By Roger Pe
WAY before Ferdinand Magellan discovered the Philippines, Chinese merchants had been openly trading with Filipinos as far back as the 9th century.
As proven by Chinese artifacts found in many places in the country, the evidence is well documented. According to historians, some local rajahs and datus, themselves, even belonged to a generation of Chinoys (Chinese-Filipinos), product of inter-marriages between Chinese settlers and Filipinos.
During the Spanish colonial period, Spanish authorities encouraged Chinese male immigrants to convert to Catholicism. Those who did were baptized and their names Hispanized. They were then allowed to marry local women, even Spanish women, and their offsprings became subjects of Spain. With that, came a number of privileges and many opportunities.
Hispanize meant having Chinese surnames reflecting their own heritage. Thus, the full name of a Chinese ancestor would read like a one-word surname: Cojuangco, Landicho, Ongpin, Cuyegkeng, Tambunting, Tiongson, Yuchengco, Yupangco, Limcaoco, Ongpauco, Tanchanco, Yaptinchay, Gozon, etc.
But even with that, traditional Chinese culture deeply grew its roots in the Philippines and the Chinese did not lose its age-old family traditions. One such was a Chinese must only be married to a fellow Chinese. Marrying a Filipino or a foreigner, for that matter, was considered taboo, thus, creating irreconcilable issues to both parties.
Patriarchal in family structure, a member of a traditional Chinese-Filipino family may be denied of his or her inheritance, and is likely to be disowned by his or her family by marrying an outsider without permission. There are some exceptions, however, where intermarriage to a Filipino is acceptable—if the Filipino’s family is well-off, influential or born to power.
Today, modern Chinese-Filipino families allow their children to marry Filipinos. But many of them still respect tradition and or would still prefer that the Filipino would have some Chinese blood.
ON the Me On Pause blog, the anonymous author brings us to the realm of Chinoy marriages. The insights are enlightening and the interaction between the writer and those who are in a similar situation give readers words to live by. Here are some of them:
“A girl once asked her mom why Chinese parents prefer Chinese partners for their kids. She said, ‘The culture is so different. In a Chinese family, the parents are the head of the business. Hence, they are the treasurer of the house. In a Filipino family, the kids provide for their parents the moment they start working. They also provide support to other relatives who may be in need.’ In short, she is concerned that the Filipino partner will get money from the business pot to provide for his/her family.”
Does marrying a Chinese to a Chinese guarantee marital bliss and prosperity? The blog author continues: “I’ve met way too many pure and mixed couple to know.”
“What matters the most are the following: 1. God is at the core of the relationship 2. There is love between the couple 3. Both families have given the couple their blessing. These are the foundation to a strong marriage, not money, not social class, not race.”
But some are unlucky. There are those that break apart, prompting writers Aurora Teo Mei Ling and Coylee Gamboa to write a book on the subject, Broken Mirror.
In the book, Teo and Gamboa show the secret world of Filipino-Chinese marriages. “In a culture where a woman’s silence in the face of abuse and maltreatment is viewed as a virtue because of self-sacrifice and submission, the main character, Aurora, defies tradition as she breaks the code of silence and divulges secrets of a Chinese marriage,” the book says.
Making of ‘Broken Mirror’
THIS is Aurora Teo Mei Ling’s story as it happened to her. It is drama in real life—not a fictitious account. A real person went through all the experiences that are chronicled in this book.
Names, locations and some details were altered to protect the identity of her children. But everything happened in real life.
Broken Mirror is a largely autobiographical account of Aurora’s life that she narrated and Gamboa wrote.
Aurora is half-Filipino and half-Chinese. She grew up in a family held together by her strong-willed Chinese father and she married an immigrant from China, so naturally those facts influenced our setting.
Here are the highlights of the interview by the BusinessMirror with Coylee Gamboa:
What is ‘Broken Mirror’ all about?
Broken Mirror is the true-to-life story of a woman who endures great suffering—from the loss of her mother at the age of 2, followed by her exile to Hong Kong at the age of 3.
There, in the care of her father’s first wife, she is abused and molested as a child until the age of 7, when he brings her back to the Philippines.
Her father, an immigrant from China, raises her with his children from his mistresses, putting them to work in his junkyard at an early age to teach them not just the business and the conduct of business, but also his homespun values like hard work and perseverance.
But her father is distant and often absent, which leaves her hungry for genuine affection. Aurora searches for love and ends up marrying an immigrant from China. She strives to be a traditional Chinese wife until their marriage breaks up.
How did you come to collaborate on writing this book?
