A POC writer on Asian hate and identity

“Stop Asian Hate” is currently flooding social media. Around this time last year, the “Black Lives Matter” movement began. It’s saddening and enraging to see how it requires violent actions and tragic events to get people’s attention. 

However, people have numerous reasons to frown upon China these days. Being the world’s leading manufacturing industry, China produced 6.8 million tons of plastic in 2020. But what haven’t you purchased that’s not made in China? Suppose that everyone that shopped at dollar stores, toy stores, etc., contributed to supporting mass production in China.

Are you mad at the Chinese because they crashed the housing market in Western Canada? Then why did you accept the money in cash without thinking of the consequences? One-third of Vancouver’s real estate market is owned by Chinese people. It didn’t have to be this way.

Do you understand the conflict between China and Hong Kong? I remember watching the news as a kid in 1997 when Hong Kong was “handed back” to China. Many Hong Kong families fled because they feared the Chinese government.

There’s so much more, but I won’t even go into the virus outbreak, economics and politics, as I don’t usually blog about these things.

I’m not taking sides either; however, I condemn the Chinese government and people in economics and politics that didn’t think of the consequences: You brought this on yourselves. And your children will pay for it.

CHINESE IMMIGRANTS IN WESTERN COUNTRIES

My parents pride themselves in being from Hong Kong rather than mainland China, especially my mother, who was born in Hong Kong during the English colony. My dad was born in the south of Shanghai, where he witnessed the city becoming the commercial centre of East Asia. But he still remembers seeing people holding Mao’s little red book against their chests.

Ultimately, leaving Hong Kong must have struck them as an opportunity to find themselves and escape any future dismays.

Chinese immigrants in Germany often struggled to master the German language and didn’t have relevant communication skills to excel in most work sectors. Therefore, opening up Chinese restaurants served as the best contribution to society, and in some instances, it also became a way to bypass immigration laws.

In the early 20th century, the Chinese were excluded from immigration in North America and required merchant statuses to open Chinese restaurants. Since then, Chinese food has become a part of western culture. But if you look closer at the history of Chinese immigration to a western country, you will see that xenophobia had played a huge role. 

My dad moved to northern Germany in the 1960s to pursue the career of a chef. His dad—the grandfather I never knew—had a German business partner with whom he’d already opened two Chinese restaurants. I see why. Germany was going through economic growth in the 1950s and ’60s; its society was more open and tolerant at the time too.

West Germany was going through protest movements in the ‘60s to come to terms with the Nazi past. Leftist groups were formed, condemning the Vietnam war. Then, the women’s movement and student movement rolled in too. The Left even won the 1969s election. In spite of the growth of consumerism, people had strived for opportunity and freedom, and so did the Chinese and other immigrants.

Judging by my dad’s many photographs, wearing flares and leather jackets, driving a Mercedes—he was adapting well in Germany. I’m sure he enjoyed the movement, as it enabled his and my grandfather’s business to thrive. (But unfortunately, many baby boomers didn’t see the future recession coming. More about it in a different blog.)

Chinese immigration to Germany and other European countries wasn’t unusual. But no one ever talked publicly about their stories until now. Or, to emphasize it better, no one really listened until now.

GROWING UP IN GERMANY AS A CHINESE

I’ve had racist encounters everywhere I lived. But I consider myself lucky for not having experienced violent hate crimes except for once, perhaps. The main issues I had growing up were based on prejudices and stereotypes.

Asians on social media are furious and saddened by the Atlanta shootings. They began to speak up and share their personal life stories. While reading Asian millennials’ IG captions, I was able to relate. I wondered where they had been all my life. So, I wasn’t the only yellow girl struggling in northern Germany?

I’ve been telling my story since 1994 and publicly since around 2002 when blogging got popular.

My sister and I are first-generation Germans, but nobody in Germany would believe it at first glance. You might think that a culture shock wouldn’t occur if you were born as a first-generation German—a country foreign to your parents.

