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Through small eyes

I’ve always had a problem with the way my eyes look.

My earliest memory of my disdain for my Chinese features was when I was told that Piolo Pascual was the epitome of male attractiveness. Young, impressionable, kindergarten Westin was heartbroken when he looked in the mirror; he faced not the chiselled, brown-skinned, wide-eyed Piolo Pascual, but the scrawny, short, singkit me.

Over the years, I’ve overcome my insecurities with how I look, but in that time, being Chinese has become more complicated than not having the likeness of Filipino celebrities. I’ve come across my fair share of racist incidents since college started; some of which were directed at me, and others at my Chinese friends. These incidents were never too big. They would comprise of the occasional “ching chong” comment, or being asked what dogs taste like.

The thing is, these jokes never really bothered me. Sure, I’ve had strangers say these things to me but more often than not, I’ve been able to laugh at these jokes when they were shared among friends because we know not to take it too seriously and not to take it too far.

However, the recent developments related to the novel coronavirus have complicated things further.

While tension between Filipinos and Chinese nationals isn’t new, it feels like the recent novel coronavirus incidents have only been the tipping point surrounding tensions people may have had toward the Chinese. In the midst of the chaos, it’s been lost on a lot of people that the Chinese Filipino community is far different from those from mainland China, with many of the racist comments failing to account for that distinction.

While having a travel ban is not racist, and is in fact one of the more logical things to do in a situation like this, what is racist is how people have been so quick to lump Chinese people together into a single scapegoat for the situation, disregarding the portion of the Chinese community in the country who see themselves as Filipinos. These people—many of whom have not had any contact with China—are just as afraid as Filipinos are, and are being scrutinized just for being Chinese.

As a member of the Chinese Filipino community, it’s important to note as well that the issue of racism in the Philippines is multi-faceted. It’s careless to talk about these issues without at the same time acknowledging the recent incidents with Chinese nationals and tourists behaving inappropriately affecting people’s perception as a whole. It has also unfortunately warped some people’s perception of the Chinese Filipino community, despite them identifying as Filipinos who are just as upset at some of their actions as well.

It’s also important to take into consideration that people of this country have quickly found themselves in a dire situation, and are living in fear because of the threat of the novel coronavirus to their lives. These are people who just want to survive, and to mock them for wanting to do so is unnecessarily cruel. The risk of people losing their jobs, getting sick, alongside the increasing tension surrounding Duterte’s seemingly unwavering support for China is a lot to deal with.

The events of the past month have shed some much needed light on how a lot of people see race in general in the country. The undertones of racist jokes commonly shared have reared their ugly heads during this period of mass panic, with people using the situation to justify deep-seated racist views they may have had this whole time.

I never want to assume someone is being racist. I want to believe that when people make jokes at my expense, it isn’t necessarily because of their views of my ethnicity, rather it’s just them trying—and more often than not, failing—to be funny. I want to see the best in people; but when I hear about how Chinese Filipino people like me, not having the slightest contact with anyone infected at all, as a whole are being barred entry to classes, or when I feel the eyes on me as I walk through a crowd of people on the street, what am I expected to feel?

Given all that’s happened in the past month or so, I don’t think racist jokes of any kind are acceptable. Racism isn’t a new phenomenon; it’s a problem that’s plagued countries all over the world for the longest time. While the current situation is being used to justify racism toward the Chinese, racism directed toward anyone is not tolerable in any case. The jokes people make can lead to racist behavior seeming more tolerable, in some messed up way justifying viewing people differently based on race.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got nothing against a funny joke—even if it may be at my expense. But I just don’t think people nowadays have the maturity to differentiate their jokes from the ways they truly feel. People joke, but in situations of fear and anxiety, their true colors show. The past month has shown as much. Perhaps it’s time we examine how we view differences in race in our country, because if the past month has been indicative of anything, it’s that there’s something far more sinister that lies underneath the jokes and banter.

I’ve never really been a fan of my eyes. To this day, I believe that I’d be more physically attractive if my eyes were a little bit bigger. But despite whatever dislikes I have toward my features, I’ve never been ashamed of who I am, and I see no reason why people like me or anyone else for that matter should be treated differently purely on the basis of ethnicity. Maybe it’s not something that’s so clear to everyone, but the harsh reality that I see through my eyes—as small as they may be—certainly rings true.

By Westin Perez

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