Growing up as a bilingual child, I remember my Father telling me that I would speak to the neighbours in Mandarin with a Kiwi accent! It was before I started learning to speak English, and I could only get a grasp of what English sounded like. Mandarin is the first language I grew up listening, reading, writing and speaking. It’s also common that some Asians that grew up in New Zealand may prefer speaking in English with their friends. Language connects us with one another. It allows understanding, embracing one’s culture and communicating with more people.
The most common Chinese dialect is Mandarin (Putonghua), and it is the most widely spoken language in the world with over a billion speaking Mandarin. Growing up in a Western country, it’s easy to speak English for predominantly most of the time. Exposure is important. When I was younger, my parents would read books to us, and my favourite were the ones by 幾米. They had these beautiful, colourful illustrations, and moving stories. The more we speak a language, the more we connect with those who speak it. Your mother tongue can strengthen your cultural ties and allows you to communicate freely with your family.
English was one of my favourite subjects growing up, as I’ve always loved reading and writing. I like to joke that English runs in the family, as my grandfather and Uncle were English professors in Taiwan. In the article by Amy Tan titled Mother Tongue, she talks about her experiences of the Englishes she grew up speaking. I highly recommend reading it, as it allows us to understand the power of language. I truly feel that if we don’t keep our mother tongue alive, we may risk losing a part of ourselves.
What is your Mother Tongue?
Photography by Sun Jun
I arrived back from Wellington last night, and I felt an overwhelming sense of love and happiness. I don’t get to see my family often, and so I feel very grateful when I can. My sister and I were watching this short video that talked about how one sustains longevity and good health. The three things they said were important include: healthy social life, active lifestyle and eating a predominantly vegetarian diet. They also mentioned having some red wine. Relationships are so important in our lives. They are ultimately what give our lives purpose and meaning, as the connection we build with one another feeds our heart.
Auckland and Wellington / Growing up in Auckland and after living in Sydney, there are definitely some similarities and naturally differences. However, whenever I’ve visited Wellington, I always feel like it has a homely feeling, a place to embrace your creativity and the ease of meeting people and making new friends. Whereas in Auckland, I’ve found that there isn’t a sense of that openness, although it may also be because it’s a big city with many people. Perhaps it’s the corporate feeling that Auckland and Sydney give, but then again that’s why it’s good to explore the secret corners of cities and realise that every city has its own special touch.
Acceptance and Stories / It’s not easy to talk about certain topics with people in our everyday lives, and that’s why having those close to you where you can talk about anything is so valuable. I think the reason why it’s not always easy, is because we live in a time where people are always going to disagree on some things. I watched a Netflix video called Nanette with Hannah Gadsby, and it nearly made me cry. It was touching, emotional and eye-opening. The stories we all hold are what ultimately connects us together. She talks about mental health, LGBTQ issues, gender and art history.
Media representation / After watching Crazy Rich Asians my head was filled with so many thoughts and I may or may not have shed some tears. I feel like when you grew up as an Asian in a Western country, you’re never quite completely seen as one or the other. When I’m in Taiwan, most people will sense that I’m a foreigner in my mannerisms and the way I speak. When I’m in New Zealand, I will always be questioned about my ethnicity through my physical identity. I hope in ten years time that the word ‘Asian’ and ‘Black’ won’t need to be in the title of films and that it would just be a natural and normal thing to have an all Asian or an all Black cast.
In an article from Variety, it says “It’s an experience many Asian-Americans, like myself, know well. Like Rachel in the film, I’ve been accused of being a “banana” — yellow on the outside, white on the inside — a pejorative assigned to Asian-Americans who have lost touch with their roots.” I was often called a banana growing up, and when I think back to it, sadly I wasn’t fully in touch with my Chinese culture. When I was younger and went back to Taiwan, there were some things that gave me a culture shock or I didn’t quite understand why it’s done this or that way. The term banana makes me think of the term assimilation. Yet, I think it’s simply important to embrace yourself for who you are, regardless of what your accent sounds like or what you look like.
