From stereotypes, racism to understanding and respect

Ignorance and lack of communication can lead to misunderstanding. This in turn leads to stereotyping and discrimination. In extreme situations, such discrimination becomes the basis for ethnic aggression and cleansing.

Horrible memories of Nazi abuses against the Jews, ethnic cleansing in Europe, Asia, and Africa, remain in the world’s social consciousness. The first steps toward preventing such atrocities begin at home.

Even in the multi-cultural Philippines, racial stereotyping and the resulting slurs exist. People react differently to these.
Below are the experiences of six persons. Each one speaks from his or her own historical and social context, and thus the experiences cannot be generalized to reflect a general trend in the larger community.

Having said that, however, generally speaking, up until the 1960s, various Tsinoys still experienced racial slurs. However, the younger and locally-born generation rarely have that experience.

Irene Go Loba is project coordinator for The Oxford Group in Paris, a training and consultant company based in the United Kingdom with offices in France and Hong Kong.

She attended high school at Immaculate Conception Academy and Dominican College, both in San Juan. After completing her bachelor’s degree at the University of the Philippines, she moved to Paris. She worked for a while as a model with different fashion houses, including Givenchy.

“I went to a Filipino school, and as a ‘pure’ Chinese, had to put up with some anti-Chinese remarks from Pinoys,” she said.

“But then, it was grade school and high school, so sometimes children/young adults say things (that are) derogatory but maybe nothing really ‘racially’ discriminatory… wouldn’t know for sure now when I come to think of it.

“Notwithstanding, my best friends were Filipinos, even if these friendships were frowned upon by my own larger family.”

Similarly, racist comments from Filipino peers also confronted Father Harry Ang while growing up in Misamis Occidental. A mestizo whose father originates from Quanzhou.

Ang is now a priest with the Philippine Independent Church.

The racial slurs were hurtful: “Intsik pala, hindi tao.” “Intsik wakang, pagkain lugao, parang baboy.” “Intsik singkit.”

Ang chose to ignore these remarks and treated everyone respectfully. He focused on doing well in school, except once, when the slurs led to a fist fight.

Later in high school, he worked at Lee Gee & General Merchandise, a relative’s store in Calamba, Misamis Occidental, where he learned the virtue of hard work. This he attributed to Chinese influence.

Indeed, there are many traits attributed – rightly or wrongly – to Tsinoys.

“You must be rich.”

Many get this from non-Tsinoy associates. So does Rommel Tan-Abing, and it makes him uncomfortable.

“What if I’m not rich? The truth is, not all Tsinoys are. And if they are, they didn’t achieve success overnight,” he muses.

“My parents worked hard. The values and examples we get from them made me and my siblings who we are. The value of hard work is passed on from generation to generation.”

Born and raised in Cotabato City, Tan-Abing recalls how after school, he and his siblings helped out in the family-owned supermarket.

Now a young businessman, he worked in Shanghai at George P. Johnson, a marketing firm, on its IBM account. He is now back in the Philippines and franchise holder of a major fast food company.

When confronted with a stereotype comment today, he laughs it off.

“Sometimes, it’s not what they say, it’s how they say it,” he says. “It is the tone of voice. Sometimes I receive comments that are unnecessary or (which) makes me uncomfortable, such as ‘how much money do you make?’ ”

Building bridges

For those who believe misunderstanding, racism, and discrimination have no place in society, they can work to erase these.

To do so, one can start with easy steps: reading or attending lectures on the subjects, direct face-to-face dialogues, standing up against discrimination, community building, alliance and coalition work, as well as doing social justice work together.

During high school at Xavier School, in Greenhills, San Juan, we students stayed one weekend in a depressed community in Calumpit, sleeping on the floor of public school grounds.

We dug holes, shoveled earth, built foundation, and laid blocks to help build a school. Other classes and batches of students continued our work. These were Tsinoys reaching out to Pinoys, building bridges of understanding, bridging the gap between two cultures in one society.

My own efforts to reach out and bridge that gap continue into adulthood.

As staffer at Northern Illinois University, in Delkab, Illinois from 2004-2014, I worked to improve relationships among Muslims, indigenous peoples and Christians in the Philippine south.

As training coordinator of the International Training Office, I trained over 500 Muslims, indigenous peoples and Christians from all over the Philippines, but mainly from Mindanao where there is intense armed conflict between government forces and different rebel groups.

I taught them intercultural interaction, leadership skills and strategic planning and project planning. The purpose was not only for people of different cultures and religions to understand each other, but for them to work together after the program ended.

Our programs required each participant to implement at least one interfaith and inter-ethnic volunteer community project when they return to the Philippines. Many of them continue to work together on different community projects today.

Their projects had to be inter-ethnic, interfaith, and intergenerational. This way, people of different ethnicities – such as Maranao, Iranun, Tagalog, Ilocano, Kalinga, and Chavacano – religions (including Islam and Christianity), and generations can learn from each other and learn to work and live together.

I classify their projects as related to:
• Relief and rehabilitation work: providing water, food, blankets, and tents to internally displaced persons due to armed conflict or natural calamity, such as typhoons and floods;
• Charity and welfare work: giving school supplies and personal hygiene implements, such as toothbrushes;
• Development work: such as teaching community folk new livelihood skills that yield higher income than selling peanuts and old clothes. These include making peanut butter, jewelry, purses and bags from used clothes, as well as organic farming techniques and planting trees, mangroves, and vegetables;
• Advocacy work: championing women’s rights and environmental protection.

