and in the region. Of course, I am always embarrassed that I still do not know any Chinese despite some courses at BSU with a visiting Chinese teacher and with fellow Baguio-based Chinese Filipinos. I am still only Chinese in name.

Kung hei fat choy.
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