My heart is heavy at the continuing rise in hostility and violence towards South East and East Asians during the last twelve months of the Covid pandemic. The recent shooting in Atlanta has sent shockwaves through communities around the world.
I am born in the UK and of Hong Kong heritage. This makes me a BBC – British Born Chinese. I have never felt truly at home in the UK because of how I look, and the racism I have experienced over many years. I also don’t feel at home in Hong Kong, there I was labelled a Banana ‘Yellow on the outside, white on the inside’. I laugh it off now, but growing up I felt really hurt, what else can you do when your own people look down at you and treat you differently just because you were born in the West, and they were born in the South East.
I started getting bullied at primary school from the age of 5/6. There weren’t very many ethnic minorities at my school, I became an easy target. It started off with name calling, I was known by my Chinese name at my first primary school and I was ashamed and grew to hate it because the kids would always make fun of me.
The insults started with being called ‘Ching Chong’, ‘Chinky’ or ‘Ping Pong’, the kids would say I was ugly and my face looked like a steamroller had run over it. I would be asked why my eyes were funny, the kids would pull at their eyes and make them slanted, they would squash their noses flat.
Then the physical bullying started from the boys. They would gang up on me and beat me up. The teachers turned a blind eye at first, then they got involved when I learnt to fight back and I started dropping the bullies with a swift kick to their bollocks. I became a scrapper, the bullying soon stopped. Thankfully my family moved to a new area after a couple of years and we went to another school. I now had an English name so I could try to fit in more. My life couldn’t have been more different, I made a lot of friends, I was on all the sports teams, I was even asked to play cricket and football with the boys. It felt so strange to be so accepted, after being bullied and ostracised previously. But then I would get some abuse from kids outside of school, we would play in various sports matches, some of the girls from the other school would be racist towards me. If you want to be abusive to someone, don’t do it when that person is holding a tennis racket or a rounders bat. My survival instinct kicked in again because I felt threatened. The scrapper would come out.
From the age of 12, I started to receive attention from older boys, and even men. It made me feel sick. I used to ride my bike to secondary school and there would be guys shouting at me from their cars and vans, even to this day I hate white vans. Calling me a ‘Chink’, ‘Gook’ and then the sexual comments started as I reached my early teens. This was the era of the Vietnam war films which were popular at the time. Men would shout “Sucky sucky five dollar” and “Me Love You Long Time”, I would get called ‘Ling Ling’ and ‘Susie Wong’. It was relentless, I started dressing in baggy clothes and always wore jeans or trousers to cover up in the hope that I wouldn’t get attention, but it didn’t matter. I was fourteen at the time and that’s when I started working weekends in the family takeaway shop. The abuse we received was relentless. People would ask us if we cooked cats and dogs, we would regularly get told to “fuck off back to your own country”. I was in my own country, I was born five minutes away from where we lived – where were they from?! Someone scrawled ‘China Out of Tibet’ on the wall, even though we were from Hong Kong and that was very obvious from the name of our takeaway, they didn’t care, according to them we were all the same, and looked the same. Fights would break out in the shop, especially when it was kicking out time from the pubs. I have always wondered why someone would be abusive towards people they wanted to buy food from, and yet they claim they love Chinese food, so it’s just the people who cook it that you don’t like? I started to refuse to serve people when they were abusive, but the insults would still continue. The police got called regularly. I developed a smart mouth pretty quickly, I would talk back to anyone who was rude. I still do.
I am going to skip a large chunk of my earlier years because I don’t want to give much energy to a very dark period of my life. I had a number of disastrous and toxic relationships and sometimes ended up with boyfriends who saw me as a status symbol, or who had ‘yellow fever’. This is when the fetishisation and sexualisation of Asian women became very apparent to me. Guys would ask if my vagina was slanted the other way like my eyes, really? How stupid and offensive can you be?! This is a common question we get asked. Men would expect me to be demure, submissive & obedient because they saw, heard and believed the stereotypes. That was how we were represented in films. I am anything but those things, I would send them packing pretty fast. Then there was also the belief that all SE Asian women loved older men. I would get guys at least 30 years older hitting on me when I was in my early 20s and it continued throughout adulthood. It got so ridiculous I would start winding them up and ask if they were rich and had a heart problem and if so then let’s go on a date, I wouldn’t of course.
Fast forward to now and the last twelve months of the pandemic. Due to a certain US ex president repeatedly referring to Covid as ‘Kung Flu’ and ‘China virus’ and being very vocal in the demonisation of China, along with others, he created and continued his hateful rhetoric, repeating it many times during his presidency which has seen a dramatic increase in hostile behaviour and violence to the SE Asian population. We have also had an increase in the UK, but not to the levels of the US. It doesn’t make me feel any safer though.
I’ve had people shout ‘China Virus’ at me, heard parents tell their kids not to walk near me because I probably have Covid. I get told to go back to China – how original. People have avoided me on public transport, this I’m fine with. I don’t want any racists or bigots near me, they’re doing me a favour. I’ve had so many dirty looks when I am out, I coughed once on the train and a woman sat opposite me pulled out a plastic zip locker bag and put it over her face. I was trying not to laugh as she soon realised she couldn’t breathe properly. The comments on social media are relentless.
I am sharing my story because I come from an ethnic group which are seen as a ‘model minority’. This means we don’t cause trouble, we work hard and we keep our heads down. You don’t hear many of our stories, because we are taught by our parents to ‘keep face’ and not to talk about our problems. This may be why some people see us as an easy target – they think we will stay quiet and not want to cause a fuss. But racism creates long term trauma, and for some, PTSD. Everyone has a breaking point and as a community, we are now broken, and heartbroken for those who have suffered, and particularly for those who lost their lives. There are many ethnic minorities who have carried years of scars and abuse, and continue to do so. We are exhausted, we are hurting… but we are also angry. We will not be silent any longer.
Please remember we are not a virus. We are also scared of Covid, have lost loved ones and are worried about our friends and family.
Just like you are.