In the past couple of years, our participants developed environment-related projects, always keeping in mind the need to work in an inter-ethnic, interfaith and intergenerational manner with long-term goals for justice and peace.

Every year, returning to the Philippines, participants have to implement their community projects three months after they complete the American program. I monitor their progress through social media and ask them to submit photo essays documenting their community service with their volunteers.

These I include in a book that documents and compiles their experiences. It can be downloaded for free from

As well, participants post updates and photos in closed groups on Facebook, documenting their efforts at working together to reduce or eliminate discrimination among the different ethnic, religious, and generational groups.

I am happy and proud to confirm that, up to now, our first batch of participants continues to work with all the succeeding batches of students in planning and implementing more such volunteer community projects.

There are individuals variations: some groups are more active than others.

We have succeeded in developing young leaders belonging to different ethnicities and faiths. They have a strong sense of civic responsibility. We have also successfully given participants the knowledge to work collaboratively across ethnic and faith lines.

We have laid the basis upon which a new generation of young leaders advocates for interfaith harmony, inter-ethnic collaboration, justice, peace, and environmental protection.

For mutual understanding and acceptance, dialogue is important. However, action speaks louder than words.

Working together, especially on a common cause, such as volunteer community projects, can do wonders. It provides opportunities for people of diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds to bridge the gap, learn from each other, break stereotypes, work for social justice and attain lasting peace. — Rey Ty

There is something a person can do to deal with discrimination and racism: “I’d begin with myself. I will be careful with my words, I will not discriminate and I will not tolerate racism,” he says. “Every action we want to attain in our society should begin with ourselves.”

Businessmen Ramon Tan and Go Keh Lu get their share of stereotype comments as well.

“Intsik ka kaya magaling sa business,” people would say to Tan, while Go is told he is thrifty just like all Chinese.

Tan says he has never experienced discrimination “except perhaps when I was a young boy. This was the intsik beho tulo laway era.

“As a kid I could not understand why people had to be so mean. But as an adult I’ve actually received better treatment because I probably look like a Chinese businessman. I probably look decent, authoritative, with means, and important.

“The only negative comments I get are actually done in jest with a hint of affection. There’s not much of a racism problem as I see it. Although a potential issue would be the conflict over the Spratlys which may create anti-Chinese sentiment here. But I also think that the Chinese have already assimilated into the mainstream of Philippine society,” Tan says.

The Spratly Islands (南沙群島) are a disputed group of more than 750 reefs, islets, atolls, cays and islands in the South China Sea. They are near the coasts of the Philippines, Malaysia and southern Vietnam. At present, China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei and Malaysia all lay claim to the islands.

On the other hand, Go says he was often labeled as “kuripot kasi Intsik (tightwad because he is Chinese).”
To which he replies: “Chinese ako pero merong pusong Pinoy.”

There is nothing wrong with thrift, Go says, preferring that to free-spending, extravagant habits.

“The Chinese reach the top because of our over-thriftiness,” he notes. “I am hardworking, resilient and most of all, yes, thrifty. It’s true. I don’t flaunt my wealth. I only obtain the basic necessities of life.”

Thus, there are savings on hand to cover expenses, emergencies and yes, future business investments.

If there is discrimination coming at Tsinoys from Filipinos, the direction can also go the other way.

Erickson Chu, the mestizo progeny of a Cantonese father and Cantonese-Filipina mestiza mother, recalls discrimination from Hokkien-speaking classmates during his early years at Xavier School in Greenhills, San Juan.

He only knew Cantonese.

“Hokkien was Greek to me. No friends, no one to talk to,” he says. “One day, they started to call me names like…. okuy (dark devil). That was cruel…. I learned to live with it. So one day, I promised myself…. No one will laugh at me. I have had enough.”

He became a medical doctor.

“As a doctor, I went to a Xavier reunion with bragging rights. A classmate who bullied me through the years finally said he couldn’t believe it. I smiled and never looked back.

“I (did) my internship at a hospital in Bacolod City. Went up the mountains on weekends to be the ‘Rebels’ Doctor’ who adores Mao Tse-tung rather than Marx. Why? He is Chinese. That’s all.

“The eagerness to be part of the Chinese community was strong. But St. Francis of Assisi was stronger. I worked with the destitute, have-nots, malnourished kids and those who hurt inside. This was my home.

“Today….no more insults, no bullying, I found my niche… I belonged to the group not because I was Chinese or Filipino but because I was true to my craft… the craft the Jesuits molded us. Spreading the light.

“I work as a general practitioner in Caloocan City. Bagong Barrio is the biggest slum area during the 1980s. We are placed by God in a place so we can make a difference. It’s up to us how much of an impact we want to have.”

Chu observes that as his classmates mature, “they finally realized that their pranks caused damage. I have forgiven them and moved on.”

Children, in their immaturity and limited views of the world, can be mean to those they see as different.
Adults, in their limited views of the world, can likewise say and do hurtful things.

To address these unfortunate encounters, it behooves enlightened members of society to dispel the ignorance and misunderstanding behind them.

Schools, for one, should have in place faculty and administrators who actively discourage bullying – verbal and physical – on campus through education and counseling. A culture of tolerance should be developed.

Among adults of any ethnic origin, making the effort to get to know people who are different and accepting those differences, are steps in the right direction.

After all, there is only one planet. May we all share it in peace. — First published in Tulay Fortnightly, Chinese-Filipino Digest 28, no. 1-2 (June 16-July 6, 2015): 20-21.