Oct 22 2007
Cebu as a one big Chinatown? I attended a lecture by heritage enthusiast Gavin Bagares at the Cathedral Museum of Cebu just a while ago. The lecture was part of a monthly lecture series about Cebuano heritage that runs until January next year.
The topic was so fitting given the tremendous economic growth that Cebu is currently experiencing now. Such a “boom” is not new to Cebu as it already had enjoyed much economic gains even before the fall of Marcos. It became a “Queen City of the South” in the late seventies highlighted by the opening of Cebu Plaza Hotel in Nivel Hills which was to become an iconic symbol of the city’s newly found economic might as what the Petronas Towers is to Kuala Lumpur or the Burj Dubai is to Dubai. Today, the former Cebu Plaza Hotel, now Marco Polo Plaza has been surpassed by taller and more modern buildings like the Crown Regency Hotel, Keppel Center, among others. Analysts have noted that Cebu would have surpassed or equaled Manila had the government pampered it with attention in the 80s all the way up to the 90s. During the time of President Ramos the focus was much on developing the former US Bases in Subic and Clark.
But where do we owe a big chunk of Cebu’s progress? Studies have shown that the Chinese who settled in Cebu indeed made great strides in making the city progressive. For example, Gavin’s lecture traced the humble beginnings of the Gotiaoco family from which would later come the Gos of the University of Cebu, the Gokongweis of the JG Summit Group, and the Gotianuns of Filinvest. There are also other Chinese families that have made a niche in the business community like the Gaisanos who have successfully established a flourishing retail industry even before SM and Ayala dominated the scene. Most of these Chinese families once resided in Pari-an, then considered as the “real” Chinatown of Cebu during the Spanish colonial-era and up until the early American period. But as the city expanded and as businesses flourished, the families relocated to other areas. We can find them today in most plush subdivisions in Cebu. Some have either moved to Manila and to other cities or expanded further down south like Cagayan de Oro and Davao.
There are still a few Chinese who have maintained their presence in downtown Cebu. Walking past Magallanes Street, then considered as the city’s “Wall Street,” one will easily notice that most of the shops there are still manned by someone who is Chinese or at least have Chinese blood. If ever there would be a plan to put up a Chinatown in Cebu, Magallanes would perfectly fit for it although someone told me that it would be redundant to put such. Why? Because Cebu is already a one big Chinatown.