Growing Up British Born Chinese | My Struggles

by - June 29, 2018

Recently I've seen this tag go around on YouTube, mainly from Asian American YouTubers during Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. I felt a connection to a lot of the things said in those videos and it made me feel like I could relate growing up Chinese in a predominantly White/English environment, and I wanted to share my story.

1. Which ethnicity are you?
I'm full Chinese, born and raised in the UK, from a small town in West Yorkshire.
2. Which generation are you?
Technically speaking, I am 1st generation but I consider myself 2nd generation. My dad came over from Hong Kong when he was very young along with my grandparents and auntie, my dad and auntie studied and grew up here, so you could say they are 1st generation. My mum came over when she was in her late 20s, then met my dad and had my brother and I.
3. What is the first experience where you felt that demarcation of being a minority/different?
Growing up in my environment I always knew I looked different from my friends because my mum made sure to drill it into my head that I was Chinese, but I never saw colour or race. In a way I thought of myself as English, as the friends I grew up and hung around with were White/English people. I can't pinpoint an exact time of my first racial discrimination encounter as it's happened all my life so it's difficult to say when. But the things I remember most is my house would always be the one targeted by other kids, for example, when it snowed, it always seemed to be my house windows that would get the most snow balls thrown at, when they weren't throwing snow balls, it would be eggs or small stones. Other times, there would be random strangers stretching their eyes at me and say the typical "chink/chinky/ching-chong" thing at me when I walked past them.
One time in primary school, when I was around 8/9 years old, in class we were learning about the growth of the human body, and we were all told to measure the distance of our eyes, and out of nowhere the supply teacher said to me "Oh your eyes might be further apart than others", at the time I knew something didn't seem right but I was young, and he was the teacher so I didn't question or think much about it. But this incident has always sat in the back of my mind, and when I think about it now, it was a racial comment because I was the only Chinese in class, he could have said it to any other students, but he purposely secluded me out to make that comment. FYI there were other people's eyes that measured further apart than mine so his comment was invalid af *smug face*.
Here's a picture of me in Choir Club in Primary School, 2 years after that supply teacher incident.
(Faces of others in the picture has been blurred for privacy reason, not everyone will want their embarrassing childhood school photos shown haha!)

In high school there wasn't really any other Chinese people in my school besides my brother and I. There was one other Chinese girl in my year, in the same form in fact, we spoke during form time but we never hung out as we were in different friendship groups.
From High School to till I left 6th Form, that was a time I'd consider where I got the bulk of the racism. I'd always get unnecessary racial comments thrown my way on a daily basis, or some person I've never even spoken to in my life from another year group would purposely walk into me really hard. For the first few years of High School, I'd just laugh it off as there wasn't really much I could say or do back, and I never went running off to a teacher as I didn't want to be known as a "grass" (slang for 'a snitch'), and it was never a constant thing for it to be considered "bullying". Towards the end of High School I'd started being immune to whatever racial comments we're thrown my way, I'd just banter back and make fun of myself. I just wanted to fit in, and if it meant taking the piss out of myself for their entertainment then so be it.

I can recall very clearly one time in Media class, a few people started "bantering" with me and putting on a "Chinese accent" and I just laughed along with them, out of nowhere my class mate who sat next to me said "you should be proud of your heritage", and he was so so right, I should be. But the thing he doesn't know or understand was, it's hard to be proud of something you get shit for day in, day out, every single day of your life.

The very last 2 years of 6th Form the racism got a little easier, I guess most of it was due to being in the same year group for the last 4/5 years with the same people. I started to learn to take a stand, if I heard something I didn't like I'd actually speak up for myself, I'd walk away from situations I didn't feel comfortable in, and I would defend myself since no one else ever spoke up for me.
I didn't mind if people we're curious about my culture, I actually wanted them to ask me questions and I would happily educate them on it. By the end of 6th Form there was only ever really 1 person who would make comments to me and spread fake rumours about me and my culture, but at that point everyone knew he was a racist and spouted absolute rubbish like there was no tomorrow.
I was around 12 or 13 years old here in Year 7 or 8?
(Sorry Holly for the cringe photo of us haha..)

