Dr. Jose Rizal, his Chinese immigrant forebear Domingo Lamco & other Filipino heroes with Chinese heritage | Global News

Dr. Jose Rizal, his Chinese immigrant forebear Domingo Lamco & other Filipino heroes with Chinese heritage

/ 08:34 PM December 29, 2023

Dr. Jose Rizal, the national hero of the Philippines, stands as an icon of intellectual brilliance, patriotism, and resilience. Beyond his indelible mark on the nation’s history, Rizal’s Chinese immigrant ancestral roots unveil a remarkable tale of perseverance, economic success, and cultural contributions. 

In particular, his Chinese immigrant ancestor, Domingo Lamco, represents a narrative of triumph over adversity that echoes the broader contributions of the Chinese community to the Philippines.

Carlos Botong Francisco 1960 painting of The Execution of Dr. Jose Rizal, part of the collection of Museo ni Jose Rizal in historic Fort Santiago in Intramuros, Manila

Throughout Philippine history, Rizal and other Filipino heroes of Chinese heritage have contributed much to the Filipino nation’s quest for freedom, economic development and progress. 

Domingo Lamco: A Beacon of Resilience

Domingo Lamco, also known by his Chinese name Cua Yi-Lam (“Ke Yi-Nan” in Mandarin), was a trailblazer in the face of oppressive Spanish colonial conditions. Born in the village of Zhangguo (“Siongque” in Hokkien) in Jinjiang County (now a city), Quanzhou City, Fujian province, Lamco navigated the tumultuous era of Spanish colonization. Segregated in the Parian ghetto along with other Chinese traders and artisans, Lamco overcame hardships and  persecution.

Qing Dynasty era junk sailboat used by traders & migrants like Dr. Jose Rizal ancestor Domingo Lamco

Overcoming adversity, Lamco was a “rags-to-riches” entrepreneur and later moved to Laguna province to become the founder of the high-educated, esteemed Mercado family. “Mercado” was an adopted surname by Domingo Lamco for his children and descendants. The Mercado family would later play a significant role in shaping the economic, cultural, and social fabric of the Philippines.

Philanthropic Endeavors

Over the centuries, Filipino Chinese individuals and organizations, such as the Federation of Filipino Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry, Inc. (FFCCCII) with 170 Filipino Chinese chambers of commerce nationwide from Aparri to Tawi Tawi, have been at the forefront of philanthropy and diverse charities. Their financial and logistical contributions to education, healthcare, arts and culture, religious faith and social welfare showcase a commitment to Philippine nation-building.

Jose Rizal: A Testament to Chinese Influence

The legacy of Rizal and his Chinese forebear, Domingo Lamco, serves as a testament to the enduring positive impact of Chinese influence on the Philippines. This influence transcends beyond trade and  economic modernization of Philippine life, encompassing rich cultural exchange, resilience in the face of adversity, and a shared commitment to nation-building.

Philippine Consulate General in Xiamen City, China laid flower wreath at 18.61 meter high Rizal Monument in Zhangguo Village, Jinjiang City, Quanzhou, Fujian province on Dec. 30, 2021

Domingo Lamco’s journey from a segregated ghetto trader to the founder of a distinguished “ilustrado” Filipino family underscores the resilience and contributions of the Chinese community. As the Philippines embraces its multicultural and democratic identity, the intertwined stories of Rizal and his Chinese immigrant forebear Domingo Lamco stand as a symbol of unity in cultural diversity, forging a path toward a shared and progressive Philippine future.

Gen. Jose Ignacio Paua, Roman Ongpin, Gen. Vicente Lim & other Filipino heroes of Chinese heritage

In the long protracted history of Philippine struggle against colonial rule, woven with threads of courage, sacrifice, and resilience, there emerges a distinct and often unfortunately overlooked pattern – the important presence and contributions by Filipino heroes of Chinese heritage. These champions of freedom and progress came from an ethnic minority which has for many centuries lived and traded in the Philippines since the pre-colonial era. 