In Chinese culture, there is a desire to have harmony. This is why a lot of racism is tolerated and hidden under the covers. But, we have to speak up when it’s most crucial and we must educate and tell people when they are prejudicing, being hurtful, making assumptions and falling for stereotypes. I know that many parents who moved to New Zealand, have had to work really hard to build the path and raise their children in a new country. When I look at New Zealand’s media, it’s still predominantly white, even though we live in a multicultural society. I really hope that there will be more and more diversity in the media and that we can hear from all kinds of voices.
Growing up as a Kiwi Asian / I was reading this article here while waiting at the boarding area at the Wellington airport. I say this often, but when we don’t experience something ourselves, we can often not see or understand the other person completely. If we open our hearts and learn to hear others stories, we can judge less and realise that every person is going through their own journey. I grew up eating Chinese food, with the occasional pasta or roast. I grew up reading Chinese books, going to Saturday Chinese classes, watching Chinese cartoons and when I first learned English as a child, it took a while to fully grasp the definition of certain words. This opened my love for reading because I became curious about learning new words.
Growing up in the countryside meant that there weren’t many Asians. In the article Rose writes “It provokes strange reactions in us, to be almost invisible in the stories we read.” This is incredibly true in the sense that growing up I rarely was exposed to literature that made me feel I could relate to completely. Like Rose, I grew up reading Chinese Cinderella by Adeline Yen Mah. However, there always felt a lack of writing that was relatable to one’s own experience. When Rose talked about being at school, she says “At school I manufactured a clear divide between me and Chinese students in the International Students Block…I took this as a sign of my successful integration. I was Chinese, but I wasn’t Chinese Chinese.”
I made friends with others Kiwis and didn’t have any close Asian friends growing up. When I was in college, there was this feeling of not being able to completely relate to being a Taiwanese. Which was perhaps why I didn’t make friends with any of the Chinese international students at the time. Now that I’m older, I embrace my Chinese culture after neglecting it as a child and as a teenager. When I go back to Taiwan, I feel this deep appreciation for Chinese culture. The beautiful language, the rich history, the traditions and the stories people have to share. Rose writes “Before I spent time in China, I had never missed it. I hadn’t known what to miss … As I understood what being Chinese meant to me, I cast off a shame that had started so young that I never realised I was carrying it around.”
I relate to this article in many ways, and how as I am older, I feel proud of my background. Sadly, growing up being bullied for being Asian influenced my neglect of the culture. We change mindsets when we have conversations and raise awareness. The last excerpt I want to share by Rose reads “I want more narratives that don’t come from Pākehā-centric worldviews. I want to hear about the different experiences of being Asian in Auckland, Invercargill and Hawera. I want to know where the model minority stereotype falls flat, I want to know how East Asian privilege affects brown Asians. And most importantly, I want to read about things that I don’t know the existence of yet.” I think that the more we share out stories through conversations, the more we can all be understanding of one another.
Bridging the gap / This audio clip from 95bfm talks about bridging the gap between New Zealand and Chinese international students. It’s a topic that’s incredibly important because often culture and language can create a divide, that stops international students and New Zealanders from being able to connect and become friends. I’ve been going to the Wednesday meet up that is mentioned, and it’s been a really great experience. It’s good to be encouraging and help others with their English. I think of my parents and other parents that moved to New Zealand from China and Taiwan, and how they had to build their path while learning English. Language can make us feel a sense of belonging, and ultimately a sense of connection.
This is a thought that’s been on my mind, ever since I’ve been curious to discover more about my cultural roots. My family background originates from China, with my grandparents originating from Shanghai, Hunan and Xiamen. My parents were born in Taiwan. However, it’s interesting how there is always this desire to identify oneself. We are all so unique as individuals. These ideas of identity are social constructions, yet they often help us feel a sense of belonging in a group.
Taiwan and New Zealand are where my family are. Taiwan is where I’ve visited once or twice a year since I was four years old. New Zealand is where I was born and raised, and so both places have a special place in my heart, and are where I call home. Growing up, I didn’t have any close Asian friends, and most of my friends were White/Eurasian. When I moved out of home and into the city at sixteen, I realised that there was a huge Asian community in the city.
