The first time I visited the motherland - Hong Kong
I remember the first time I visited Hong Kong (where my mum is from) in 2010 with my cousin - It felt so homely and familiar yet strangely foreign. The language and the food were comforting, yet I felt quite disconnected that I could understand Cantonese but I didn't know how to speak it. I remember a sense of panic when someone spoke to me in Chinese and I'd quickly say 'ngo m sik gong zung man' (I can't speak Chinese). Highlighting that I am not really Chinese and I never really felt English.
When I lived in Singapore in 2013, I felt I belonged as it was an Asian country yet I could speak English/Chinese and that was normal. Growing up speaking English and not that much Chinese I felt ashamed that I hadn't learnt more Chinese - which I think prevented me from being able to speak it. As a child, I didn't want to stand out or be anymore different than I already felt. There was something about blending in while living in Singapore, people having the same surname as me, feeling tall, and other faces feeling familiarly like my own. I also realised a lot of my upbringing wasn't weird, it was Asian. I felt this was a huge step in accepting a big part of my identity, embracing my cultural heritage. Another step closer to authentically stepping into becoming My Self and reconnecting to my cultural roots.
For me, growing up as British Chinese, I didn't fully feel Asian or fully British; I feel other East and South East Asian (ESEA) in Britain may feel the same. So, it felt really validating when I listened to besea.n podcast where they explore these issues too! They chat about being ESEA in Britain which I just LOVE listening to, it helps me reflect on things I didn't realise and similar experiences which they have struggled through too.
Seeing more and more ESEA faces on the big screen, makes me feel included and very outwardly proud to be Asian! I felt so much pride and celebration in watching Shang Chi! A celebration of Chinese culture with a few of my favourite scenes that made me feel so represented, validated, warmth and teary as it mirrored my upbringing. I loved the scenes where the main characters were around the dinner table and the conversations was in both English and Mandarin. Another was the zooming in of Shang Chi taking the shoes off at the door. (If you haven't already GO WATCH SHANG CHI) For me, seeing my fellow ESEA sisters and brothers on screen absolutely smashing such a brilliantly made and authentically curated movie that really captures and represent our culture and a version of being Asian (I guess Asian living in the west?) made me feel part of something, proud, familiarity, kinda normal, a sense of community as if I knew them!
As I get older I feel more proud to feel accepted as an Asian and a sense of warmth of reconnecting to my heritage and knowing that my future lineage won't have to feel small to fit in or feel weirdly different. (Another amazing film -Crazy Rich Asian, loved the diverse range of characters, showing that there isn't just the stereotype of a quiet, studious Asian.)
This month is East & South East Asian (ESEA) heritage month. If you would like to get involved, celebrate and learn more about ESEA culture; go check out the events and please do sign the petition to make this a thing (recognised by the British Government)! #ESEAHM2021