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Asian-Americans in Asia

This entry was not prompted by this 8asian.com article.

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Hello BlAAAg,

I’m Belle, former (current?) co-Event Adviser of AAA, throwing random entries onto BlAAAG, currently at University of Hong Kong (following in the footsteps of our former Event Adviser, Annie). I may be making snarky remarks as an Asian American expat in Hong Kong, but first, this entire time has been really confusing, and I’m having the identity crisis that never really hit me during puberty.

On face value (prima facie!), Hong Kong seems to have two groups of people: expats and locals. Expats may be seen as ranging from non-Chinese people who were born in Hong Kong to migrant domestic workers and i-bankers to international students at university for the semester. Locals are generally seen (not defined) as Chinese people in Hong Kong; I make this “not defined” caveat because now knowing more about Hong Kong, it is very clear that HK identity is as muddled as the American identity. How do those non-Chinese who grew up in Hong Kong see their own identities? Are Mainlanders who migrate/immigrate to HK Hongkongers? If not, can they claim the identity? How long must they live in HK before becoming Hongkongers? Are Mainlanders whose parents’ permanent residency in HK grants them HK permanent residency make them Hongkongers? What I am having the hardest time grasping is where do I fit into all of this: What about HK-Chinese-Americans/British/Canadians/etc.?

I’m technically an expat. I’ve been an American all my life. I’ve never been to China or Hong Kong before studying here (it is my first time out of the U.S. and it slightly disappoints me that I can’t use my “never been there, can’t go back” line anymore). My English is far superior to my Cantonese, and my written Chinese and Pǔtōnghuà skills are basically non-existent. Honestly, with the minimal language training I’ve had, the only reason why I’m surviving in Hong Kong is the English language the Brits left behind. But no matter how American I may be (whatever “American” means), hardly anyone will believe I’m not an HKer at first glance. Sure, the second I open my mouth and my terribly accented (I’ve been told) Cantonese comes out, the cashier may know I’m a foreigner, but without that badge, they don’t believe my expat-ness. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not proud of my terrible Cantonese - I wish I spoke the language flawlessly, but my Cantonese has turned into a symbol of my foreigner identity here.

I feel that I am walking in the gray space between the expat world and local world. Let me explain. I believe that on an individual level, someone like me, Asian on the outside and (Asian-)American on the inside, would have no problem traveling in the expat world and local world: I can enjoy Soho (expat capital) as much as Shatin or Wan Chai. But what gray space I am speaking of is how society views me, how other people view me and accept me into their world. It seems like I will never be able to fully assimilate into the expat world, as I have an Asian face, but I would never be accepted into the local culture either because I have a foreign concept of the world with a language deficiency to boot. The constant microaggressions come from both sides: the looks that ask: why is this Chinese girl pretending she fits in with us or pretending she’s an expat, how come she can’t speak Chinese even though she is Chinese, how come she can speak Cantonese even though she’s American, why does she choose to speak English? With these preconceived notions, it seems that I can’t exactly fit into one or the other groups. If I am not welcome in either group, I am not sure where I am supposed to fit in.

I’m not sure what conclusions I wanted to draw from this reflection. After all, my exploration or aimlessly wandering in this gray space is nothing compared to the everyday and institutional discrimination non-Chinese people face, especially the discrimination endured by Filipina, Thai, Indonesian domestic workers. I do not know if other East Asian Americans are facing the same microaggressions or have the same thoughts. I guess what I’m wondering is where am I supposed to fit in? Must I prove to everyone in that group (if it’s not the gray area) every time of why I identify with them? But why should I have to? How do I avoid the hostility (from both sides)? Or maybe, do I have the best of both worlds: the mobility to move around, the privilege of acting as an in between, etc.?

P.S. Fun Facts

Fun Fact 1: In the 1800s, free-state California used Hong Kong as an example of why Chinese immigration should be limited. During that time, Hong Kong Chinese still employed muitsais (young girls bought by wealthy families to first, serve the family, and then usually, becoming a concubine to a son of the family). California implored that if the British could not stop Chinese people from owning slaves, how will California limit slavery when the Chinese immigrate with their muitsais?

Fun Fact 2: Some American universities (but not Columbia) warn their students not to participate in or observe Hong Kong protests, due to possible future ramifications. Never mind the fact Hong Kong Basic Law (mini-constitution) grants the right to protest Hong Kong affairs, and most protests in Hong Kong are state-sanctioned (all protests must have a permit from the government in order to proceed).

Fun Fact 3: Hong Kong, along with Mainland, participated in an Anti-American boycott in the 1905 to protest the unfair treatment of a Chinese immigrant in Massachusetts. After immigration officials raided a home of many immigrants, they arrested a man who was living in the U.S. legally without allowing him to show them his proper paperwork. He was later deported due to this incident. The man’s suicide in front of the American consulate in Shanghai sparked the protest.

Tags: firstworldproblems, firstworldguilt

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