When I meet people, I introduce myself as Katie. My Chinese name is 郭天仁, and the 郭 ( guō) literally means a wall surrounding the city. It’s one of the most common Chinese surnames. Many of the people who have the surname are descendants of Han Chinese. The word 天 (tiān) means sky, heaven and God. The word 仁 (rén) means kindness, benevolent and righteous. I was named by my 奶奶 (Grandmother), and even though I’m not often called by my Chinese name, it holds a special place in my heart.
My Chinese name is considered quite gender neutral, or maybe a bit tomboy because it’s not a very feminine name. Some of the ways that I identify myself: a woman, daughter, sister, niece and friend. I’m a Taiwanese New Zealander, but I’m also Chinese because of my family background. I’m a creative, independent, understanding, caring, kind and empathetic person. There is a way that people perceive one another in the public, but I always feel like there’s this mystery in each person.
We don’t really know anyone, really. It’s not until we dig deeper, spend time getting to know someone and opening up to friends that we can see beneath the layers. No matter what, it’s only you and you alone that holds your identity. It goes for our attitude in life, and whether we identify ourselves as a positive, hardworking and engaging person or the opposite. Identity can have huge affects in our daily life, because they can affect our thoughts and actions.
The importance is not to limit yourself. I think of New Zealand, and how anyone who calls it home here are a Kiwi. It doesn’t matter if you moved here a year ago or have spent a life time here. It’s also small things, such as when I hear someone is vegetarian or don’t eat much meat, I feel glad that they may share similar values in that respect. I don’t think our job title, income and materials define us. I think it’s our actions, how we treat one another, where we call home and the language we speak that can be parts of our identity.
Most of all our personality, because that’s something that’s completely different in every person. I love being in nature, and consider myself a sensitive person. I used to be painfully shy when I was a child, but I was completely myself at home, and was silly, cheeky and laughed a lot. But it sort of shows how it’s so easy for the outside world to see one another a certain way, but there are certain parts of ourselves that won’t always be revealed to everyone.
Photography by Sun Jun
Everyone has different experiences growing up, and we have a diverse mixture of cultures in New Zealand. A little background about me is that I was born and raised in New Zealand, and spent most of my life living by the beach, on the farm and now in the city. I consider Auckland a country town, which means that it is still considered a small city (or I like to call it a big little city) with a diverse amount of people and cultures. This is more of a ramble of spontaneous thoughts.
I have had funny experiences of being mistaken for another Asian person. Last year, I had a lovely coworker who worked different shifts. A customer came in and said “You made my coffee yesterday,” and I was a bit confused, and said that I hadn’t worked that day. Then I realised it was my other coworker, who happens to be Asian even though we don’t look alike. This was amusing. This used to happen regularly in my high school Maths class, when the teacher would call me by the Japanese boy’s name who was in the same class.
When I was interviewed by a Fine Arts student for her project, I was asked if I felt more Taiwanese or Kiwi. At first, it was a difficult question to answer on the spot. We had an interesting discussion about living in New Zealand as an Asian, and the experiences that can come with it. I feel a mixture of both. Growing up in New Zealand I never saw many Asians in advertising or media. It was mostly when I watched Taiwanese television or Chinese films. I do feel that this is gradually changing more now, and it’s good that there are more brands that are reaching a wider audience, but I do hope there will be even more increasing diversity in the media.
Growing up, there was the occasional casual racism and stereotypes about Asians. Most of the time, it simply comes from a place of ignorance and not understanding different cultures. Although, most of the time they were expressed in a joking way, and I used to just laugh a long at school, even though it’d get quite repetitive from hearing the same thing. Growing up, most of my friends were Caucasian, as there weren’t as many Asians in the small town I grew up in. There isn’t as many people who love cute things, at least not so common for those who are in their 20’s. It’s so normal in Asia.
There are times where I like to let people guess what my background is, as it always tends to come with a lot of interesting guesses. Everything from Thai, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Singaporean, Japanese, Korean, Laos, Filipino, Malaysian, Chinese and Indonesian. I feel extremely grateful to have grown up eating a lot of delicious Chinese and Taiwanese dishes, as well as Western food. It’s amazing how much food can bring so much nostalgia.
