Wednesday, August 23, 2006

[Essay] The Silent Conflict

It seems that with each generation, people rally to a certain cause or belief. In America, an example would be the discrimination against African-Americans. In more modern times, it’s a lot of things, from gender equality to tolerance for homosexuality to animal rights. There’s an issue though that’s closer to home, but isn’t in the limelight. It’s a battle waged by certain members of the Filipino-Chinese community, but ends up becoming the struggle of an individual, rather than that of a group. The lessons learned are seldom shared, and the fight is renewed once more with each generation. Granted, there are no legal laws prohibiting the cause these Filipino-Chinese fight for, but it’s a stigma pervasive in their community. What I am talking about is the taboo of Chinese marrying someone not of Chinese descent.

Its history goes way back when certain citizens of China decided to migrate to the Philippines. While it’s easy to claim that the Chinese were xenophobic, xenophobia is also a trait among Filipinos. Echoes of such fears and prejudice can be seen in today’s modern Filipino and Filipino-Chinese: the resentment of the poverty-stricken Filipinos against the seemingly better-off Filipino-Chinese, even if this land isn’t their native country, and the superiority complex the Filipino-Chinese have for their brethren and kin, with preference for their fellow Chinese associates. Suffice to say, the Chinese have tried to carve a place for themselves in the Philippines, and ended up isolating themselves (whether by choice or by circumstance) from the natives, hence the existence of a “China Town”.

Growing up in a Filipino-Chinese school where most of my classmates were of Chinese blood, I was always asked by the parents of my friends whether I was Chinese or not whenever I entered their home (or met them elsewhere as the case may be). The same thing would apply to my parents as well, as whenever I would mention a name, the first question they’d ask was whether he or she was Chinese or Filipino.

It’s not as if the Chinese community have been here only recently, or that their culture hasn’t intermingled with Filipinos. You’d think after more than a century of occupancy and generation upon generation of Filipino-Chinese, we’d be more open to accepting local paradigms. Yet in a certain way, one cannot blame the Chinese either. One could argue that the very same traditions and beliefs they hold dear is the very same reason why they continue to prosper. In a land of foreigners, the Chinese aid fellow Chinese. Perhaps the biggest problem is that the present Filipino-Chinese still see themselves living in a land of foreigners, and that everyone else is a hostile enemy.

While foot-binding and arranged marriages have already been forsaken for more modern customs, some practices are obviously harder to shed. As I mentioned before, it is taboo for a Chinese individual to marry someone who isn’t Chinese. There will be exceptions of course, such as if the suitor is extremely rich, or has great influence (whether political, economical, or social). There is even more consideration for a Chinese person to marry a foreigner, so long as the person they are marrying is not Filipino. Nonetheless, for the most part, me and my classmates were discouraged from dating, much less marrying, someone not Chinese. One of the most severe threats I’ve heard was disownment, while some fathers settle for leaving their sons and daughters out of the inheritance. Again, there will be exceptions, but like most things, double standards as well. There have been Chinese, for example, who have successfully rebelled and married Filipinos without cutting off their ties to family. But the Chinese being descendants of a patriarchal society, it is easier for men to get away with it than women. Even more lenient Chinese families allow their sons to marry someone not Chinese, but forbid their daughters to do so. One of the most hypocritical situations but prevalent nonetheless is when a parent is Filipino-Chinese, but the other isn’t. You’d think they’d bestow upon their child the freedom to choose their significant other but no, the same restrictions still fall into place: you must marry someone Chinese.

Individual Filipino-Chinese have rebelled against their families, some successfully, others not. But unlike a group united by the same cause, the attempt merely ends up being a personal struggle rather than one that concerns the entire community. Worse, it’s not as if the public is totally ignorant of this prejudice, yet it is tolerated and accepted. So what if you have successfully convinced your family to let you marry a Filipino? It doesn’t help the other Filipino-Chinese residing in this nation. It’s not even a matter of waiting for your parents to pass on to the next world. Others will take up their cause: your relatives, your siblings, even your friends. They will all pressure you into doing (or rather not do) what they think is appropriate.

I do not speak of this because I will directly benefit from it. I am bringing up this matter because it is a freedom which has been withheld from us Filipino-Chinese for so long. By no means is it impossible to attain, but every step taken forward is an uphill battle, and all for the happiness of an individual rather than a community. I do not speak up because I intend to marry someone not Chinese, but I fight for it for the mere possibility of being able to marry someone for love, irregardless of race or stature.

Not that such prejudice is without its benefits. Such a dilemma probes into the hearts of every Filipino-Chinese as they ask themselves, is this all worth it for the person I love? Such a marriage entails risking everything for the person you are to marry. For both parties, it’s not just marriage with each other, but a marriage with adversity as well. But at least your significant other will be certain of your feelings, if not your bank account. And who here doesn’t fantasize about having a Romeo & Juliet love story?

But in the end, romance need not end in tragedy. Until people are willing to speak up and rally under a common banner, even the most hard-fought cause will fade into silence.

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