Why Do We Have to Defend Ourselves Against Racism in the First Place?
Remember the two photos that went viral in the past few months? One was of a shirtless man who cut the line at a clothing store, and another was of a woman letting her child poop in the grass at BGC. Remove the race/ ethnicity from the equation and these are still horrible actions. Race has nothing to do with it.
And let's look at ourselves. We can point our fingers too at our men at the corner sari-sari store shirtless and drinking beer at noon, or at the men peeing right under the “Bawal Umihi Dito” signs.
Yes, I said “ourselves.” We are Filipinos who are of Chinese descent. We are not a foreign other. I see many young Tsinoys on social media reacting to Solita Monsod’s tirades with their own experiences: “I barely speak Chinese; I’m just a tourist in China; I have never identified myself as Chinese; My cousin married a Filipino and it’s okay.”
What these messages are screaming, really, is this: Why do we have to defend ourselves in the first place?
Why are we always put on the defensive? If Tsinoys were truly accepted as Filipinos, regardless of our ancestry, these questions of loyalty would never arise.
Throughout history, even in other countries, racism and discrimination often arise among the common people when there are macro factors that we cannot control.
Throughout history, even in other countries, racism and discrimination often arise among the common people when there are macro factors that we cannot control. Take the 1919 rice shortage. The rice crisis was not confined to the Philippines, as Southeast Asia was reeling from poor rice harvests. At that time, the Chinese migrants in the Philippines were rice traders and became the convenient scapegoat for the crisis. They were accused by the general public of hoarding rice, and thus supposedly causing the shortage. The rice crisis is a macro event that should have been handled by the government. Instead of lashing out at the government for its poor management of the rice shortage, it was easier to vent frustrations on the minority. Thus, the racial riots of 1919 in Manila.
One hundred years later, a similar scenario is unfolding. People are frustrated and angry at this government. Many people, especially on social media, accuse government of selling out. Memes about being a province of China abound. Frustrations mount because people also know that this government does not listen. So where do people’s frustrations go when we feel inutile against the powers that be? At another people—with Solita Monsod’s opinions coming to provide public validation.
For the first 20 years of its existence, the work of Kaisa Para Sa Kaunlaran, a Chinese-Filipino organization, was to be a bridge of understanding between the ethnic Chinese and ethnic Filipinos. When Kaisa began its work in 1987, racism and discrimination was the default reaction of people around us. After all it was only a few years prior that the ethnic Chinese gained Philippine citizenship by virtue of LOI 270 issued by President Ferdinand Marcos in 1975. The Chinese Filipinos of thirty years ago seemed shrouded in mystery—few people understood them, knew how they ticked, what their desires were.
When Kaisa began its work in 1987, racism and discrimination was the default reaction of people around us.
Hence, misunderstandings were blown up and regular relationships were confounded by race. For example, the case of a Chinese employer who did not pay the correct wages to Filipino employees would became a racial dispute instead of a labor issue. The action is appalling and should never be accepted of any employer, regardless of race—this is not a race issue.
On its 20th anniversary in 2007, Kaisa thought that we could move into the Kaunlaran part of our work and focus our energies into getting young Tsinoys into social development work and volunteerism. It's a tall order, but we must try. All Tsinoys in all parts of the globe should now act as bridges of understanding. Understanding between peoples and races is the best weapon against all the prejudiced diatribes hurled against us.