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“Lovely Chinese Eyes”

Luo di sheng gen.
Roots grow where the seed lands.1

Chinese Imperial Annals in the 11th century authenticate an early trading relationship with a precolonial Philippines.  In the classic treatise Chu Fan Chi, Quanzhou official Chau Ju-Kua described the country of Ma’I with its Three Islands and its scattered tribes, which Chinese-Filipino scholar Go Bon Juan believes to be the Bai of Laguna.2

Over thirty generations later, the Chinese have been so assimilated into Filipino society that at least 10% of our Filipino makeup is attributable to our “Tsinoy-ness”, that part of our heritage and blood that is distinctly Chinese-Filipino. 3 During the Spanish colonial era, the laws of purity or limpieza de sangre (cleanliness of blood) led to a legal system of racial nomenclature based on patrilineal descent. Thus, male descendants of a Sangley (or pure-blooded Chinese) and an indio woman (native or indigenous) were classified as Mestizos de Sangley (of mixed Chinese and Malay ancestry), ad perpetuum.  Women, on the other hand, whether they acquired their husband’s status upon marriage, or kept their father’s, if unmarried, were in many cases, not without substantive socio-political clout.  According to Marcelo H. del Pilar in a letter to Jose Rizal dated February 17, 1889, these female descendants were “respected for their reputation… daughters of maginoos [or gentlemen, referring to the Chinese mestizos]”, and as Nicanor Tiongson points out, “capable of making decisions that impacted… local… and national history.”4

There is Francisco Van Camp’s Indigena de clase rica (Mestiza Sangley-Filipina), with her unbound hair and her half-open fan, who is today as captivating and as beautiful as she was more than a century ago.  Trinidad Rizal, sixth generation descendant of Domingo Lam-co, a radical for her particular time period, was secretary of Logia de Adapcion and founding member of the Associacion Feminista Filipina.  To her was bequeathed her brother Jose’s legendary cocinilla, which was instrumental in bringing about self-government for our people.  Corazon Aquino, 11th President of the Philippines, fourth generation Chinese-Filipino, and beloved “Mother of Democracy”, who “came to power [and left it] peacefully,”5 will forever be revered for having won back freedoms that an entire generation of Filipinos never knew. Very little is known about my own great-great-grandmother, a huaren, whose granddaughters, with their lovely Chinese eyes, spoke of, fleetingly, in a language she never understood.6  Perhaps I will never discover what she lived through or died for, but I will always find her between the lines of greater histories.

Welcome to our 33rd issue, where we re-examine our Chinese-Filipino Heritage.  In Poems, we feature works by Eileen Tabios, Rene Navarro and Maningning Miclat.  In Essays, Teresita Ang See presents studies on Chinese-Filipino history and heritage; Catherine Guéguen relates how Binondo evolved in terms of boundaries, spaces and populations; Eusebio Koh writes about the Chinese ancestry of Jose Rizal; and Chinese-American violinist Stephen Shey recounts how the Filipino kundiman came into his life.  In Short Stories, we feature the “Ghosts of Wan Chai” by Dean Francis Alfar and “Tagahanga ni Alice” by Evelyn Sebastian.  Our Bookshelf showcases Chinese and Chinese Mestizos of Manila by Richard Chu; Secrets of the Eighteen Mansions by Mario Miclat; and Ilustrado by Miguel Syjuco, among others.  Our Bibliography catalogs works about the Chinese in the Philippines from the 1200s to the present.  With this, we hope to dig into more than the origins of our love for pancit, for while it symbolizes long life, it also links us back to our Hokkien kin.

Luo ye gui gen.
Fallen leaves return to their roots.

Yīncǐ, tāmen zuò.
And so they do.


1 Chinese proverb translated by Sasha Welland.

2 Go Bon Juan, “Blumentritt on Ma’I,” Manila Times, May 25, 2010, accessed November 2, 2010 .

3 David Wurfel, Filipino Politics: Development and Decay (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1991), 32; and in Gregorio F. Zaide, Philippine Political and Cultural History (Manila: Philippine Educational Co., 1949), 11.

4 Nicanor G. Tiongson, “The Rise of the Mestizos Sangleyes of Malolos,” in The Women of Malolos (Quezon City, Philippines: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 2004), 9, 13, 21.

6 Huaren is an ethnic Chinese person.

Aileen Ibardaloza-Cassinetto
San Francisco, December 2010

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Remé-Antonia Grefalda

Aileen Ibardaloza-Cassinetto

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Eileen Tabios

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