Migration – part 2 PDF Print E-mail
Tuesday, 16 August 2011 13:33

(This article is a continuation of yesterday’s article written by Zamboangueño journalist Darwin Wee who is on a exchange journalist program in Beijing, China. He writes about the new China today and Chinese migration to the Philippines particularly about his family.)


Beijing - Looking back again, most of the Chinese immigrants that have left hundred years ago have completely absorbed into the Filipino society be it in business or political power.

Our national hero Jose Rizal Mercado is a descendant of a Chinese immigrant named Domingo Lam-co, they changed their name to Mercado ("market") under the pressure of anti-Chinese feeling amongst the Spanish colonizers. Even our current President Benigno C. Aquino, III, has a Chinese blood running in his veins.

Chinese immigrants carrying with them the values and traits of entrepreneurial spirit have long been influence in the Filipino culture.  We could notice that some of the Philippine’s successful businessmen have Chinese roots.

My grandfather Wee Piaw and his family started doing business in the old Zamboanga market located at Magay Street near the terminal port. He found his fortune after the Second World War by selling auto parts and machines left by the American troops after defeating the Japanese soldiers.

“Your grandpa was a jack of all trades and finally was a pioneer in the automotive and hardware business in Zamboanga City,” my aunt Virgnia Wee, who is now based in the US, recalls.

The businesses operated by Chinese merchants in Zamboanga eventually grew and prospered. The indicators are the tall commercial buildings that they have built downtown city located at Mayor Climaco Street (formerly known as Guarda National), and in Gov. Lim Avenue. Some of the old edifices are even considered as heritage buildings.

The buildings, including the Wee Piaw Trading Corp., could be seen until now. This also includes the building built by the Wee Sit’s, Lim’s, Cheong’s, and Ang’s families to name a few.

The businesses flourished by Chinese immigrants have also evolved. In the past, using the mode of barter trading of basic goods is the top business. But now, we can see third or fourth generations of Filipino-Chinese throughout Philippines are venturing in major industries from retails, agribusinesses, real-estates, banking, airlines, telecommunications, to name a few.

During my tour here, I have seen how many Chinese practice their entrepreneurial skills. You will observe every household have their own small businesses. Young kids as young as nine or 10 years-old are selling children’s toys or snack foods just outside of their residents.

“Who is the buyer? It seems everyone here is the seller,” Souksakhone Vaenkeo, a journalist from Laos, noted.

It’s a good start to teach the young ones to become economically independent, he analyzed.

Since it is my first time in China, I must admit that the astonishment I felt is beyond what I expect. The scenery is majestic both the old city and emerging modern China. This scene, which I only see in Kung Fu movies and post cards, is now getting into reality.

Chinese Buddhist temples which I really admired the most are everywhere. The scent of the joss sticks and herbal medicines engulfs the area, too.

In my first attempt to find my remaining ancestors here, I tried looking for people that shares my surname. My luck did not come. I asked my Chinese language teacher if she knows anyone which carries Wee as their surname. She advised me that since Mandarin, Hokkien (Fukien), and other Chinese dialects are tonal language, the pronunciation and writing of the word could change and vary from one province to another.

In my research, the surname Wee, along with Uy, Ng, Ong, Huong, Bong, and Wone, were all derived from the root word Wong or Huang in Pin Yin – a mode of writing from Chinese to English.

Dr. Edgar Wickberg, who studied the Chinese in the Philippines and Canada, has said that the influence brought about European occupation in some Asian countries have also completely changed the pronunciation and writing of Wong to accommodate to their foreign tongue.

“To me, the varying pronunciations of the surname are of particular interest. [For example], ‘Uy’ is pronounced ‘Wee.’ But not spelled that way. When you see ‘Wee,’ the person is probably from Singapore or Malaysia. If it's ‘Uy’ then they’re from the Philippines,” he explained.

Reading those documents had made me realized that tracing back my ancestors’ footprints is still far from achieving. China is huge and the population is humungous. But the challenge is compelling. That is my major personal assignment.

To borrow a famous line, it said that “Genealogy is like playing hide-and-seek: They hide... I seek!”


(About the author: Darwin Wally T. Wee is a freelance journalist that hails from Zamboanga City. He writes for BusinessWorld, Mindanews, PeaceWorks, and other publications. He is now is on an exchange program for journalists in Beijing, China under a Norwegian project.  He is currently assigned at Economic Observer which is considered to be China’s leading business paper. You may contact him at his e-mail address: darwinwee@gmail.com)