Unbowed. Unbent. Unbroken.
Such is the battle cry of House Martell as depicted in the hit HBO series known to us as Game of Thrones. However, it can as well be used to refer to the Chinese living in Philippines today as depicted in the daily episodic series known to us as reality. Admittedly and to their credit, some parents of Chinese-Filipino millennials have made an effort to loosen their grip on select traditions and practices previously regarded as indispensable but currently don’t have a place in the grand cultural landscape of the 21st century. But perhaps, there are just some issues, seen as too important, too central to the lives of their children, on which they feel compelled and duty-bound to remain unbowed, unbent, unbroken.
One of those is the topic of love and marriage. It is but characteristic of the traditional Chinese to regard romantic love as not a necessary prerequisite to lifelong matrimony, as is evident by the once-enduring practice of matchmaking. Today, however, the custom of the arranged marriage is considered archaic. Today, the young Chinese-Filipinos are able to exercise their freedom to choose which specific person they want to get their hearts broken over. Provided, of course, that that person has Chinese blood coursing through the veins reluctantly visible through their porcelain skin. And for the neighborhood cynic, marriage is naught but a piece of contract between the parties—parties, not participants—involved. For some of our parents, in that contract, written in not-so-fine print is the proviso that states the Chinese is for the Chinese alone. This is what it means to have a Great Wall. To have the freedom, but only to a certain extent. And if that’s the case, is it freedom still? Controlled freedom—the first of many paradoxes the Chinese-Filipinos have to endure.
Moreover, the Filipino are notorious romantics. It’s even part of the curriculum. Everyone able to boast of a high school diploma attained in the Philippines will be able to say that they encountered a 399-stanza long awit in the form of a poem, where for the most part this dude Florante laments about this all-consuming longing he feels for this chick named Laura. The Philippines even has its own brand of courtship. Far removed from that of more flamboyant and loud Western tendencies, the Filipino is more subdued and adheres to the old adage, still waters run deep. On the other side of this cultural spectrum, we have the Chinese who aren’t necessarily famous for being a romantic lot. Love is sacrificed to more practical endeavors. It’s is regarded as a luxury afforded by the few and not a basic human need, as undoubtedly most Filipinos would profess it to be.
What happens then when this opposing mentality is imbibed in a single person, a Chinoy? It’s a cross most people raised in both the diverging cultures will have to bear. On one hand is the, more often than not, begrudging acknowledgement that yes, marrying within the Chinese culture is more workable. Growing old with someone who grew up in the same manner—surrounded by the same things, familiar with the same traditions, raised on the same beliefs—would be relatively wrinkle-free, with just a few small snags along the road. On the other hand, however, the Filipino makata in all of us lashes out against the idea of easy expressions of love —I want you. Come hellfire and brimstone, I want you.
So what happens? Who wins in this tug-of-war? “It’s a day-to-day thing,” answers a BS CTM sophomore. “On some days, my Filipino-ness takes over, but I also do listen to the Chinese in me sometimes.” Anne went into Ateneo with the full knowledge—thanks to the constant reminder of her folks—that she is not to entertain any suitors just yet, especially those who don’t partake in the same heritage. Anne looks and acts the part of the quintessential thin, white, chinita—a “TWC,” as it is now referred to around hipster circles—and it didn’t take long before someone took notice.
“I’ve had a few crushes before. I mean, who hasn’t? But hindi ano, e… It was never this intense.” Anne says of her blockmate and best friend. Right off the bat, they just clicked.
“He was the first college friend I made. Really, more than anything else, I think it was the fact that our sense of humor just meshed well with each other’s. Kaya ayon. That’s where it started.”
“And it went downhill from there?” I dared to ask.
“Pretty much, yeah.” She answered with a laugh. “I can’t really say that I made the mistake of telling my parents about him, because I don’t see it as a mistake.” Anne, born the optimist, came to her parents with the truth—that a Filipino boy was courting her and she returned his feelings. Even though she knew that the chances of it happening were slim to non-existent, still she hoped they’d give him a chance.
“They didn’t.” Anne said. “And it wasn’t even this big, dramatic scene. Nobody got slapped or anything. They just told me, calmly, to break it off.”
To this day, the Florante of Anne’s life hasn’t given up yet. He continues to wait by her Great Wall, hopeful of the day he’ll be given a ladder.
“I asked him not to fight for me, because if he does, he’ll be fighting against my own parents. And it was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done—hahaha, oh my God, sobrang cheesy ko—but yeah, I even requested na wala siyang gawin for me this Valentine’s. If he bought me flowers, I wouldn’t be able to take them home.”
Little does Florante know, however, that Anne has her own agenda come February 14. “So I ordered flowers for him instead.” It’s not traditional, far from it—the girl giving flowers to her Florante. But then perhaps, that was rather the point.
People with a Great Wall are often perceived as having to choose one or the other: Your beloved or your parents? Are you more Filipino? Are you more Chinese? What some people don’t understand is that we aren’t obliged to choose. Chinoys traverse the fine line in the paradox. They themselves are the paradox. Both modern and ancient. Filipino and Chinese, in equal measure.
“I don’t have to choose between them. I choose the both of them.” Anne said, still nursing the hope that one day there wouldn’t be a Great Wall to conquer in the first place. But for the meantime, Florante, our quintessential Filipino romantic sits at the foot of her Great Wall, his guitar keeping him company, as he serenades our quintessential Chinese dalangang Pilipina atop her ivory tower. The both of them hoping against hope that his song would turn her Great Wall into that of Jericho.
“Uso pa ba ang harana…”
Written by Chynna Ramos
Photograph by Steve James from https://www.flickr.com/photos/steeljam/