First published in Tulay, Chinese-Filipino Digest 1, no. 3 (August 1998): 4.
So, the ethnic Chinese are moving back into Chinatown (Chronicle, July 20, 1988). This is good news for Chinatown real estate developers and brokers, but bad news for the assimilation effort.
Judging from reports, concern over security appears to be the primary motivating factor behind the exodus back to Chinatown. This is a perfectly legitimate concern. But I have doubts as to whether running away is the best or longest-lasting solution.
I can empathize with the problems unique to ethnic Chinese who live in predominantly Filipino neighborhoods (my own family has had its share); but I am convinced that — with a little imagination coupled by a determination to stay in one’s chosen abode — these problems can be overcome.
My family has lived in our Marikina residence for nearly 11 years now. We built our modest bungalow with my father’s hard-earned savings and a construction loan from the Social Security System.
It was our first real home. Before this, we had rented an apartment in Chinatown for 14 years, and another in Banaue, Quezon City for three years. To this day, we remain the only ethnic Chinese residents on the block and, I suspect, in the entire subdivision for that matter.
Most of our neighbors are nice, decent people. But there have of course been some hassles, quite minor really, that stem from my family’s ethnic background.
In fund-raising efforts for instance, there is a tendency among our neighbors to single my family out for more generous contributions — notwithstanding the fact that our house is no bigger nor fancier than the other houses in the subdivision. ln short, because of our race, we are perceived to be better off than everyone else — a quite common though fallible stereotype.
But we’re not thinking of moving. This, despite a particularly threatening incident nearly four years ago which cost my family several sleepless nights. That it did not happen to anyone else on the block only heightened our anxieties and, if I may add, racial paranoia.
In that incident, a jeepney load of apparently armed men stopped in front of our house near dawn and were seen trying to find a way in. They even tried to test the strength of our gate by pushing it.
Fortunately, an alert and insomniac neighbor across our house caught them at it and opened his garage light. This scared the men who quickly drove away. We found out about it the following morning and spent the next few nights staying awake in shifts just to preempt a possible repeat of the incident. A colleague was concerned enough to request the local police district superintendent to order a nightly patrol in my neighborhood.
But after three nights of listening to the problems of the police assigned to the patrol, I realized that I was being treated to a luxury that could not last.
This was when I decided that something more effective had to be done. I consulted with my family and they encouraged me in my plan to organize our neighborhood for self-protection.
I wrote letters to nearly 20 families on my block and appealed for their support in devising measures to ensure collective security. To my surprise, especially because I did not know most of these people, they responded enthusiastically.
Projects, budgets and assignments were decided upon during several meetings and in no time at all, we had constructed three road humps on the block, put up two barricades at both ends of our block which we would close off — with the municipal government’s permission — at certain hours and hired a common security guard.
A happy offshoot of this humble attempt at neighborhood vigilantism was that it encouraged residents from nearby blocks to undertake their own security projects. This, in turn, expanded our perimeter of security. To this day; our no-frills set-up has held up and we sleep much better at night. The bonus is, I got to know some very nice people I would otherwise have never gotten to know.
What’s more, through my family’s simple effort, we managed to convey to our neighbors that we — despite our skin-color — considered ourselves very much part of the community’s problems and were willing to do our share actively, and not just through a convenient donation. In short, blending — not running away — was our best security.