Wrong. You are still people of colour. While your German is fluent, you still struggle to get a sense of belonging and who you are. You even compare yourself to white foreigners who barely spoke any German, such as Russians, Polish, Yugoslavians, and Turkish. The majority wasn’t even born in Germany, yet they fit in better than POC did.

When I encountered a German in Canada, she’d ask me where I’d learned to speak German so fluently. It didn’t occur to her that this yellow alien might have been born in Germany. No matter how outrageous it seems to some people, it’s the eye of the beholder’s fixation on your outward appearance, your skin colour.

I can’t say that my classmates bullied me. They asked me whether I knew Kung Fu or Karate, whether I could speak or read Chinese. They did the slanted eyes look and sang racist nursery rhymes because it was normal. The teacher would play on the piano.

Most of my German teachers were bigoted arseholes. Only a handful of them cared enough about pupils that needed extra support and attention. The worst ones were teachers who pitied me and encouraged other pupils to play with me without knowing that they didn’t want to be near me.

As far as eye discrimination was concerned, Germany was the worst. It led to growing up with a lack of confidence:

“Are you tired? Your eyes look smaller than they usually do.”

“How come anime characters have such large eyes while in reality, you guys have small eyes?”

“You have ch*nk eyes.”

During softball, a racist girl said to the teacher, “I hit that black one. She should be out of the field.” I wasn’t black, but I was the only one with black hair.

It wasn’t until I was an adult that someone said my eyes were beautiful but did it still matter to me? I was already laughing at South Park’s episodes involving City Wok. Nothing was racist to me anymore as long as there was no “seriousness” or racist intentions involved. Perhaps this is what growing up in the western world did to me. And no, it wasn’t a coping mechanism.

I’d rather say I have more capacity for understanding Western culture and Chinese culture.

One day, I walked home from school and was spat at by a group of Russian kids that cycled past me, shouting racist rants in Russian. I suppose it made them feel better as foreigners in Germany. To me, they were just pathetic kids with zero capacity for anything.

By then, I was more German than they were.

ADULTING WITH THE BRITS AS A CHINESE

In the early 2000s, I spent the remains of my adolescence in England. I couldn’t help but feel backwards because what I experienced as an 18-year-old, I should’ve experienced at least as a 16-year-old. English kids appeared sexually more mature than the Germans. However, they weren’t as outgoing unless you approached them first. 

I connected better with the Brits, who were more open towards me and who I was. They seemed more fascinated by oriental looks and never ever commented on my eyes.

I only had one incident where an ugly, hunched scally girl threw a full plastic bottle at my head, yelling, “Fucking ch*nk!” She was with a group of people, apparently trying to impress them. Living in a small English village at the time, I would continuously run into people I knew, which I hated. So, I bumped into her again, but she didn’t do anything.

I’d spent five consecutive years in England and have had admirers, whereas I never had any during my time at school in northern Germany. What did you expect growing up in a place where people were of Scandinavian descent and predominantly considered blond hair and blue eyes most attractive—not to mention any height past six feet? How do you think a 5’3 Asian girl with baby fat and freckles on her face had felt?

I never knew whether it was the colonization that made the Brits more open-minded, but I’d always felt more accepted by them, so I returned for another three years. Of course, I’ve encountered racist arseholes, too, telling my friends to fuck off home to China. They would make a big fuss if you didn’t speak good English without realizing that my friends came to England to learn English. 

THE NORTH AMERICAN EXPERIENCE AS A CHINESE

Entering Canada as an adult, I didn’t have any high expectations. I’d fallen on my face enough to know that all places would bring upon good and bad experiences. Yet I knew Canada would be another multicultural experience like London, UK. And by far, it’s the most welcoming and tolerant place I’ve visited. I think I’ve only encountered one or two racist rants.

Still, Canada (like the US also) has a history of anti-Asian actions, such as the Chinese Head Tax (1885) and the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1923 (the US, 1882).

With anti-Asian violence on the rise in both the US and Canada, I feel that quiet, angry racists will use it as a means to build on it. I was trying to report IG accounts that were building a Hate Chinese community. But because they hadn’t posted anything offensive and inappropriate, IG rejected my report. IG also rejected my request to promote my post on social issues.

