Tiger Mom Amy Chua’s discrimination against Filipinos in her book “World on Fire”

Recently, I came across the Ask the Pinoy Blogspot where I read the entry: Does Prof. Amy Chua have any other “connection” to the Philippines?

From the same blog post, I read the following excerpts from Yale Professor Amy Chua’s book “World on Fire”:

One morning in September 1994, I received a call from my mother in California. In a hushed voice, she told me that my Aunt Leona, my father’s twin sister, had been murdered in her home in the Philippines, her throat slit by her chauffeur. My mother broke the news to me in our Hokkien Chinese dialect. But the word “murder” she said in English, as if to wall off the act from the family through language.

The murder of a relative is horrible for anyone, anywhere. My father’s grief was impenetrable; to this day, he has not broken his silence on the subject. For the rest of the family, though, there was an added element of disgrace. For the Chinese, luck is a moral attribute, and a lucky person would never be murdered. Like having a birth defect, or marrying a Filipino, being murdered is shameful.

My three younger sisters and I were very fond of my Aunt Leona, who was petite and quirky and had never married. Like many wealthy Filipino Chinese she had multiple bank accounts, in Honolulu, San Francisco and Chicago. She visited us in the US regularly. Having no children of her own, she doted on her nieces and showered us with trinkets. As we grew older, the trinkets became treasures. On my tenth birthday she gave me ten small diamonds, wrapped in toilet paper. My aunt loved diamonds and bought them by the dozen, concealing them in empty Elizabeth Arden moisturiser jars. She liked accumulating things. When we ate at McDonald’s, she stuffed her Gucci purse with free packets of ketchup.

According to the police report, my Aunt Leona, “a 58-year-old single woman,” was killed in her living room with a “butcher’s knife” at 8pm on 12th September 1994. Two of her maids were questioned, and they confessed that Nilo Abique, my aunt’s chauffeur, had planned and executed the murder with their assistance. But Abique, the report went on to say, had “disappeared.” The two maids were later released.

My relatives arranged a funeral for my aunt in the prestigious Chinese cemetery in Manila where many of my ancestors are buried. After the funeral, I asked one of my uncles whether there had been any developments in the murder investigation. He replied tersely that the killer had not been found. His wife added that the police had essentially closed the case.

I could not understand my relatives’ almost indifferent attitude. Why were they not more shocked that my aunt had been killed by people who worked for her, lived with her, saw her every day? Why were they not outraged that the maids had been released? When I pressed my uncle, he was short with me. “That’s the way things are here,” he said.

My uncle was not simply being callous. My aunt’s death was part of a common pattern. Hundreds of Chinese are kidnapped or murdered every year by ethnic Filipinos. Nor is it unusual that my aunt’s killer was never apprehended. The police in the Philippines, all poor ethnic Filipinos themselves, are notoriously unmotivated in these cases.

My family is part of the Philippines’ tiny but economically powerful Chinese minority. Although they constitute 1 per cent of the population, Chinese Filipinos control about 60 per cent of the private economy, including the country’s four airlines and almost all of the banks, hotels, shopping malls, and big conglomerates. My own family runs a plastics conglomerate and owns swathes of prime real estate – and they are only “third-tier” Chinese tycoons. They also have safe deposit boxes full of gold bars, each one the size of a chocolate bar. I myself have such a gold bar. My Aunt Leona sent it to me as a law school graduation present a few years before she died.

Since my aunt’s murder, one childhood memory keeps haunting me. I was eight, staying at my family’s splendid hacienda-style house in Manila. It was before dawn, still dark. Wide awake, I decided to get a drink from the kitchen. I must have gone down an extra flight of stairs, because I stumbled on to six male bodies. I had found the male servants’ quarters, where my family’s houseboys, gardeners, and chauffeurs – I sometimes imagine that Nilo Abique was among them – were sleeping on mats on a dirt floor. The place stank of sweat and urine. I was horrified.

