Misplaced patriotism isn’t that helpful or admirable

On Jan. 30, Monday, Ellen Adarna posted a video of her husband Derek Ramsay fastening a horizontal Philippine flag on their balcony. While that act in itself is innocent enough, the implication is that it was done in response to the red banners on their neighbor’s house featuring Chinese symbols. 

“Nabuang siya sa intsik,” (“He went crazy over the Chinese”) you can hear Adarna saying as she zooms in towards the banners, which, perhaps unknown to them, were good luck banners meant to usher in the Chinese New Year.

First things first: Philippine flag lesson time!

Compared to other countries, we actually have very strict laws on displaying our flag. There are the more well-known rules, like how the flag should only be flown upside down (with the red stripe over the blue) when the country is at war and how the flag can’t be used in clothing or accessories. The Adarna-Ramsay household violated one such rule: Since the flag is hanging both against a wall and in front of the street, the flag should be hung vertically, with the blue stripe on the left. 

It’s part of the heraldic code, a holdover from the American colonial era. In an effort to neuter nationalist expression, Filipinos were barred from displaying the flag however way they wanted. Our relationship with the flag now is in stark contrast with Americans. We all know the stereotype: gun-toting men draped in clothing replicating the American flag, bald eagle in the background, screaming about ‘Murica. Aggressive displays of patriotism via unrestrained flag use.

So I do understand the impulse to use the flag in that way, to also show an aggressive display of patriotism. At least those people are allowed to do that. We’re not. We should be able to. We should be allowed to do that, too.

And yet I do also hold that aggressive displays of patriotism via unrestrained flag use tend to end up doing it a disservice. There’s a reason why the flag-wearing folks are often made into a mockery. Often, their loud proclamations of love for the country is born out of xenophobia, of wanting to exclude other people from being recognized as part of the country. It’s an embrace of the worst sides of nationalism.

In truth, there’s nothing wrong with loving your country, being proud of it, and even hanging up the flag in your home, heraldic code be damned. But the problem is the intention behind it: Are you doing this because of genuine love of country, or because you want other people to feel excluded? 

Responding to the video, Hong Kong-Filipino actor Richard Juan wrote, “It’s the unwelcoming actions like this that makes us Chinoys feel like we STILL don’t belong here.”

I think that’s fair. It would’ve been one thing if their neighbor had attached a sign calling the Philippines a province of China. Instead, they hung a fairly innocuous banner celebrating their (I’m guessing) heritage. Hanging up a Philippine flag directly in front of it because of it just seems like a pointed and targeted action. What’s the difference between that and Filipinos abroad being told to go back to their country or passively-aggressively instructed not to celebrate their own culture?

It’s true that we currently have a fraught relationship with China, with the country encroaching on our waters (protect the West Philippine Sea!) and our fishermen’s livelihoods, and that this is something we need to be vigilant about. It’s also true that there have been reports of Chinese establishments that cater only to Chinese nationals, excluding Filipino customers. Also equally true are reports of crime (by Chinese nationals to other Chinese nationals) and real estate prices rising due to Chinese nationals working in illegal Philippine offshore gambling operators.

But Chinoys are not the Chinese government, nor are unscrupulous Chinese nationals representative of all Chinese-Filipinos in the country. Some people will point to Chinese-Filipinos making up many of the country’s wealthiest families, but that’s an altogether different story. (While I do hold that all billionaires are necessarily evil and are hoarding wealth, in truth, pointing to billionaire Chinese-Filipino families as justification for sinophobia echoes the antisemitic claim that members of a minority group being able to accumulate wealth means that the entirety of that minority group have power and must be stopped.)

It’s interesting how replies to Juan’s tweet are filled with people calling him out for “wanting to be oppressed” or fueling a sort of “Oppression Olympics.” Pointing out harm done to your community doesn’t mean that you’re absconding the harm done by your community to others, or that you’re saying that your community is the most vulnerable to harm. He wasn’t calling Chinoys the most oppressed group in the country. He was just pointing out one example of harm. And “Oppression Olympics” means two groups competing and one-upping each other to see who is the most oppressed. In all honesty, isn’t what they’re doing, saying that Chinese-Filipinos can’t point out harm done to them because pure-blooded Filipinos are the most oppressed, Oppression Olympics? 

Chinese-Filipinos are Filipinos. Everyday Chinoys are not the enemy. Making your neighbor feel bad about their heritage is not going to make Xi Jinping back off.


Art by Ella Lambio

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Zofiya Acosta: Zofiya, editor, cat parent, and Very Online™️ person, has not had a good night’s sleep since 2016. They love movies and TV and could spend their whole life talking about how 2003’s “Crying Ladies” is the best movie anyone’s ever made.