It’s far more relaxed in New Zealand, and I’m grateful for it when I think about my experience of education. In Asia, studying and working can become stressful and the lifestyle is not like the one in New Zealand. An important advice is to retain your mother tongue, never lose it, because English can be taught at school and picked up, so there really isn’t any need to teach it at home. From personal experience, I only speak Mandarin at home, and when I started going to primary school I picked up English very quickly. Language is an important part of your culture, and if you are an Asian Kiwi, embracing your mother tongue and the English language can really strengthen that bond.
I went through a period of my teenage years where I didn’t fully embrace my Asian side, and it’s something that at the time was a form of conformity in a way. However, I really embrace my Taiwanese/Chinese side now. I grew up learning Mandarin first, and was very quiet when I started going to school. We would go to Chinese school every Saturday. When I was younger, my lunch box food would be filled with red bean buns, fried rice, dumplings and other asian foods with different smells. You will always (inescapably) be asked the question “Where are you from?” although I don’t get asked very often now.
I was placed into ESOL (English for Speakers Of Other Languages), when I was 8 or 9. Thinking back, I can understand it because I was extremely shy and quiet, which can be a quick assumption that I didn’t know any English. Being one of the only Asians at school, I faced my first lessons looking at images of animals. I was no longer in ESOL after that first lesson haha. As an Asian brought up in a Western country, I didn’t feel fully Asian for a significant part of my teen years. It’s difficult to express that feeling.
When I visited guest’s homes, I was surprised as a young girl that some people wore shoes inside the house. It’s a custom in Taiwan (and many other Asian cultures) to provide slippers for guests. In many Asian cultures, we call our elders Auntie or Uncle as a sign of respect. It is extremely rare to call an elder by their first name. Respecting the elders is heavily taught from a young age. Another thing I learned was how high my tolerance for spicy food was. I grew up in a household where at least one or two dishes each night would have spices in them.
Having subtitles on was a huge habit from a young age. It was because my parents did it ever since they arrived in New Zealand, and that was one of the ways they learned English. I remember sleeping over at a friends house, and before bed time she would always say “I love you” to her Mum. As a teenager, it felt strange to me, because (as some people may be able to relate), in Asian culture many people are less likely to say I love you to their parents. However, after being long distance from my parents for so many years now, I always say it!
One thing I wish to tell people is to treat everyone how you’d like to be treated. Also, the importance of not making assumptions. Be respectful of different cultures, even if you cannot understand why people do things a certain way. Travelling is important, because seeing different parts of the world and absorbing different cultures allows you to open your eyes. I truly feel so grateful to be able to grow up with two cultures, that have intertwined in a way in my life that has made it colourful and exciting. We are all people who live in this beautiful country. A New Zealander is someone who lives here and feels at home. That’s the most simple way I can put it.
I finished reading Being Chinese – A New Zealander’s Story by Helene Wong in two days, and it really made me think about my own background, experiences and thoughts on being a New Zealander. Wong was born in Taihape, with a mixture of second and third generation in her family, and in her book, she explores her family history. She shares her experiences in acting and theatre, and the stereotypes and often lack of authentic representation that occur within the industry. I really encourage anyone to read this book, as it really makes you think about the importance of cultivating a society that treats everyone the same. It’s something we should all strive for. It makes one reflect on their own background and the portrayal of Asians in the arts and media.
I think about how when I was younger, I sometimes never felt quite completely Taiwanese, when I was in Taiwan, and yet not quite completely Kiwi when I was in New Zealand because of my appearances. Even though I was born and raised here. There is a sentence in Wong’s book where she writes “I ask myself, just how Chinese am I?”, and as she writes about her childhood, there were many parts that I could relate to and I believe many Asian Kiwi’s may have also experienced.
Growing up, there was this feeling of Other as my last name would say. There would be the constant mispronunciations during school assemblies and prize giving, yet it was something I simply got used to. In Chapter 3 titled ‘I never think of you as Chinese’, she shares a story in which someone said those words to her. She talks about assimilation, and it made me think about an English paper I took last year, where I did an essay on Amy Tan’s essay on Mother Tongue. It made me think about accents, and how often I noticed growing up that because my parents had Asian accents when they spoke English, they were perceived a certain way compared to an Asian with a Kiwi accent.
