Scottish/Austrian/Singaporean Chinese | Malaysian Chinese
I identify as mixed White-Chinese (Eurasian) & agnostic. My Mother is Malaysian Chinese and my Father is half Singaporean Chinese, a quarter Austrian and a quarter Scottish; they met in London in the 1990s.
From an early age I recognised that my ethnic makeup was unusual as my Dad himself was mixed. However, I feel I became more aware at secondary school. I believe that my awareness and feelings about being mixed-race have changed in accordance with each location I spent in my formative years. With my extended family being predominantly of Asian descent, I felt a slightly stronger familial tie to the Malaysian/Singaporean-Chinese part of my ethnicity. Before I left for boarding school in Oxfordshire when I was eight, I found that my experience of living in London never made me consciously aware of my dual heritage, with London itself being an incredibly culturally diverse city. As a testament to this, many of my family friends and school friends are also of a mixed background. However, from thirteen to eighteen I attended a school that was around 98% White, and subsequently, until I came to Oxford I felt that I was identified more by my Chinese ethnicity rather than my ‘British’ background and European heritage, a background which I identify with more strongly having been born and raised in the United Kingdom.
Both my Mother and Father spent their formative years in the United Kingdom (coming from Malaysia and Singapore respectively,) and I feel that this potentially helped them to solidify an identity that fully encompassed their European and Asian heritage.
I believe most of the challenges regarding my mixed identity emerged during my time in secondary school. As mentioned before, I went to a school that was defined by a particular ethnic-socio-economic class, and as a direct consequence of this many of the students grew up with each other, as did their parents. For point of reference, when I arrived into a year of approximately 120 boys, the only non-White boys were myself and three others – all with English surnames, all mixed White-Chinese, all with White Fathers and Chinese Mothers. In that environment, I found that the other boys in my year decided to constantly highlight the differences between us rather than our common interests and similarities. Bullying with regard to race became pretty bad in the first year and led to me questioning whether I wanted to remain in that environment. Over time, the more explicitly racist remarks diminished in frequency, but implicitly offensive comments still remained, remarks which I have since come to realise are called ‘micro-aggressions’, a term which I wasn’t even aware of until I came to Oxford. Understandably, one of the best coping mechanisms for being away from family for long periods of time is to lean into the teasing and casual remarks. After all, if you can’t beat them, join them.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, one of my closest friends at school was himself one of the four mixed-race boys. I found that by the end of my time at secondary school I felt more defined by the Chinese-side of my heritage even though I was in an environment that naturally exaggerated my British/European-side more palpably; my accent, moral code and even political opinions have likely been heavily influenced by my time there. As a consequence of this I was consciously made more aware of my European heritage whenever I went back to Asia, from being constantly told ‘how British I was’ whenever I was back in Malaysia or Singapore with family and friends during the holidays, to being told ‘how Asian I was’ by the boys at school.
I think food is the most tangible (or edible, rather!) side that I connect with on a daily basis. At home my Mum cooks Western cuisine, but my favourite dishes are definitely food from Asia. I also feel that being mixed-race definitely gives me a wider desire to seek out Asian food, even from countries that my parents didn’t come from.
I feel that being mixed-race allows me to engage more easily with people, especially upon meeting them for the first time. At Oxford it’s really easy to fall into superficial conversation topics such as college/subject/mutual friends, but I feel that having a mixed-race and cosmopolitan background lends me a number of experiences which allow for a greater understanding of people, regardless of their respective backgrounds. That being said, a definite underrated positive is the ability to watch ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ and understand most of the in-jokes…
I definitely had preconception about what my experience in Oxford was going to be like with a particular regard to the types of people who were going to be there. It’s true that some of those stereotypes are present at Oxford, particularly concerning school background, ethnicity and class. Overall, I really just wanted to study my subject at one of the best universities in the world and I was more appreciative of being fortunate enough to have the opportunity to do so rather than being preoccupied with any fears concerning racial diversity.
I have experienced a little bit of casual racism every now and again. But on the whole, I think Oxford is a pretty welcoming environment. I think that whilst there is a lot of really good work in representing the different issues at Oxford regarding race and heritage, I feel that mixed race issues have not received quite the same amount of attention. That being said, I am confident that it can only improve, even more so now with the Mixed Heritage Society having been set up by Jess and Alyssa.
Although I have only been to a few of the events, I feel that Oxford’s Mixed Heritage Society has definitely made me more aware of just how many students share similar experiences, and I see the society as a fantastic way to begin discussing these experiences, but it is now up to us to carry on the conversation.
In the context of the University of Oxford, we hope our names; faces and stories will emphasise that there is a place for everyone at Oxford. According to last year’s admissions data, 700 Oxford undergraduates identify as mixed. In 2016, BAME students accounted for 15.9% of the undergraduate intake. Oxford is diversifying, albeit slowly. We hope to empower mixed heritage students at Oxford and foster a community where they can safely share their own opinions, experiences and stories.