Facing whispering and expressions of confusion as I ate my dried seaweed whilst everyone else ate their salt and vinegar crisps during school lunch times, I was subconsciously exploring and learning to balance my Chinese and English culture from a young age. Throughout my childhood, I rejected my culture at home and spoke only English. What can make stability and confidence in bicultural identity particularly difficult is the encouragement from parents/guardians that we should do everything we can to fully integrate into our surroundings.
As a result, this often means neglecting our ethnic cultures and focusing on the Western ones we’re more often exposed to at school. As a young girl going into my teenage years, figuring out which parts of my Chinese and British culture I wanted to celebrate was overwhelming. I felt too different in a country I was born in whilst unable to identify fully with the culture I was born from. I would experience racism at school, strengthening my feelings of otherness, whilst lacking the ability to properly communicate with my international relatives. Now eighteen-years-old, I have only just begun to find a sense of identity that doesn’t make me feel too Chinese nor too English to connect with people from either country and representation has played a big part in that.
Today, the importance of accurate representation is widely acknowledged with more and more roles in the film and television industry, for instance, with unclassified ethnicities being played by British/ American Asian actors. Films such as To All The Boys I Loved Before feature Asian American characters without their roles being a caricature of the cultures they’re meant to be from. For me, seeing these actors being depicted without any reference to their mathematical ability or unwillingness to speak up made me realise these stereotypes were finally beginning to leave us. Whilst I have begun celebrating my Chinese heritage and features, it is refreshing to see more representation of Asians as simply British or American citizens. In To All the Boys I Loved Before, characters’ ethnicities were barely even mentioned. Although it can be important to recognise people’s differences, steps such as these are moving us towards normalising seeing diversity in our everyday lives. I believe with more exposure to this in mainstream media, bicultural Asians will feel they have more of a voice and place in Western societies and with the Coronavirus having brought about an influx of hostility towards Asian communities, it is as crucial as ever these steps are being taken.
That being said, with the most recent surge of support for the Black Lives Matter movement in particular, “accurate representation” has taken on a whole new development. Social media influencers such as Sarah Cheung and Jessica Vu have been particularly outspoken on antiblack rhetoric within Asian communities as a whole through YouTube videos and Instagram posts, making me realise the importance of, not only recognising these for ourselves, but also encouraging others to actively unlearn the parts of our cultures that we have been reluctant to speak about. In the podcast, Yellow Bee Pod, hosted by Natalie Cheung, she shares her experiences in areas like beauty and dating as a British Chinese person as well as discussing topics including coming out and recent cases of xenophobia. This is the kind of content that is especially useful for young British Asians, validating the experiences many of them face and bringing comfort in the fact that they are not alone in the problems they may encounter. Now, accurate representation of dual-cultural Asians, to me, is more than just about seeing characters in films not playing the old-fashioned stereotype: strong accents and poor grammar. Accurate representation today includes people of our cultures and communities using their platforms to highlight to others the ways in which views have changed for the better and showing greater, more active solidarity as we blend the perspectives of the cultures we identify with.
However, it goes without saying, that this has not always been the case nor is the increase in unity among Asians as strong in the UK. The disparity of representation of Asian communities within the UK and USA is particularly evident. As I reflect back on my childhood, the British Asian community has always been much less outspoken than that of the Asian American community. Particularly with the most recent social developments, there has been a rise in social media activism with Instagram accounts such as Miscalculasian, RepresentasianProject and RacismIsAVirus, to name a few, created in the last two years. These platforms have been made to educate the Asian American community on how to show support
for others, sharing laws and rights they can count on to protect themselves as well as highlighting to non-Asians the struggles the community faces in America. Despite such a rise in engagement, British counterparts are yet to do the same. This may be rooted in the fact that Asian communities within the UK are much smaller than they are in America. With them being so spread out across the country, unity is difficult to gain. As aforementioned, many first-generation immigrants encourage their children to integrate in their areas as much as possible which can reduce branching out to other Asian communities as they focus on their local ones. Especially in the UK, it seems as if many second-generation Chinese immigrants, like me, lack a culturally balanced voice we can relate to, to help us feel secure and confident in our identities. There are many people that have been able to navigate their way through the difficulties but
still so many of us lack direction between our two cultures.
However, with the gradual increase of bicultural podcasts, YouTube channels and similar platforms being created which people can turn to, I am hopeful the next generation will have greater guidance. It is clear that more representation is crucial in building pride and security in people’s identities, especially since there has been so little for bicultural people and other minority groups. With more influencers using their platforms to celebrate the features that make them stand out as well as drawing attention to reforms that need to be made, it is inevitable self-confidence will soar. Hopefully, with the Asian voice in both the UK and USA holding greater weight and pushing to be heard, the representation will only increase to reflect these unique perspectives.
Writer, editor, poet
Harmony is an 18-year-old Social Sciences student from the UK. She is a strong supporter for movements such as Black Lives Matter and MeToo and has a particular interest in children and society, diversifying education and how she can encourage the British Chinese community to engage further in politics and social issues.