I related to Wong’s love for writing, as English was always one of my favourite subjects, and I loved writing essays, reading books and spending time thinking and analysing about texts and meanings. Wong talks about how because of one’s physical identity, we will be viewed a certain way. It made me think of when I was placed into ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) in primary school, even though my English is fluent. It makes me think about how because of the way one looks, I will always be inescapably asked where I am from. If we look at the arts, media, advertising and many other industries in New Zealand, we have to emphasise that there is a need for more representation.
Wong writes about the films she grew up watching, and how often stereotypes and whitewashing occurred. She writes “…there only for their ‘Chineseness’. Worse, if they were anything more than exotic colour and had dialogue, the parts were usually played by white actors in slitty-eyed yellowface. They made me squirm with anger. Despite evidence all around us of Chinese people doing the same things as everyone else – in my own family, occupations ranged from nurse to architect, hairdresser to psychologist – Chinese were never cast in these roles.” She talks about food, as she writes “…when the look, taste, texture, fragrance and sound of a dish all came together it was art, and eating it brought a burst of joy.”
When the nineties arrived, there was an increase in immigration. Wong talks about how during this time, she really became ‘Asian’. She talks about the media stories in 1989 about immigrants, which used the phrase ‘Asian Invasion.’ She writes that “White New Zealanders were suddenly seeing more Chinese faces on the street…They did not say the same of the South Africans who were also arriving in the country under the same immigration policy. Chinese were too different – in looks, speech, behaviour.” She continues to write that “The Sinophobia also came from longstanding beliefs in the West that Chinese were inferior.” When people deny this, they roll everything under the carpet to keep it quiet. However, I really believe that we need to speak about it more.
The term ‘casual racism’ is used, and I think about how often it comes from ignorance and unintentional offense, and other times it’s overt and covered as a joke. It really starts with accepting and being respectful of everyone’s differences. Every individual person is so unique, full of layers and has a beautiful story to tell. Auckland is one of the most culturally diverse cities, and being born and raised here, I call it my home. However, there is still a lot of room for improvement and change, and I believe that we can and we will see more diversity in the arts and media industry.
Photography by Sun Jun
When I’m living in Taipei, I feel like it’s completely normal to put up an umbrella when the sun is out. It’s very common in many Asian countries, such as China, Taiwan, Japan and Korea. On Summer days like today, the sun can be very harsh in Auckland, and I tend to use an umbrella to stay cool and avoid getting sun burnt. Skincare is incredibly important, particularly in Eastern Asian culture, where beauty products have an emphasis on having healthy, bright skin. Our skin is the largest organ, which is why we must take good care of it, as it reflects our health.
Protecting your skin from early signs of aging. In order to avoid blemishes, wrinkles, spots and sun burns, sun protection is very important. I do feel that this is one of the reasons why some Asians look younger than their age, as many spend a lot of time taking care of their skin. Many people invest in skincare products that help maintain healthy and glowing skin.
Keeping cool under the umbrella shade. When the sun is blazing hot, an umbrella can be a great way to create some shade. It allows one to stay cool during the hot Summer months, when it seems like 2 minutes in the sun will make one start sweating. I find an umbrella helps, as my hat can only cover parts of my face, but an umbrella can cover your face and neck.
Avoid getting a sun tan. I still remember when my sister and I were in Taiwan as children, and we walked past two elderly ladies. One of them said “她們好黑!” which translates to “They’re so black!” because growing up on a farm, I tended to be playing outdoors all the time and had a very tanned complexion. There is nothing wrong with having a tan. As I grow older, I prefer to embrace my natural complexion.
The beauty standards are different. When I was living in Sydney, it was common during the Summer time to see topless men and women in bikinis at the beach, park and backyard tanning. It’s similar in NZ, where many Caucasians feel that a tanned complexion gives a warm glow that’s attractive. In East Asia, Pale skin is seen as beautiful.
It’s important to get enough Vitamin D from the sun each day, however this ranges from 15-30 minutes. If you are in the sun for several hours or travelling a long distance, then it can increase the chance of getting a sun burn. Remember to always wear sunscreen. It’s good to have a habit of wearing sunscreen everyday and protecting yourself from the sun. What are your thoughts? Do you carry an umbrella when it’s sunny?