On Heritage, Ancestry and Identity – An Interim Resolution

Before I begin, you may as well consider reading my cousin Randy’s resolution on his blog linked here. Like me he is also a “Generation 1.5″ Canadian. Although, he has been here longer in comparison to me, his total time of living in the Philippines, and in the world. My story however is quite different, which brings reason for me to write another take on the story of people like us.

In his blog, my cousin has described those Filipinos who claim to have a Spanish blood. What he surely may have thought before is that I do that too. In fact, I don’t only claim Spanish heritage, I also claim Chinese heritage. (And in my younger years, I did try to fool my classmates that I did have Korean blood, but that was short-lived because I was caught quite soon.) Should I probably say something in defense? Maybe.

There’s only one defense for the Spanish claim: my dad had very European-looking aunts. I remember meeting them as a young child and they all have died since. As for the Chinese claim, I do not look like the typical Chinese, but that doesn’t mean that I absolutely can’t be any Chinese. For one, if you trace back from what is traceable, then I may only be 1/16 Chinese. Is that little of Chinese blood still be claimable? I’d like to think so.

Growing up, I am becoming more and more aware of what the study of genealogy really entails. I may not have traced my ancestry back to either Spain or China, but on the process I learned about the Spanish colonization of the Philippines and the Filipinos’ path to independence. On the Chinese side, I learned about the poverty of the Southern Chinese that led them to seek better lives in Southeast Asia.

All in all, the question now is: “Who am I?” By this I mean, “Where do I place myself?” My recent trip to Taiwan, in my opinion, was a time for me to reflect on those questions.

Canadian: See, I am definitely Canadian. I pledged my allegiance to the Queen (which foreigners are surprised to learn is also the Queen of the United Kingdom) and her heirs, and to abide by the commonwealth’s laws. I serve my country as a tax filer for our country’s low-income citizens, in turn as a volunteer of Canada Revenue Agency. It may not sound as grand or majestic as my cousin’s service in the Canadian Forces, but this is the service that I can offer to my country.

In Taiwan, one of the people I arranged to meet is the mother of my former classmate who is, like many Filipinos, are working abroad to feed their families in the Philippines. She and her Filipino companions in Taiwan all like to think that I am in many ways like them. However, that is not exactly the case. They moved to Taiwan temporarily for work, whereas I had to undergo the process of building up a newfound patriotism to my new country: Canada. That means that my only reason to keep ties with the Philippines is for the many relatives and friends that I have in the country.

Filipino: Am I Filipino? It used to be the case that the answer must be “yes, yes and yes.” However, by naturalising to become a Canadian, I have lost my Philippine citizenship, and I remain a Filipino by culture until if in the future that can no longer apply. For example, if I marry a non-Filipino and cease to practice Filipino culture with my future family. (This is why this post says “interim”).

Back to my Taiwan story, I mostly felt like one amongst the Chinese people when I was in the island. The only time I remember my being a Filipino is when I meet up with the previously mentioned “auntie.” However here in Canada, there are constant reminders of that, mainly my Catholic prayer community who is comprised of 100% Filipinos, many of which still fervently identify with the Philippines. One elder says, “We pray for our country, the Philippines…” in times when strong typhoons hit the islands.

Chinese and Spanish: I probably don’t really want to claim the latter, but I do feel strongly about claiming Chinese heritage. Can we have someone to please call me a Sinophile already? (Come on, I’m also doing a minor degree in Mandarin!) It really started at age 8 when the Social Studies teacher asked us about our regional roots. I found it quite cool that my classmates can claim they are Ilocano (from Northern Philippines) or what have you, so upon coming home I asked my mom if we had anything else at all other than being Southern Tagalog people.

How far do I want to claim being Chinese? Well, I’d say it’s enough for me to want to live in Taiwan for alonger period, but given that neither China nor Taiwan offer dual citizenship, then it’s not enough for me to consider giving up being Canadian. I still work on that premise that my Chinese ancestors moved to the Philippines for a better life. (Actually, so did my parents. That’s why we’re here now.) Besides, I like Canada’s multiculturalism: the idea that being Canadian is a nationality, but a culture? It’s a “mosaic” of the different cultures of people who live here. I am trying to discover the Chinese culture simply because I honestly fell in love with it and I’m glad that I have automatic ties to it as a bonus.

Finally, how about a hyphenated identity? Am I Filipino-Canadian? I used to do this, but I think it distracts from the claim of being a proud Canadian. I’d rather use the long form of explaining things to people or just have them ask me if I am _(insert here)_ and I will say “yes,” “no,” or “partially.”

On Heritage, Ancestry and Identity – An Interim Resolution