I mentioned the incident to my Aunt Leona, who laughed affectionately and explained that the Filipino servants were fortunate to be working for our family. If not for their positions, they would be living among rats and open sewers. A Filipino maid then walked in; she had a bowl of food for my aunt’s Pekingese. My aunt took the bowl but kept talking as if the maid were not there. The Filipinos, she continued – in Chinese, but not caring whether the maid understood or not – were lazy and unintelligent. If they didn’t like working for us, they were free to leave.

Nearly two thirds of the roughly 80m ethnic Filipinos in the Philippines live on less than $2 a day. But poverty by itself does not make people kill. To poverty must be added indignity, hopelessness and grievance. In the Philippines, millions of Filipinos work for Chinese; almost no Chinese work for Filipinos. The Chinese dominate industry and commerce at every level of society. Global markets intensify this dominance: When foreign investors do business in the Philippines, they deal almost exclusively with Chinese. Apart from a handful of corrupt politicians and a few aristocratic Spanish mestizo families, all of the Philippines’ billionaires are of Chinese descent. My relatives live literally walled off from the Filipino masses, in a luxurious, all-Chinese residential enclave, on streets named Harvard and Princeton. The entry points are manned by armed guards.

Each time I think of Nilo Abique – he was nearly six feet tall and my aunt was 4’11″ – I find myself welling up with a hatred and revulsion so intense it is actually consoling. But over time I have also had glimpses of how the vast majority of Filipinos, especially someone like Abique, must see the Chinese: as exploiters, foreign intruders, their wealth inexplicable, their superiority intolerable. I will never forget the entry in the police report for Abique’s “motive for murder.” The motive given was not robbery, despite the fact that jewels and money were taken. Instead there was just one word – “revenge.”

***Source: Ask the Pinoy blogspot


I have read articles about Yale Professor Amy Chua (and her book “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother”) and I truly admire her and how she raised her kids the way she did in spite of growing up in a western culture. I can personally relate to her kids because I have been raised by a Tiger mom too. However, after reading the excerpts from her book “World on Fire”, I must say I am not quite pleased about her obvious discrimination against Filipinos.

I am a Filipina (proud to be one) and I totally agree with the comments posted on Ask the Pinoy Blogspot. Although I feel sorry for the tragic death of Ms. Amy Chua’s Aunt Leona, I can understand exactly why the driver found revenge as his reason to kill the old lady. Reading a portion of Ms. Chua’s article where she clearly described how low she thinks of Filipinos, I would not doubt that her late aunt shared the same belief if not superiority complex. The Tiger Mom seems to think Chinese are superior, particularly mentioning that ” the Chinese dominate industry and commerce in the Philippines”. I suppose this is true but I guess she failed to mention how some drug syndicates are operated by Chinese and that they rarely get caught because of their ‘connections’. (Read: News)

Anyway, I have several pure Chinese friends from College but they do not look down on Filipinos. They are kind, smart and hardworking. In fact, having been raised in the Philippines, they have adapted some Filipino values and are fluent in Tagalog.

Well, I just hope the rest of Ms. Amy Chua’s relatives residing in the Philippines do not think like her or the way her aunt does because I wouldn’t be surprised if another family member gets killed because of how they discriminate Filipinos especially those who work for them.

I am not a hater, I am just airing out my opinion/reaction to the blog post found in Ask the Pinoy Blogspot.
I believe the things mentioned here reflect the world as it now is – for better and worse.

About Gian Ramos

God-fearing. Scholar of Life. A Work in Progress. Bookworm. Swimmer. Aspiring Pianist. Colorful. Creative. Hopeless Romantic. Happy Dog Owner of 6. Proud Pinoy. I am a Filipina born and raised in Manila. I created this blog to share bits and pieces of myself to the world and hopefully to inspire.

Posted on April 28, 2011, in Books and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. She lives in the US but speaks Hokkien? I shall hold my tongue and stop myself from commenting on that.

