Jessica Soho traces her Chinese roots in 2015 ‘KMJS’ episode

Did you know that award-winning broadcast journalist Jessica Soho is partly Chinese?

Her grandfather, who had the surname Soho or Szeto, was purely Chinese. He traveled to the Philippines in the 1930s in hopes of finding a better life and getting a new job.

“Alam mo, tatay ko, hindi marunong ng kuwan, ano? Nag-aral siya…meron siyang private tutor eh. English,” said Jessica’s father, Abe Soho, in a 2015 episode of “Kapuso Mo, Jessica Soho” that documented the veteran journalist’s 2007 trip to China. 

“Nung araw eh, dun naman sa China eh, mahirap ang buhay nila doon. Kaya naisipan nila na pinakamalapit na puwedeng puntahan is Philippines,” Jessica’s uncle, William Szeto, added.

When the journalist’s lolo passed, he was baptized with the name Pedro and since then, their Chinese roots have started to blur.

In China, Jessica went to Kaiping City, where members of the Association of Overseas Chinese helped her locate the Szetos’ original town, Te-ham, in Guangdong Province.

The agricultural town has a school, which was being run by a fellow Szeto. Even a few other students also shared the same surname.

Jessica learned the Szetos are now all over the world, and they helped in building the school. Their names were printed and displayed at the school, including their locations around the globe.

“Ito ‘yung swela na para sa Szeto clan at ‘yung pera na ipinundar para maitayo ito ay galing sa mga overseas Chinese,” she said.

“Tumitindig ‘yung balahibo ko na para isipin na itong mga nakikita ko ngayon, itong nilalakaran ko ngayon, siguro, nung araw, nilalakaran din ito ng mga lolo ko at nakikita rin nila ‘yung mga tanawin na nakikita ko ngayon,” Jessica said.

Aside from the school, the Szetos also have their own library and museum, where photos, records, and their family history can be found.

It was run by another Szeto, who said that their eldest ancestor was a Chinese official during the Qing dynasty.

Before leaving the library, Jessica was asked to sign the Chinese calligraphy of their surname in the logbook dedicated to family members.

“I have it in my genes to know how to do calligraphy. It’s easy because it’s in my genes,” she said.

Jessica also found out that their family branch was from the town next to Te-ham.

With photos of her other relatives on her hand, she tracked down where their small village was located and met a woman who was the wife of one of her cousins.

“Based dito sa mga litrato, nagtatanong-tanong kami sa mga tao kung nakikilala nila ‘tong mga lugar na ‘to para mas madali naming mahanap ‘yung village namin mismo,” she said.

Later on, more relatives introduced themselves, including her grandfather’s other grandchildren from his first marriage.

They also showed her a photo they had of Jessica’s grandfather, which matched the photo she brought with her.

Jessica couldn’t help but become emotional during their meeting.

“Na-touch lang ako kasi ang warm nung pagtanggap nung isa eh. Talagang ayaw niyang bitawan ‘yung kamay ko,” she said.

With their help, Jessica was able to visit their ancestral house, where she paid tribute to their ancestors by offering candies, rice crackers, and incense.

She even met a 94-year-old woman who said she knew Jessica’s grandfather.

“Itinuturing kong swerte na nahanap ko ang lugar na ito, ang malakaran at madaanan din ang mga tinahak ng aking ninuno. Sa aking paglakbay pabalik sa aking pinagmulan, mas higit kong pinapasalamat kung gaano na kalayo ang aking narating,” she said.

— Carby Basina/LA, GMA Integrated News

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