First published in Tulay Monthly, Chinese-Filipino Digest 1, no. 1 (June 12, 1988): 4, 11.
When I was in high school, I was fitted for contact lenses, after wearing eyeglasses since I was in third grade. The day it was accomplished the doctor – a kindly, rather enthusiastic man called me to his desk and said that since I didn’t have those cumbersome glasses before my eyes anymore, it was time I had folds surgically put in on my upper eyelids to round out my eyes.
He carefully drew me before and after eyes — the former pathetic looking slivers, the latter more rounded, sculptured eyes almost like the ones in magazine how-to-make-up articles.
I turned him down for two reasons: a mortal fear of going blind – what if the scalpel slipped? – and a fear of my parents, who would surely have skinned me alive if I even considered such a thing.
That decision vindicated itself several years later when attending a summer writers’ workshop, a poet declared my eyes such inspiration he wrote poem for them, and for me.
My eyes have long been a problem for me, not because of their shape or size, but because they are myopic. But they have – I guess – always been my ID badge. Up to today, there are people I meet for the first time who express surprise that I speak Filipino at all, and without an accent! (That is when I wonder if they had just come off the boat.)
As kids, we loathed being what we were; in this case, Chinese. We tried to be Filipino, American, anything, but I guess that is something we all go through and mercifully grow out of. Eventually – with maturity and wisdom, perhaps – we come to terms with who we are, become comfortable with who we are and, hopefully, become proud of who we are.
Today it is chic to be “Chinc,” especially after that much-publicized visit to Hongjian by an illustrious daughter of the clan of Xu. And now everyone is claiming to have Chinese blood flowing in his or her veins, which is fine really, except when it reaches the point of ludicrousness.
Not too long ago, a man trying to score points told me that he surely had some Chinese in him because he likes to read the newspaper starting from the back page.
So now, there is the tendency to wear one’s Chinese-ness like a badge and to be arrogant about it, which isn’t really right either. We are – and I should be – what we are: Chinese if Chinese, Filipino if Filipino and, if we are so lucky, both Filipino and Chinese.
Chuang Tzu, called the “greatest of the Taoist writers,” said of the Man of Tao (the ideal) that,
He does his way
Without relying on others
And does not pride himself
On walking alone.
Would that we do the same.
(Image source: https://www.clipartmax.com/)