Aurora and I were classmates in an art class. She was looking for a writer to help her with her story and I agreed to listen to her. I was spellbound by her story.
When we started this, she was going through the breakup of her marriage and she was in pain—great emotional pain. She brought to the table her story—the stark reality of it and the rawness of her emotions. No woman should have to go through that alone.
I brought to the table my skill as a writer, as well as compassion, kindness and acceptance of her as a person. There was no judgment of her actions.
My role was to elicit the story and to put it in context. I drew it out of her—very gently—because I could see how painful her life had been. She needed to tell somebody the whole story and I was that person.
It took courage for Aurora to bare her soul and her deepest secrets to another person. It was also not easy for me to listen to it and to be there for her through some of her darkest days. Our friendship was forged in the crucible of writing this book.
Often, I felt the heaviness of her pain, a burden that could be relieved only by lifting her situation up to God. She wasn’t aware that I was praying for her to be strengthened, to find a way out of her darkness and to emerge from it on her way to wholeness as a person.
The remarkable thing is that she does emerge (from this process of writing the book) stronger and determined. It is amazing how she has endured all that happened to her and still be the kind soul that she is.
Aurora is gentle, generous and quietly strong. She’s also affectionate, funny, fun loving and (if I might add) very astute in business. She’s a wonderful person and I am privileged to be working with her on this project.
Where did the inspiration for the book title come from?
It came from a short story “The Maze of Mirrors” that I had crafted for my nephew about a bunch of kids that entered a magical maze of mirrors. In one corner, full of cobwebs and shrouded was the most powerful mirror of the lot.
It could reveal the future.
But this powerful mirror was broken in an earthquake and the souls of people who were peering into were trapped on the other side. From that time on, the mirror was shrouded so that no one would ever look into it and be unable to return.
I suggested to Aurora that we work “broken mirror” in as a theme and she soared with it. She contemplated the theme and, a week later, got back to me with her reflections. I wove those reflections into her story until it was seamless. We bore this theme in mind as we continued with the project.
At which point did you or she decide to publish the story?
While we were writing the story, I knew the material that was coming from Aurora was explosive. I was her first audience and her story moved me tremendously. I knew it would find resonance in other women’s lives, but it was her story and hers to do as she pleased. So I waited as she went through the process.
When we were almost done with the book, after one particularly dark episode in her life, Aurora said to me that writing the book has been a catharsis for her and that it has strengthened her. But, she added, writing it was not enough. After having people tell her—throughout her childhood and marriage—that she was worthless as a person, Aurora wanted her life to be worthwhile, to be of value.
She decided to use her life story to reach out to and help other women in similar situations. Through the book, she is telling them that they are worthwhile and precious, that others are suffering as they do and they’re not alone. But, more important, she’s telling them there’s hope and they shouldn’t give up. They can break free of the shackles of tradition and live fruitful and happy lives.
Do you have statistics of how many women actually suffer such abuse?
No, we don’t have such statistics, but the media is full of such horror stories—from a third-person point of view. Someone else is reporting about abused women. To my knowledge, this is the first time that someone here has come out to tell her own story of what went on in her life and her marriage. That’s why Broken Mirror is groundbreaking.
It is especially groundbreaking because the Chinese don’t talk about what goes on in their personal life. Generally speaking, they always maintain an inscrutable façade. Aurora breaks that code of silence and reveals her secrets. In other words, she lets us in behind the façade.
Her revelations have nothing to do with being part Filipino and, therefore, being able to speak out. Her revelations have everything to do with telling her story in order to help other women.
Women who’ve read the synopsis or draft of her book tell her, “You’re so brave to come out with you story.” Others have said, “That’s my story!” She’s given all these women, not just Chinese women but women who are confined by their customs, a voice.
Personally, I think that, anywhere in this world where women are suffering abuse of some sort, there will be women who see themselves in Aurora’s story and they will be able to relate to it. I am confident that this book will have a global resonance and reach.
You mentioned global resonance and reach. Are you taking this book to the global market?
Yes, indeed, we are. Caelestis Production Inc., through its President and CEO Sally Jo Bellosillo, is helping us do that. We are launching the book in the Philippines in time for the Chinese New Year right up to Valentine’s Day. After that, we will launch in select international markets. People are already talking to us about the possibility of turning Aurora’s life story into a movie. We will get there in the not-too-distant future, I hope.
But, in the immediate future, we’re focused on launching the book. I think it’s only fitting that our partners for the launching of Broken Mirror are the BusinessMirror, Philippines Graphic and, of course, Manila Grand Opera Hotel, the venue of our launch. We are delighted with the partnership.