It occurred to me the other day that I love clinging to a sense of anonymity when I write, straying away from vast commentaries on my life or intimate personal details. In order to remedy that, I thought I’d write a more personal article, laden with cultural perspective: my thoughts on being British Chinese or what it’s like being British Chinese. My ethnic roots are the first thing a stranger notices about me, so I thought I’d discuss my life, bordering two cultures and what that means for me as a young woman.
Where am I from?
I’m from the North-West of England and still live and study there today. I have two wonderful parents and two outrageously successful siblings. Strangely enough my parents deviate away from the stereotype of the strict Asian parents in that I’ve never felt pressured to excel academically or live up to an academic dream. Whilst they taught me that high grades will certainly open doors, they reinforced the fact that interpersonal and intra-personal smarts will get you over the threshold and that there’s more to life than being a grade-hound.
“No, where are you actually from?”
I often find the question, ‘where are you from?’ troublesome in two respects:
A) Curiosity about my ethnicity is camouflaged in a question about where I was born.
B) Upon answering the question, there are those who get embarrassed and immediately apologise, “Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t know you were from here”.
It’s only natural for people to be curious and I appreciate people’s caution around the potentially tricky issue of race. My ethnicity is Chinese but, unfortunately, I can only speak English, despite many preconceptions. As a result, I’m incredibly envious of my bilingual friends, especially when they switch languages in conversation. Sadly, as my grandmother can only speak Chinese and a little English, my siblings and I can’t fully communicate with her meaning our relationship is stagnated in parts.
I often find my appearance is such a contradiction and as a result, my friends have supplied the moniker, ‘fake Asian’.
“So, are you more British or Chinese?”
I’m equal elements of both in that my nationality is British and my ethnicity is Chinese. I wouldn’t be who I am otherwise. In fact, my parents would never entertain a solely British label. Whilst studying French at school, I stumbled upon the concept of visible and invisible minorities: the concept of blending more easily into a society due to your looks. That’s to say, throughout my whole life, it will be presumed that I’m a Chinese native.
“Wow, you speak English perfectly!”
“But you can’t speak Chinese?”
“You’re so exotic looking!”
Thanks…but I’m not a tropical island, I’m a girl!
“Ok. So, what’s it like for you to be British Chinese?”
It’s interesting being part of two cultures as there’s the chance to mix and match different aspects of both. For example, I celebrate New Year’s Day on January 1st as well as Chinese New Year. And my mother cooks rice with English food in what I like to call Asian fusion dishes. I just wish I was able to cook as well as she does!
I’m also very grateful to my parents. Thanks to the hard graft of our parents and grandparents, my siblings and I have had very easy lives. Unlike most, if not all, of our Chinese friends, we’ve never had to work in a family business, devoting our time instead to our studies and interests.
Looks-wise, I find that my appearance has enabled me to stand out in job interview situations and the like. Experiencing racism and prejudice has made me, in my opinion, a stronger person and less prejudiced to others. I always tend to stand up for people and would never judge anyone negatively on something as superficial as looks. Don’t get me wrong. There are days I feel upset over a racist jibe but, to this day, I’ve never experienced anything too severe or physical (thank god!).
Before university, I had never heard of the concept of ‘Yellow Fever’ fetish or ‘Asiaphiles’. For the unacquainted, these two terms describe the phenomenon surrounding the sexual preference some people (usually Caucasian males) bear for Asian women. I find it hilarious and although most people find it inherently racist and creepy, I think it’s important to take a light-hearted perspective. For a BBC girl, it’s always something to consider when dating. Check out the video below:
What does it mean for you to be British Chinese?
It simply means I border two cultures. I grew up in a Western country with all the youthful looks that my Chinese roots gave me. As a result, I’m exposed to the advantages of both cultures. Do I think it would be easier to be simply English or Chinese? I don’t know. All I know is that I’m here to eradicate stereotypes of what it means to be British or Chinese.