Living in Limbo

It’s a strange existence to be mixed race. Fitting in, neither here not there. We spend half the time pretending to be somebody, as if playing a game in which we’re trying to merge in. Will they notice that I’m not from here?

The first time I ever went to Hong Kong and stood on the MTR (underground) surrounded by Chinese faces, a strange feeling ran over me. Have I finally been accepted?…I thought as nobody batted an eyelid at my presence. But whether I had been accepted for how I look or not, I still didn’t belong there. It was a false kind of belonging.

Face value

The simple fact is that we are judged by our appearances. Though mine can vary from day to day from looking mixed, to East Asian, to Nepalese…there is no way that I look much like my dear white (Irish-Roma) Father. I happened to take the looks from my Malaysian-Chinese Mother, something my Father said he was glad about.

My parents and I, when I was a baby

In my hometown in Kent, I can walk into a pub filled with burly bigots, and they’ll look around the place shouting “Chinese take-away anybody?” As if the only thing a Chinese face would be doing there, is delivering Chinese food.

Upon the opening of my mouth, out comes a stark British accent. That’s enough to convince most people that I’m a local. But an odd few still don’t get it, even when I’m repeating “I was BORN here” over and over again.

Some people even used to ask my Dad whether he had bought my Mum and I off the internet! And we’d get funny looks at times when I became older, as I walked down the street with my Dad, people mistook me for his disturbingly young wife – as if they had stereotyped him as a perverted white man with a thing for Asian women.

Chatting with Puja Kapai, a Law Professor at Hong Kong University, she explained how her Indian appearance sometimes dilutes the strength of her message. When she teaches human rights law regarding ethnic minorities in Hong Kong (the place she grew up), students see her as an ethnic minority advocating  for her own rights. If it were a white teacher, they would find it more legitimate.

It’s the same story for my fiancé, who was born and lives in Hong Kong, but is ethnically Indian. Chinese locals find it very hard to accept that HK-born Indians are Hongkongers too. The waiter, no matter how confused I look at him, will speak to me in Cantonese and completely ignore the true local. And ironically, it is my fiance who speaks it fluently.

Staying true

Thankfully, the UK is one of those places where our ancestors could be from anywhere in the world, and we still have the right to call ourselves British. But that doesn’t mean everybody in the UK accepts that.

Growing up, I always strove to be more Asian. I used to think to myself as soon as I get to an Asian country, I will fit in. When people asked me where I was from, my answer would be “Malaysia”. But going to Asia made my sense of British identity stronger. Now I proud and comfortable to answer “England”, accepting who I am.

Of course, that doesn’t mean I am denying my other identities. Just being honest with myself and the world about the many dimensions there are to a person’s identity. We have ethnic, national, religious identities, which all intermingle. And to label yourself as one, doesn’t neglect the others. That’s just of the fun things about being so mixed up – being able to be many things at once.

Thanks

Last week my post “My Mixed-race Family” was Freshly Pressed. Thanks WordPress! And I just want to thank everybody who took the time to read or comment on it. Especially, thanks to the people who shared their own experiences and lives with me. It was a pleasure reading about them. I can’t tell you how much it means to know that people care about what I write.

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9 comments

  1. I’ve felt exactly the same way! I don’t exactly “fit in” in America, nor in India. Instead, I have my own unique identity. I have many friends who, like me, are Asian American. Yet, the term Asian American doesn’t encompass everything there is to such an identity. Every person chooses to embrace (or reject, for that matter) different parts of their identity in various ways and to various degrees.

    Have you heard of the book In the Name of Identity by Amin Maalouf?
    You can read part of it here: http://books.google.com/books?id=m2TEmb5BO6QC&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false

  2. This is a great post, one of many you have (my mixed race family being one) and like you am mixed race (thai/kiwi) and have experienced a lot of what you and your family experienced especially now living in China. I would love to know how you are tracking in your search for your asian family side and wish you all the very best. Keep on posting its brilliant.

  3. I never thought it to be so, but, perhaps, in America we are more of a melting pot that England. Or perhaps, because I studied about China so much, I blur the lines of distinction. Though you look like your mother, you don’t look foreign to me.

    When I’m hanging out with my black friend Maurice, I never think of myself as being different. Sometimes I’ll catch a glance of myself in the mirror and be shocked back into reality.

    Recently Maurice and I went to the Chinese restaurant where I am family. The young daughter came running up to greet “shushu Paul”. I said, “你要欢迎我的朋友 Maurice.” She turned and looked, and her smile dissolved into a look of confusion. “为什么他是很黑?“ After Mama explained that some people were just born black, it’s never been an issue. Mama, however, has told me she could never live in New York like her sisters, because there are too many black people, and they are too hard to understand. Unlike me, I think a lot of people are more confused by cultural walls and don’t have the time or will to break them down. I echo Maurice’s sentiment. “I’m not the representative of black people, I’m just a person. Why can’t we just look at everyone as a person?”

    1. I definitely feel that the US is more of a melting pot than the UK. I haven’t spent enough time there to know first hand, but it seems so. I like what you’re saying here. The true eradication of racism means that we don’t even think of ourselves as a different race, but as members of the great human race. Very profound.

  4. it’s so nice reading a post written about something close to your heart 🙂 i’m glad you now have the confidence to be comfortable with your identity – no matter what it is. you’ve got the best of both worlds really; speaking from experience! i was born and raised in malaysia & go to an english university so i genuinely think it’s the best of both words 🙂

  5. I am so glad you have been freshly pressed. Stumbling amongst food and fashion blogs in my insomnia I was heartened to read your story.

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