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Q&A with Teresita Ang-See, Chinese-Filipino community pillar

The evolution of ‘Chinoy’ branding

/ 05:01 AM January 28, 2022

Teresita Ang-See —Contributed photo

Teresita Ang-See is an academic, writer, community leader and social activist. She is cofounder of Kaisa Para Sa Kaunlaran, a movement working for the full integration of the Chinese-Filipino community, which operates the Bahay Tsinoy Museum of Chinese in Philippine Life. She is also: a former president of the Philippine Association for Chinese Studies and is currently part of its Advisory Council; chair of Movement For Restoration of Peace & Order; and chair of Philippine National Police Foundation, Inc. In this interview, she distinguishes between longtime residents (Chinoys) and new immigrants, and the difference in attitudes between old and the young Chinoy generations.

How did the brand “Chinoy” come about?

Chinoy is the Taglish spelling of our preferred Tsinoy to mean Tsinong Pinoy or Chinese Filipino: natatanging Pinoy na dugong Tsinoy, a Filipino in identity tracing racial origins and heritage to their Chinese ancestry.

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In the early ’70s, Ateneo sociologist Bernard Go proposed that the ethnic Chinese born and bred in the Philippines should be considered a cultural minority of the Philippines and should be given a separate identity other than alien Chinese. This is much like the practice of calling the native-born Chinese Indonesians as Peranakans and the Chinese Malaysians as Babas and Nyonas.

Go coined the word Pinsino. In late ’70s, it was changed to Sinpino to mean Sino-Pilipino. The words didn’t take root until the 1990s when Kaisa Para Sa Kaunlaran started popularizing the use of the word Tsinoy, to mean Tsinong Pinoy or Chinese Filipino—one who is Filipino socially, economically and politically but of mixed Chinese and Filipino in cultural heritage. The identity is Pinoy and the modifier is Tsino or Chinese.

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The 1990s was the time when influx of new immigrants became quite visible and Kaisa felt the rising problem when the Philippine media conflate the alien Chinese with the local Chinese. Worse, media’s penchant for qualifying law as “Chinese” (i.e. Chinese smugglers, tax evaders etc.) was unacceptable. Hence, Kaisa started using the term Tsinoys.

In 1992, we held a full-length musicale at the PICC titled “Tsinoy” and the word picked up momentum in media after that, particularly since in most of our media interviews, I refer to myself as Tsinoy, natatanging Pinoy na dugong Tsino. In 1993 and 1995, we held the first and second National Tsinoy Convention. In 1997, another show, “Tsinoy, Mga Anak ng Bayan,” gained traction. Today, Tsinoy has been formally adopted to refer to Filipinos of Chinese origins, differentiating them from the Chinese who happen to be in the Philippines.

Can you share some of the most notable Chinese influences in Philippine business?

“Keeping one’s word of honor,” I think, is the main influence that had the greatest impact. In the early days before and after the war, the community was still small. A check that bounced in Luzon would be quickly known as far as Mindanao. Directly and indirectly, the community imposes social sanctions against those who default on their debts or break their word of honor. So, even before there was an organized banking system, the informal banking helped business grow and prosper through these informal sanctions to make sure that a merchant keeps his word of honor.

What are some common myths about Chinoys that must be corrected?

The most important myth is that the Chinese are inherently good in business. Our ancestors who came to the Philippines were not businessmen, they were peasants—farmers and fisherfolk, mainly—artisans and skilled workers, but it was the opportunity provided by the Philippines that made them successful. They filled up a vacuum, an unfilled niche to be the middlemen in the trilogy of relations among colonizers, natives, and traders from far-flung areas of the archipelago and later on trading with the regions.

If there is one Chinoy accomplishment or influence within the business history of the Philippines you can say you are most proud of, as distinguished from the achievements of other communities, what would that be?

The Tsinoys were the indispensable and vital links that connected Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao because of their network of business ties through kinship, friendship, classmates and China village connections. —CONTRIBUTED

Josiah Go is chair and chief innovation strategist of Mansmith and Fielders Inc.

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