All posts tagged: identity

Shape-Shifting

At the end of last year, I went to see author Sreedhevi Iyer speak about her short story collection at the Hong Kong International Literary Festival. A member of the audience asked Iyer, an Indian-Malaysian-Australian writer, if she felt she behaved differently according to the different countries or cultures she was active in. She said that she found herself unconsciously adapting a lot, and wanted to focus on consciously ‘un-adapting’ more. While Iyer went on to give specific, personal examples, this general notion of auto-pilot adapting is a sentiment familiar to most people of mixed race. Adjusting is defined as: ‘becoming adjusted to new conditions’. But for those who belong to more than one race, adapting is a way of life, a survival strategy, not a temporary spell during which you acclimatise. Being mixed-race is not a condition, after all (although looking at the racial micro-aggressions — and maxi-aggressions — hurled at many mixed-race people, perhaps lots of folk think otherwise). I’ve spent the majority of my life adapting. Nobody told me to, per se. I was not verbally instructed …

Inked Identity

When I was 18, I got my first tattoo. Perched on my left hip, where the fleshiness of the tummy starts to flatten over the pelvic muscle, is the Chinese character that means the word ‘half’. As in, half-Chinese. Get it? I had thought about getting this, what I deemed to be very clever, sign of my identity for around a year, and was certain that it would be important for the rest of my life, something I could never regret. My logic came from the simple fact that, unlike a boyfriend or a seemingly poignant song lyric, it represented something that would never change — my being half-Chinese. I was wrong. It didn’t represent my being half-Chinese, but rather how I perceived being half-Chinese at the time. I don’t regret the ink — it’s a thought-provoking reminder of how quickly and drastically we change — but it does not resonate with the current me. I might be, by blood, 50 percent Chinese, but what I didn’t know back then, as I reclined statue-still on the black, leather chair, was that …

Search For My Tongue

I’m in year 10 poetry class, and we’re discussing Sujata Bhatt’s Search For My Tongue. In it, she details her fear of losing the ability to speak in her native language, and struggles to see how the two languages she knows can co-exist in her brain. Just as we reach the part about the poet dreaming in her mother tongue, our teacher, Mrs Garcia, looks up from her book and asks if any of us can speak a second language. A group of hands make swift draughts in the air. She zigzags between them, smiling and nodding enthusiastically as they answer. German, Punjabi, French. I do not raise my hand, because I can only speak English. She calls my name anyway. “Don’t you speak another language?” She asks, the question more a declaration than an interrogative. I shake my head. “Where are your parents from?” She tries. I tell her my dad is from Hong Kong. She nods in relief, her question now justified. “But you don’t speak another language?” She pushes, her thin wire-framed …

Can I Ask Where You’re From?

I’m standing at the till, and I’m torn. The cashier has, without a word, glanced at the washing up liquid on the counter, looked up at my face, and then squeaked, ‘where are you from?’. This, technically, isn’t a difficult question. I know where I was born, I know where I live, I know where my parents are from. But it’s difficult in a lot of other ways. I’m extremely proud of my mixed heritage and everything both it, and I, stand for. It’s taken me a good few years of diversions and confusion to get to this point. But I’m here and I’m proud. I would happily talk about my history and my family until the cows come home, and then when they’ve bedded down, too. But that isn’t what the cashier is asking for. And even though I’ve been asked this same question in this exact circumstance a million times before, something in me feels frustrated this time. Maybe it’s a culmination of all of those incidents before, finally reaching a head. The …

Race As A Prefix

I still remember the exact moment, over ten years ago, when I was called a ‘chinky bitch’. I remember the toxicity snaking through the smile of the perpetrator, not much older than me, as he cycled around me, my apologetic face truly sorry for crossing the road without seeing him. I remember the moment he looked back to make sure he’d delivered the fatal blow and I’d received it. I pretended not to have heard, but he could probably see it in the way my wavy face began to panic, all affected. I don’t know if it upset me as much as punctured an innocent, wide-eyed part of me. After that, it was hard to fill it back up, keep the air in. From that moment on, I started to notice that race was often pointedly used as a prefix, just the thing to twist the knife into an insult already sharp enough. Of course, there are plenty of incidences where the focal point is the race, and the secondary word – think ‘asshole’, or …