Before Trump became president, the far-right had been more silent. He’d fuelled people’s anger and encouraged them to express their hate in the deadliest and most anarchic ways. Somehow, I think it was necessary because we need to know that these people exist, and they have to be confronted.

It always strikes me that people think all Chinese people are crazy rich; therefore, they can handle all the discrimination you throw at them. There’s a huge division between China’s rich and poor; their income gap is significantly large. While the poor live in boxes, the wealthy feed on monopoly power and real estate. This brings me to Vancouver’s housing market again. Is it the Chinese’s fault? Nope.

When my relatives moved to Vancouver in the early 70s, they worked hard to build a Canadian life. A Chinese community was already in place, and they’d all adapted and contributed to Canadian society. They had a mortgage like every Canadian house buyer. 

Currently, Vancouver has 25,000+ vacant houses, and the only solution they came up with is charging an empty house tax.

Is it the Chinese’s fault? Again, no.

Before you think I’m a crazy rich Asian—here’s the truth, I’m a poor exophonic writer who has never owned any properties. I studied my passion, travelled to different parts of the world, and I’m struggling to make a living out of writing. I’m also not good at maths. The only stereotypical feature about me is that I’m a terrible Asian driver. 

More and more Asians are writing and publishing extraordinary stories about their experiences growing up in western cultures. Whether you are a BIPOC writer or not, it doesn’t change that we’re in an angry and noisy era. We won’t ever be on the same page with those who lack compassion. No matter how much we write.

ENCOUNTERING ANTI-CHINESE AMONG SOUTHEAST ASIANS

What bothers me is not just the anger towards the Chinese but Asians who hate other Asians. Asians have become an economically divided demographic in the West. Moreover, non-Chinese Asians are mad at the Chinese, and the Chinese in and from Hong Kong are mad at mainland China. And a large number of mainland Chinese are mad at their government.

Dislike and hate among Asians has always been evident. Now COVID is the trigger for the extreme divide.

I admit that I can be quite the western snob. I’ve always wanted to revisit Hong Kong or go to other places like Seoul or Tokyo. Unfortunately, I never had the money—only enough to visit Southeast Asia.

I landed in Hanoi with uneasiness—a tough first stop for me. It was where I met the most unfriendly Vietnamese people. They knew I was of Chinese descent since I was almost a head taller than most and didn’t speak their language. They mostly blanked me or shot me dirty looks.

I know from the Chinese that Asian people tend to hold grudges; they’d even take the grudge to their graves if they must. That is why I got that sentiment and didn’t feel comfortable. The tension loosened a bit as I travelled south.

However, they were very fond of white people, wildly if they were waving American dollars in the air.

Thailand—the land of smiles—had a bit of an ambivalent feel. They were friendly to most tourists, and I felt more welcome. I even went to a Muay Thai school to attend some training. However, I did notice that the school was fonder of its white students.

During a conversation with a trainer, he wasn’t interested in my German background. When I highlighted that my parents were from Hong Kong, he replied that it was all the same. It disappointed me to hear that. However, he wasn’t the last POC person to say that.

My friend from Singapore told me not to get frustrated about it. And if I still had a problem with people like that, I should tell them I was from Singapore. But why lie about who I was?

Years later, I realized that I didn’t go to Southeast Asia with an open mind, and yes, I had taken things too personally. I felt held responsible for the South China Sea conflict, and I didn’t even know what it was. I even skipped Cambodia and Laos because I couldn’t handle the spite anymore.

I never even felt Chinese, yet, to other Asians, that’s all I am. There’s nothing I can do about it.

*

I’ve always preferred being around people that didn’t care about my background. My nationality is German and always will be. Germany would like to strip me of my citizenship, but that is not going to happen.

If you are a non-Chinese Asian that fell victim to a racist encounter in which they call you Chinese, I won’t bother saying anything. To them, we’re all the same anyway. At least we bring awareness to those who listen.

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