Scottish | Hong Kong Chinese
I Identity as Scottish | Chinese/American. My Father is Canadian/American with Scottish heritage, and my Mother is from Hong Kong, but both of her parents are from Southern China. My parents met in Hong Kong during the 80s after my Dad moved over there for work. Since 2001 we have lived in the UK.
I have always recognised that I was mixed-race. Starting primary school at an International School in an expat community in Hong Kong, I was always surrounded by a mix of races, and mixed-race people too. However, I don’t think I actually embraced the fact I am mixed-race until much later on in my life.
I was born in Hong Kong and moved to Edinburgh when I was 7. Naturally, in Hong Kong, as a young kid I felt very in touch with both sides of my heritage. We spent a lot of time around Americans where we lived, and of course, I lived in the same city my Mother was from. When I moved to Scotland, that changed a lot. Scotland is a wonderful place, and I always introduce myself as ‘Scottish’, but growing up in Edinburgh, a notoriously White middle-class city, my feelings about being mixed-race definitely changed. Edinburgh only has a small Chinese population, and I did not spend much time around mixed-race people at all. At my school there was a mix of races and a fair number of Chinese boarding students, but the friendship groups were all fairly segregated and I rarely conversed with the Chinese kids. I remember a various times growing up outside of school where I was subject to ‘casual’ racism, as people call it, which I tended to just laugh off, but this definitely led to some uneasy internalised feelings about being mixed race. I always felt a struggle to understand where I fitted in. I felt Scottish, but I looked different, and I knew that many of the ways my family life operated was quite different to the fairly homogenised equivalent of my peers.
I remember being so concerned with fitting in, I thought it was the most ‘uncool’ thing to speak Cantonese. I regret my attitude so much looking back now, I’m almost embarrassed. At the time, it just felt like the right thing to do to feel more like a Scottish kid. This internal-dilemma, or ‘identity-crisis’ as people often call it, really played on my mind for a long time, and only until the past few years have I started to realise that as a mixed-race person, it’s not about a quest to belong somewhere and be the exact same as the people there, but embrace the fact that I am fortunate enough to relate to several cultures, which I all feel very close to.
I feel that both my parents did a great job in terms of combining their different cultures, but not in a particularly forceful or effortful way. My Dad’s Americanisms rubbed off on me just through spending so much time with him and hearing his experiences as an American meant I have always felt very in touch with the States despite having never lived there. In terms of my Mother’s side, she has always done an excellent job in educating my brother and I in the important ways and traditions in Hong Kong and Chinese culture, and I feel very grateful for that. With my Dad himself having lived in Hong Kong far longer than I have, he too has always been able to offer insight into Chinese culture.
I wouldn’t say that I have experienced too many challenges in terms of life from being mixed-race, other than being occasionally being subject to subtle, ‘casual’ racism. Personally, it took me a long time to overcome my ‘identity’ crisis. I always view my life in stages in terms of how I felt; the Chinese stage in Hong Kong, the American stage for a lot of school, the Scottish stage, and the much more content and embracing stage I have eventually managed to reach, but it is still very much a work in progress. The internal dilemma was often a sore one when I was younger, but I understand that it was necessary to help me understand and properly realise my place within all three cultures.
Something else which I do think many other mixed-race people struggle with, however, is not just struggling to come to terms with how they feel and what they relate most to, but actually being fully accepted as a part of their respective cultures. In Scotland I stick out, in the US I am viewed as British, and in Hong Kong, I am also not fully Chinese, and I find that often native Hong Kong people are reluctant to speak Cantonese to me. This can become disheartening, especially when in your own mind you want to, or believe that you belong.
One thing I have found through my own experience of being mixed-race, is that you do not only have the chance to connect with your respective cultures, but you are left with a fairly cosmopolitan attitude all round, and I am thankful for that. This means there has generally been no barriers in terms of who I make friends with, and what types of people I hang out with, and I definitely attribute that a lot to my experience of being mixed-race. If anything I would say that I am actually always a little excited when I meet another mixed-race person, especially if they are happy to share experiences. Something I find fascinating is the parallel experiences of people with drastically different mixes from really different backgrounds.
I would say that being mixed-race, not only do you often have a great opportunity to connect with your relevant cultures, but it often makes you inquisitive to discover even more. The food we ate at home growing up was always hugely varied, and it has definitely developed my palate to be pretty accommodating to most tastes. Learning the tricks of the trade from mum has meant I now get to treat my friends with dim sum and things like that. Home has also had a large effect on how I connect with language. My Father is tri-lingual and my Mother is quad-lingual and growing up the dinner table often was a mix of English, Cantonese and Mandarin. Despite barely using Cantonese myself, for a lot of my upbringing, my Mum always used it with my brother and I so I have always retained strong understanding. In the past few years, I have begun only using Cantonese with my Mum and my speaking is back to a far better level which has made me really happy. I’m currently studying a Masters at SOAS, where there is an incredibly diverse student body, and at it has been so satisfying to actually use Cantonese with native speakers other than my Mum and her family, and be in an environment where there is a huge mix of races and mixed-race people.
Personally, if anything, I have found that people often find you super exotic and are really keen to ask where you’re from. This can be nice at times, but can also be frustrating, especially when encountering the absolute classic, ‘but where are you really from?’ question. I think people don’t quite understand how rude and offensive it can come across, to insinuate that you don’t seem like you are from somewhere, just based on the way you look. This is a fairly dated and narrow mindset, as any race, gender, ethnicity etc. can easily conceivably be from anywhere. Generally though, being mixed race does lead you into some great conversations, and you would not believe the number of different places around the world that people have mistaken me for being from. Generally I tend to blend in to a lot of places when I travel and not draw too much attention to myself which is something I really value. Also, perhaps more obviously, I view the variation in experiences I have had from both the Chinese and North American sides of my family, and my own experiences growing up in Scotland as a huge positive overall, and I feel very grateful for it.
I think everyone’s experience is different, and I can only draw on my own, and I am probably very fortunate that I have not experienced any seriously detrimental hardship in terms of affecting my life’s path, but I do know that the same cannot be said for so many others. I think blending in whilst being mixed-race really depends on the context. In a place as diverse as London, you couldn’t fit in more if you tried, being mixed-race. But as I found as a kid in Edinburgh, you definitely stick out a bit in some places.
If I were to be born again, I would come back the exact same, but perhaps try and adopt a more embracing attitude from the outset. I have really loved my experience as a mixed-race person, and I would not swap it for anything. Maybe I would even throw another ethnicity into the equation, just to confuse the ‘but where are you really from?’ people a little more.