    Anyway, sad to read something as uncomfortably/disturbingly discriminating as this from a Yale professor. Seems like she had very limited encounters with Filipinos both here and abroad. I hope she gets to meet more Filipinos so that her perspective would change.

  2. George Morales

    Next time you write an article like this . . . I will create a special facebook account for the all 80 per cent poor ethnic pinoys to see.

  3. George Morales

    Non the blogger .. . but the chinese lady.

  4. My grandfather is of this background. He ended up leaving my grandmother and his 5 kids to go on and father other kids with another woman whom he later left only 5o be taken back in 40 years later by his first family whom he left.

    My dad and aunts were born and raised in Philippines and until this day identify themselves add Filipinos by ethnicity, culture and traditions. My first girlfriend was ethnically Chinese but had parents and grandparents who were from the Philippines. They too identified as Filipino. They cooked pinoy, spoke tagalog, acted pinoy etc. Two of my best friend in high school was the same. Obvious Chinese mestizo blood yet never mentioned any of that. In fact, did not anything ever let on to any Chinese background at all. Just very proud filipino-americans.

    Going back to the Philippines, I interact with these so called Chinese filipino families a lot. Billionaire families and the same is true. The “chinese-ness” is not ever anything that is even mentioned but in something of folklore. Or in some rarity when speaking in historical senses. Even growing up with me, it was never something I should be extra proud of or feel superior for. It was what it was, I was raised and called filipino. Therefore, that’s what I knew and know today.

    My point is this, it is obvious that Amy Chua has little to no real experience with actual real pinoy and or tsinoys. No real substantial relationships outside of her immediate family which one can argue was very much prejudice.

    Even as a tsinoy-american, I grew up feeling disdain for ethnic Chinese in the Philippines as they were not to be trusted and the cause of drug addiction and importation along with mafia culture and associated with being rude, dirty and unhygienic. This type of idea no doubt effected many tsinoys in that they played down their chinese-ness or played up their filipino-ness. Even the billionaire class.

    It’s sad that the distinction between Chua’s filipino-ness vs her chinese-ness plays such a strong role in her life. Begs to be questioned. What happened in her life to develope such a mortified outlook on ethnic Filipinos and to see them through such a narrow lense? Easy, her father’s sister was killed. Pretty much how all prejudice is sparked. A negative experience which lead to a bar age of hate and the reciprocating of negative energy. Chua’s aunts killer could have been of Spanish, Chinese, Arab, Japanese, Malay, Indonesian or Indo-Chinese ancestory for all she or we know. Or had direct Chinese blood.

    Sadly, as educated and cultured you would expect an ivy league professor to be, it is obvious Chua is not. Most ethic Chinese in the Philippines had adopted Filipino surnames. Mostly as a way around taxation and or immigration policies. Also, because of the European language system being adopted, romanced versions of Chinese names ended up many times becoming “filipino-ized” losing it’s Chinese-ness to it. For example, take the surname, “Leong” could this be of Spanish decent as in “Leon” or Chinese decent as in “Long”? Another example of this romanization confusion. My grandfather’s name. I grew up hearing my lolo’s name said as Luciano. When in fact his birth name back in Fukien province of China was “Lu Chen”. He was one that adopted a Filipino ethnic last name too so by name alone, you would never know he was Chinese. Not even in his look. He was darker skinned as most Southern Chinese working class are even till this day all over China.

    My point in all this is that, Chua fails to balance her seemingly open familial disdain for an ethnicity and her subconscious adoption of such with any real substantive anecdotes of truth and historical reality.

    In conclusion, Chua’s unsavory remarks of ethnic Filipinos comes from a s poo edifice cross-section of her miniscule sheltered experience of what she had been brain-washed into believing. Again, dad that an ivy league professor could not see past her own prejudice to dig deeper into historical and anthropological truths.

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