My name is Carol, born in Taiwan, grew up in New Zealand and now living in the UK. I’m a wife, daughter, granddaughter, cousin, friend and homo sapien. I’m an ex-dancer, ex-fencer, ex-choirer and ex-cheerleader – no, we did not have pom poms, and no we didn’t chant – but I can knock you out by landing on your face (which has happened). My experiences as an Asian Kiwi, I expect, will be slightly different to my fellow Asians as I am a halfie. Hope you enjoy and keep on reading.
What has someone said to you that has culturally offended you or an experience of racism you’ve had in New Zealand?
When I was growing up, half-Asian kids weren’t as common as we are now. For context, I met my first halfie when I was about 13 years old.
My experiences of racism or cultural insensitivities with being Asian in NZ is that my peers of non-Asian decent often felt like it was OK to make insensitive or even racist remarks about Asians to me because..’ It’s OK you’re, you’re only half. It’s only half offensive’. I was never a fan of this because it felt like they felt justified in their comments or even, looked to me for me validation. I would sometimes see direct comments to fellow Asians, but towards me, it was like they were trying to get me to agree with them.
The jokes. Whenever my peers would make an Asian joke and I expressed that I didn’t think it was funny but was actually in fact offensive, there was not a single time that they acknowledged how I felt. But would rather make it my fault for being offended and how I need to learn to take a joke.
The teacher and name calling. I think pretty much all us Asian people are all too familiar with the name calling, ‘ching chong, ling-long’ etc. I told my mother about this, and she complained to the teacher and the teacher agreed to help me, (keep in mind that I was in year 2 of primary school). I naively believed that the teacher would stay true to her word. But the next day in school, when the kids called me a stupid Chinese ching chong, I looked up to the teacher waiting for her to intervene. But she didn’t, she just looked down at me while I endured the comments. I remember feeling like I deserved it.
What are some Asian stereotypes you have experienced?
Good at maths.
Squinty slits for eyes.
Speaks the language… And I mean all the Asian languages.
Did you have any Asian role model to look up to when you were younger? Who were they?
I didn’t have anyone. Being mixed in the 90’s, I didn’t see anyone who looked like me and hence, couldn’t relate. Especially as children, a large number of us related to people and looked up to role models who looked like us.
However, when I was exposed to Smallville and saw the actress Kristin Kreuk, I was very excited as she was the first person I saw on TV that looked like me. Even now, whenever her face pops up on the TV or on my phone, a small part of me jumps in glee.
A situation where you struggled with your cultural identity, or where you had to choose one identity
Basically my life. As you can guess, my life has been a case of too Asian to be white, too white to be Asian. So I never fit in anywhere.
My life, especially when I was growing up in NZ at an age where everyone was just trying to figure out who they were, was a series of my peers asking me to choose which identity I was, and I was only allowed to choose one:
1. was I a white Kiwi?; or
2. was I Asian?
I was always adamant I was both Asian and white, whole also being a Kiwi. I never understood why it was so hard for people to accept. I’ve always found it interesting that when dogs are mixed breeds e.g., poodle mixed with a labrador, i.e., the labradoodle, you don’t see society claiming it is one breed over the other. Yet, society does this for humans
Regarding whether I struggled with my cultural identity, the answer is ‘not really’. I knew who I was and wasn’t going to apologise to anyone for having a blend of cultures.
A situation where people made you feel embarrassed about your culture
Whenever my Western friends came over to my house, they would see our Asian snacks, which I always wanted to share. If there is something you need to know about me, is that I like to share my food. If I like it, I want you to try it.
One thing my western friends would unanimously do with my Asian snacks were to pick it up cautiously, sniff it, and exclaim ewww, what is it, and refuse to try it. Since my friends thought my favourite snacks were disgusting. By extension, I did have moments where I felt disgusting.
Something you wish people knew about your background/culture
I choose my identity, not you.
There is no right or wrong between cultures, its just different. Just because your way of life is one way. It doesn’t make it the only way, and it doesn’t make it the right way. It is just ‘a way’. Please don’t judge me or others by your own cultural standards.
What do you love about being an Asian Kiwi?
I love how chilled out we are. I like the community, I like how I can feel so connected to someone just from the shared experience of being Asian in NZ, even if that person is a stranger.
What’s something that you would love to learn/know more about your Asian culture?
I would love to become more fluent in Mandarin. If I went to Taiwan now. I could figure it out and get around through speaking. But I can’t read. I would love to be able to read so that I can feel more confident if I were to be out and about in Taiwan without my family. It also comes in handy at restaurants with no English menus (and let’s be real, those places are delicious).
Are you an Asian Kiwi? Feel free to share your stories and experiences in the comments below :)
Born Into The Wild Life is one of my favourite blogs to read, as I find so many of the stories Carol share are relatable and interesting. I remember discovering the blog and really enjoying reading about her experiences of culture, identity, growing up as a mixed child and more. Some of my favourite posts of hers include: