Culture Life

45 years later, racism still lurks

First published in Tulay Fortnightly, Chinese-Filipino Digest 28, no. 3 (July 7-20, 2015): 9.

This is a new generation. The generation Uy, Yu and Lao belong to is different. They are native-born. They are Filipinos.

In 1970, I was a student at the University of the Philippines. One late afternoon, two men came to see me. One was Bernard Go, the other was Robert Tsai. They were organizing a new group to fight for the adoption of jus soli (the right to citizenship for anyone born in a state or country) in the new Constitution.

A Constitutional Convention was coming up. This was the chance of a lifetime. Bernard and Robert had heard about my involvement in the U.P. Filipino-Chinese Association. And my loud mouth, I assumed. Would I volunteer with their group? Of course, I said, yes, yes, yes!

Back then, to gain Filipino citizenship, you had to go through the naturalization process. We felt strongly then, the deep disconnect, having Chinese parents, attending Chinese language schools, and yet, we did not identify with the Chinese from Taiwan, or the Chinese from Mainland China.

Who were we? Back in the 1970s, Tsinoy anthropologist and professor Chinben See proposed that the local-born Filipinos of Chinese heritage should have their own identity. A lot of different name combinations were discussed but none came to fruition until Kaisa Para Sa Kaunlaran created the term “Tsinoy” (Tsinong Pinoy) in 1992. This was an apt term for us who were proud of our Chinese heritage, and yet felt in our bones that we were Filipinos.

That was 45 years ago. Jus soli was not adopted in the Constitution. But then-President Ferdinand Marcos allowed easy access to naturalization through administrative means in preparation for establishment of diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China.

Ninety percent of Tsinoys opted to apply and became Filipino citizens, thus achieving their full integration into mainstream society.

I thought that settled it. We wanted to be Filipino citizens, we were committed to the Philippines, the next generation would not have to struggle with the citizenship issue.

It is thus with great dismay that I watched the Tiffany Grace Uy-bashing that has been going on in social media. She is somehow deemed not good enough for this single distinction of achieving the almost 1.0 general weighted average (GWA) in four years of college studies at the University of the Philippines.

Why? Because she is Chinese-Filipino! She is not Filipino enough!

Uy’s achievement is incredible! I should know, I graduated cum laude in 1971. The single course in which she got a 1.25 was in Art Studies. (In my days it was called Humanities). I tripped on that required course too, on Art – painting, music, architecture and sculpture – appreciation.

It was so vague. I just didn’t get it!! I squeaked through with a 2.5, one of my lowest grades.

But why is Uy being criticized?

The post on social media by U.P. Sociology Prof. Gerardo Lanuza’s did not name names. And it was not outwardly racist. It was a rant against accumulating those 1.0 grades.

But due to the timing of his rant, it is clear that he was talking about Uy. Not only that, Lanuza also mocked her parents.

Consider his rant in the milieu of the other people who criticized her for being a Chinese Filipino obtaining such an honor, one should question Lanuza’s point of view.

Back then, my favorite English professor, Nieves Epistola, quoted Robert Browning, “Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, Or what’s a heaven for?”

In Lanuza’s world, is there no heaven?

There are many incredible achievers: Uy with her GWA of 1.004, the highest in the history of the U.P. since World War II; Ryan Yu, class valedictorian from the Ateneo de Manila University with a quality point index of 3.99, the highest in recent history; Carmela Lao, graduating this year from the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology with a near perfect grade point average of 4.9.

In the photo I saw, Uy stood proudly holding her diploma and a Philippine flag! Do these young people really have to prove their Filipino-ness?

I left the Philippines in 1982. My good friend Teresita Ang See continued the work of Pagkakaisa sa Pag-unlad, now renamed Kaisa Para Sa Kaunlaran.

I recently emailed her: “Has your work of the past 45 years been in vain?”

But as the Uy incident unfolds, I started to see the push-back. There are far more people who have spoken up against the racism. Not just the Tsinoys, mind you, but also mainstream Filipinos.

Carmela Lao said it best.

“Silence,” she said, “is the acquiescense to the claims other people are making.”

This is a new generation. This is not our parents’ generation, who quietly went about minding their own business, keeping their heads down, trying not to attract attention.

No, the generation Uy, Yu and Lao belong to is different. They are native-born. They are Filipinos. And most importantly, they are involved and engaged in this great Filipino community.

Watching this incident unfold from a distance of 8,000 miles, it was initially so disheartening.

I even emailed U.P. president Alfredo Pascual: Fire Lanuza. No professor should be allowed to get away with that. If he doesn’t uphold U.P.’s grading system, then he should quit. If he refuses to quit, he should be fired.

But as I watched the speeches of Uy, Lao and Yu, I felt reassured. These young people are not only intelligent and high achievers. They are all articulate. This is a new generation.