06 February 2009

The Bridge

I am a melting pot of two cultures. I am Filipino-Chinese. But, I am mostly Chinese. I had my primary and secondary education at a Chinese school. I found myself in the midst of students quite like me. We know the languages Chinese Mandarin and Hokkien, English and Filipino. We would practice Chinese traditions, answer slum books in English and learn about Philippine history. I made Filipino-Chinese friends. I belonged.

Recently, I attended my college organization’s 45th Alumni Homecoming Reunion. It was the gathering of former and present Chinese Students Association members. It was nice to be amongst Filipino-Chinese people, who are not my own immediate and extended family, once again. There were games, speeches, presentations by the talented musicians, an Audio-Visual show, and, of course, food! And not just any food, Chinese food! Nothing else could be more appropriate. We were given the official publication called Currents. Leafing through the pages, memories of my college life came alive in my mind.

I had a glimpse of the real world in college. I studied at the State University where there were more Filipinos than Filipino-Chinese. I felt like a small tree uprooted and planted elsewhere, surrounded by big trees looking down on me. I was painfully shy and I was always alone. I felt very foreign, and being Filipino-Chinese didn’t help. Some of my classmates even thought I was Korean (some people cannot tell the difference) and spoke to me in English. Some were interested in knowing the curse words in the Chinese Hokkien language. And some were asking questions about Filipino-Chinese traditions, Feng Shui tips, etc. I encountered one classmate who said, ”Why don’t you Chinese people go back to China where you came from?” It was the first time I experienced discrimination. Doesn’t she know that the Chinese were already residing in the Philippines long before she was born? And that the Filipino culture is constantly being infused with Chinese customs, beliefs and traditions?

The Chinese Students Association hosted several cultural activities like the Lunar New Year celebration, the Mid-Autumn Festival dicing game, contests, Chinese film showing and exhibits to promote the Chinese culture and establish intercultural friendship. Mingling with the other members made me feel like I’m in high school again. It’s like a small community within the University walls (not literally since our University has no walls). Once again, I am part of a group of people who are also Filipino-Chinese. Everywhere people go, they look for others with the same heritage, beliefs, hobbies, interests as they have. They look for that sense of belongingness.

Though I am mostly Chinese, I won’t belong to China any more than I do here. I grew up here, everything Chinese that I know are merely taught and passed to me by my parents. My Chinese Mandarin would be considered sub-standard when I go to China (there would be many instances of miscommunication, I’m sure); my Filipino language isn’t very good either. Where does that leave me? Sometimes I feel like I’m floating in-between, or like the space between islands of cultures. I consider myself a bridge between these islands. Thankfully, I am not the only bridge around. I know there are a lot of Filipino-Chinese, and other combinations like Euro-Asians, Chinese-Americans, Indonesian-Chinese, and Japanese-Americans out there. We bridge gaps between cultures.

A temple showcases Chinese influence in the Philippines
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