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TYBOX: Understanding Chinoys beyond dragon dances

The Chinese New Year festivity last February 10 was all over my Facebook wall, with Chinese communities in major cities – Binondo, Cebu, Cagayan de Oro, my Davao, and even Naga – performing the customary dragon dance welcoming the Year of the Dragon.

I got to watch Davao Chinatown’s countdown to the New Year online – thanks to the digital age. I confessed I haven’t got to attend their celebrations for a long time. Last time was 12 years ago, the previous Year of the Dragon, when the Community lit sky lanterns at Magsaysay Park. But now sky lanterns are banned to prevent them from landing in houses or establishments and cause fires. 

But here I was, online, watching a long five-hour show for the countdown.  The first two hours featured Chinese dances and songs from the students of the Chinese schools in Davao, plus speeches from Chinese ambassadors and local officials.  The last three hours was filler from Davao artists and stand-up comedians entertaining a crowd in San Pedro Square.

Perhaps an occasion for such festivity is to showcase the Davao Chinese community, which has interesting facts.

Davao Chinatown is the biggest Chinatown in the country, which is 44 hectares wide covering four barangays, and is the only “official” Chinatown formed in Mindanao.   

There are three major Chinese schools in Davao City.  One is Buddhist, the Philippine Academy of Sakya in Cabaguio. The other is Protestant Evangelical, the Davao Christian High School with campuses in Mapa Street and CP Garcia Highway. The other is secular and is the first Chinese school in Davao, Davao Chong Hua High School (originally called Davao Chinese and later Davao Central), which celebrates its centennial this year.  There are also other schools that offer Chinese languages such as Colegio de San Ignacio in Diversion Road, Buhangin and Stella Maris Academy in Obrero. 

Davao City has sister cities with three China cities: Nanning, Jinjiang and Tai’an.

The Davao Chinese community have these reasons to celebrate.  While watching the school performances, it brings back memories of the cultural shows that dad used to bring me and my sister to watch when we were kids.  In the 1980s, there were cultural shows almost every year, hosted by a school alumni, a cultural organization, or a Chinese or Taiwan embassy sponsoring a visiting performing group.

Those performances informed me of the culture of Chinese dance, songs and even martial arts.  I missed watching these kinds of performances. 

Having said that, it is appreciative that the Chinese schools performed songs and dances during that show.  One school chorale group performed a popular Taiwanese song from the 80s, which made me impressed with their good diction. But there were some dances that were a weird mix of classic and modern choreography.

This makes me reflect on how much has changed in the Chinoy communities.  How Chinese are we now through the decades?

My dad was a first-generation migrant Chinese.  His school subjects were split equally between Chinese and Filipino/English subjects.  They even had calligraphy and embroidery subjects.  But most of these subjects were phased out over the years.  In my generation, we had two Chinese classes a day. This generation only has ONE reading class per day.

The reduction is due to the “Filipinization” of Chinese schools that started in the Marcos era.  (https://www.asj.upd.edu.ph/mediabox/archive/ASJ-38-2-2002/palanca.pdf)   It’s part of the process of assimilating the Chinoys to the Philippine mainstream.  But, sadly, it also reduces the window for learning one’s history and culture.  Perhaps that is reflected in how Chinoy students could only internalize a little of the meaning of the songs and dances that they are performing.

There are things we need figuring out in what makes us Chinoy, or Chinese, beyond the customary things such as dragon dances, angpao and tikoy. We need to figure out the dynamics of diaspora in these times, like having sister cities, having more Mainland Chinese coming into Mindanao, and there’s that Philippine-Chinese tension over territories.  I believe educators and even officials are figuring out how schools should navigate and adapt through this.

We remember these words from Jose Rizal, who has Chinese ancestry by the way, those who don’t look back on the past will not know where s/he is heading

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Tyrone A. Velez is a freelance journalist and writer.)

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