The Tsinoys in the family

Category: ORIGINS
Published Date Written by J.Sañosa

There are likely others, but there are three known Tsinoys (Chinese-Filipinos) in the family tree. Two of them are descendants of Hokkiens from Fujian, while the third one is the daughter of a Cantonese from Macau.

Simeona Quintico - Grandmother of Crispin V. Sañosa
Simeona Quintico, my paternal great-great grandmother, was a Chinese mestiza who married Juan Villez. Their daughter, Isabel, married Fabiano Sañosa of Polangui and became the mother of Crispin and Esteban Sañosa.

The Quintico family name was not included in Claveria's 1849 list of surnames; and therefore, originated from the early 19th century when Simeona's Hokkien ancestor from Fujian filipinized their family name by attaching the honorific -co to their original Chinese surname of Ti. Ti is the Hokkien transliteration of the character, , which is the ancient name for the Chinese province of Henan. The Mandarin transliteration is Zheng, while its Cantonese counterpart is Cheng.

Flaviano Benipayo,78 yrs (1855-4/23/1945)

Flaviano Benipayo - Father of Florentina B. Sañosa
The second family member with known Chinese blood was Flaviano Benipayo, the father of Florentina Benipayo, whose Chinese ancestor most likely originated from Fujian as well. It is interesting to note that this progenitor had assumed his wife's Benipayo surname, which predated the 1849 Claveria decree.

During Spanish times, some of his descendants became members of the principalía as Cabezas de Barangay, which, in Albay, often belonged to Chinese mestizo families and ended up becoming a hereditary position as the title was passed on from father to son.

Flaviano was the last Cabeza de Barangay in his family as the position was abolished by the Americans when they took over the Philippines after winning the Spanish-American War in 1898. Despite this, the local citizens of Ponso and Polangui continued to respectfully address him as Kabesang, which served as a reminder of his status within their community.

In the Sañosa family lore, the original surname of the Chinese ancestor is transcribed as Pua (Phoa), which is the Hokkien transliteration of the Chinese character,. In the Mandarin-speaking regions of Northern China, it is transliterated as Pan while in the Southern Cantonese speaking provinces, it is Poon. This character stands for the name of a place which had existed in the state of Wei during the Zhou Dynasty (1046–256 BC).

Chinese Mestizos mid-19th century
Les Philippines (Paris, 1846)
by Jean Mallat de Bassilan

The Chinese Mestizos of the mid-19th century
Although the Chinese mestizos who had business dealings with relatives in the mother country could still speak Chinese, the majority could not. They were quite a filipinized and hispanized lot as they were brought up in the Catholic faith and speaking the language of their mothers and even Spanish. In Manila, the Chinese mestizos even developed their own patois which was a mixture of Hokkien, Cantonese and Tagalog.

The Chinese Mestizos were easily recognized during Spanish times by their unique attire, which was a blend of Chinese, native and Spanish dress. The men wore the camisa de chino, a loose knee length shirt.

By the 1850s, they wore top hats, which was a symbol of status that was formerly and exclusively reserved for the gobernadocillos. As for the women, their dress was called the traje de mestiza, which was heavily native and Spanish influenced.

The Chinese mestizos were typically the result of a union between a Chinese man and a native woman or mestiza. Marriage with a native wife meant marrying into her entire family as well; and the Chinese immigrant tended to marry or live with a native woman who had good business sense and could help him with his business endeavors.

As in Latin America, the Spanish colonial authorities similarly engaged in racial classification in the Philippines. Socially, male descendants of Chinese paternal ancestors were considered mestizos. The daughters, in turn, ended up assuming their husbands' social classification upon their marriage to either a native or Spaniard.

Josefina Lee (15 yrs) c.1955

Josefina Lee - Wife of Eugene B. Sañosa
The third infusion of Chinese blood in the family is more recent and came from my mother Josefina Lee, who is the daughter of Ricardo Lee, a native of Macau, China, and Susana Balantac of Isabela whose family moved from Ilocos Norte to Isabela during the American era.  Susana was one of the youngest of the many children of Catalina Barañay Balantac. 

Catalina, the matriarch, was quite enterprising and engaged in tobacco cultivation. Her farms in the mountains grew tobacco burley as a cash crop.  Sadly, my mother lost both parents at a very tender age.

During the 1930s- 40s, my grandfather Ricardo Lee established a successful retail business in the city of Cauayan in Isabela, which he lamentably lost in a great fire. My grandmother Susana would later marry a Filipino, Rufino Pandi; however, she soon passed away after giving birth to a son whom she named Ernesto. Uncle Ernesto currently lives in Isabela with his wife Edna and three sons.

The lost memento & the meaning of a name
My grandmother had passed on to my mother a keepsake from her father. This memento was a silver necklace pendant which had the Chinese character for plum engraved on it. The Chinese character for plum is , which is transliterated as Lee in the Cantonese-speaking parts of China specifically in the province of Guangzhou, Hong Kong and Macau. In the mandarin-speaking regions of China and in Taiwan, it is transliterated as Li. My mother had shown it to me once mentioning that it was the only thing she had left that belonged to her parents. Unfortunately, this pendant had gone missing.

About Macau - Where East meets West
Macau was a Portuguese territory from the early 16th century until December 20, 1999, when it was formally reverted back to China. Its Mandarin transliteration is Aomen, meaning Gate of the Bay. Although it is famous nowadays as an international gambling destination, it is actually much more than that as it is a place rich in history and traditions.

Macau's remarkable Luso-Chinese culture is the result of four centuries of Portuguese and Chinese cultural intermingling; and presently survives in its: Macanese language or Patuá (a Portuguese-Chinese creole), Christian and Chinese religious traditions, historic buildings and the Sino-Iberian flavor of its famous cuisine.

Today, many people with the surname Lee still reside within the historic districts of Macau, specifically near the Protestant Cemetery.

Senado Square, Macau (Joseph Lee Sañosa, 1995)

For an idea of Macau's unique heritage, here's a video highlighting its fascinating cultural blend. The dialogue and song are in Patuá , which according to UNESCO is now an endangered language. It also showcases Macau's  traditional architecture. The song you'll hear (at 2:07 of the video) has a catchy tune and quite reminiscent of Filipino folk music.


Sañosa Family Oral History.
UNESCO gives Patua "critically endangered" language status. Macau News. Web. 26 Feb. 2012.
Wickberg, Edgar. The Chinese in Philippine Life 1850-1898. 1965 Ed. Yale University Press. Manila: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 2000.