Here are only some of the many other Filipino heroes of Chinese heritage:

General Jose Ignacio Paua, Chinese immigrant who became a hero in Phil. Revolution against Spanish & American colonizers

General Jose Ignacio Paua—A first-generation Chinese immigrant from the county of Nan-an,Quanzhou City, Fujian province, he  exemplified the spirit of self-determination and public service. His journey from blacksmith entrepreneur in Manila to military general of the Philippine Revolution against Spanish colonizers and then the American colonial invaders from the 1890s to 1900s mirrors the transformative power of dedication to a cause larger than oneself. 

General Paua not only forged armaments for the Filipino revolutionaries but also orchestrated successful fundraising campaigns among his fellow Hokkien-speaking ethnic Chinese traders, artisans and professionals in different regions. In doing so, he became a unique beacon, perhaps the only first-generation immigrant worldwide to rise to the rank of a military general in his adopted homeland.

Monument of anti colonial hero Roman Ongpin in Ongpin Street, Binondo, Manila, this was donated by Ong clan association of the Philippines

Roman Tanbensiang Ongpin—A 19th-century entrepreneur and civic leader, son of successful Chinese immigrant trader Simon Ongpin (Chinese name “Ong Yak Pin” from ChingMeng Village, Jinjiang, Quanzhou City, Fujian province), Roman Ongpin etched his name in history by sacrificing personal safety and social status to support the Philippine Revolution.

Enduring persecution and imprisonment, Ongpin became a symbol of resilience and commitment. His legacy lives on in the streets of Binondo, where Calle Sacristia had been renamed in his honor, and the Ong clan association had donated a monument which stands testament to his unwavering dedication. His descendants also contributed to Philippine progress, the late billionaire tycoon Roberto Ongpin who was brilliant Trade and Industry Minister of President Ferdinand E. Marcos in the martial law era, and 1986 Edsa Revolution stalwart Jaime Ongpin who became Finance Secretary of the revolutionary government of Chinese merstiza President Corazon “Cory” Cojuangco Aquino. 

Brigadier General Vicente Lim, first Filipino West Point graduate, World War II hero executed by Japanese invaders, son of a Chinese immigrant trader

General Vicente Lim—The son of a Chinese immigrant turned self-made entrepreneur, General Vicente Lim embodied the pursuit of excellence and unswerving service to his country. As the first Filipino soldier to graduate from the prestigious West Point military academy, Lim rose to the rank of a military general. In the face of Japanese military invasion during World War II, he fought valiantly, enduring imprisonment and ultimately sacrificing his life. General Vicente Lim stands as a beacon of heroism and moral courage, his story has become an integral part of the Philippines’ struggle for freedom.

St. Lorenzo Ruiz, first Filipino Catholic saint, son of Chinese immigrant of Lee clan

St. Lorenzo Ruiz—He was the first Filipino Roman Catholic saint, son of a Chinese immigrant and baptized in historic Binondo Church. His life epitomized courage and faith, culminating in martyrdom for his beliefs. 

Wenceslao Vinzons, World War II hero & martyr of Bicol region, member of the Sia family

Wenceslao “Bintao” Vinzons—He was a legendary Bicol hero and fearless World War II martyr, who led the resistance against Japanese military occupation and was executed by the invaders. Vinzons ably led Filipino guerrillas who killed 3,000 Japanese soldiers in the Bicol region. The hero’s grandfather was anti-Qing Dynasty Chinese-language newspaper “Kong Li Po” editor Serafin Vinzons (Chinese name “Sia Hui Tam”) and his father was Gabino Vinzons (Chinese name “Sia Din Long”). 

Vinzons’ legacy lives on at the University of the Philippines (U.P.), where a building bears his name since he was brilliant President of the U.P. Student Council and Editor-in-Chief of the college newspaper “Philippine Collegian”. He was also youngest delegate elected to the 1935 Philippine Constitutional Convention.

These are just some of the many Filipino heroes of Chinese heritage—along with countless nameless traders, artisans and other ordinary members of the Filipino Chinese community—who have contributed immeasurably to the economic modernization, cultural development and social progress of the Philippines. As we honor the patriotism of Dr. Jose Rizal, let us also pay tribute to these remarkable heroes, acknowledging their pivotal role in shaping the destiny of a nation.


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