Year 9, around 14 years old here
4. Were you always proud of your heritage or was there a time you rejected it?
Nope, there was a period of time when I was younger where I hated being Chinese, I would refuse to speak Cantonese unless I really had to speak it, such as when speaking to my grandparents or elders as they didn't understand a word of English. When my parents would ask me anything, it didn't matter whether the question was asked in Cantonese or English, I would answer in English.
At the time, to me being Chinese was a negative thing. I grew up with my Chinese background always being made a mockery of, and I didn't want to be associated with that side of me.
Whenever my brother and I got into fights, I would actually try to insult him by calling him "a chink", I didn't know how derogatory the term was at the time, but I knew how hurtful it could be, and I wanted to one up him. Thinking back, I was such an idiot to even use that term, and it's even more embarrassing for me as I myself, is Chinese.
5. How has being British Chinese affected your relationship with your parents?
Oh boy.. where do I even begin with this haha..
As mentioned before, my mum made sure to drill it into my head from a very young age that I am Chinese and "they" were English People. My mum really wanted me to separate the cultural differences, and ideally be "more Chinese". Growing up, my family around me said that I was a "gwai mui tsai" which translates to "an English girl" as I was very well immersed into my British culture. However, when I'm in Hong Kong I'm not considered a Hong Kongese and to many English people, I'm not considered their own either, as I am not White and I look the complete opposite of them appearance wise. So little me was in a cultural identity struggle, where do I fit in?

My identity struggle caused a lot of arguments with my mum, as I was raised up in a strict Asian household, it made everything escalate very intensely and quickly. I wanted the same freedom my English friends had, where they could sleep at each other's houses on weekends and hang out together after school. I was never allowed to do that. Whenever I came home from school, I had to do homework straight away, and each night I had to take 2-3 hours out of my night to revise, even if I didn't have any exams on. I wasn't ever allowed to stay out late, as those who did stay out late were considered "criminals or bad people" in my mum's eyes. This also came at a time where I could feel my mum showed her favouritism towards my brother, and he could do so many things I couldn't. This made me feel like it was really unfair so it made me become even more rebellious. I would lie just so I could do the things I wanted, and eventually lying even over small things became a natural thing to me. Whenever I would get caught out over my lies, it was like oil being added to fire, as everything I had bottled up inside would just come out all at once.

She would also give me a good beating, and I don't mean a slap on the wrist and call it a day kind of beating, she would use coat hangers, broomstick handles, shoes, to name a few battle weapons. My mum has a belief that beating reinforces authority and that if I'm scared of the beatings, i'll therefore no longer rebel. The relationship between mum and I became very strained as we had the opposite opinions and thoughts on almost everything. She was very traditional and conservative, whereas I was very open and adventurous. I remember always being quite jealous of the relationship my friends had with their mums, and hearing how they could tell each other everything and being each other's best friend.
It's something I guess I'm yet to experience.
6. Can you speak your language?
Yes I can, very fluently infact.
However I can barely read or write Chinese. I went to Chinese school for 2 years and learnt the basics, so I can write the odd few words, and recognise/read some words, but I wouldn't be able to string a sentence together.
7. How do you feel about your heritage now? Do you identify with it?
In this moment of my life, honestly, I love being Chinese, and being lucky enough to be able to experience 2 very different cultures. I've managed to find a balance with my cultures and have both of them together in harmony.
These days, I'm very in touch with my Chinese side as all I ever do is watch Hong Kong dramas, more so than British TV. Also, surrounding myself with people who are also Chinese and seeing how they are proud to be who they are, has inspired me to do the same.
8. What is your favourite thing about being British Chinese/your heritage?
FOOD! I love the food, and the many different versions and variety of a dish, I could eat Chinese food all day everyday!
I also love that I am bilingual and can switch to which ever language I want depending on the environment. Sometimes it's easier to explain some things in one language than the other.

Hope you liked reading this post, I have really enjoyed typing this up.
See you in my next post!
Melody xo.

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