My parents put a massive emphasis on education and there was a lot of pressure to do well. They didn’t want any of their kids to ‘end up like them’ – with no education and working at a Chinese Takeaway. Growing up, the pressure was huge to make them feel proud and live up to their expectations and I often found myself immersing myself in books and daydreaming when the pressure got too much. I learned to juggle school life with helping my parents, but I remember being envious of all my (none Chinese) friends who got to play together after school while I was working.
I was painfully shy as a child and I learnt from a young age to just get on with things, put your head down, work hard, ask no questions.
When I started working, it was unusual for me to question anything or even speak up to be heard. If you gave me a task to do, I’d get on with it – no questions asked. Over the years, I have learned to speak up and to express myself better. I’ll be honest, it’s not my immediate reaction but I’m very thankful to have a workplace that appreciates my personality and gives me opportunities to be heard whether it’s via my team leader or through our monthly anonymous company feedback sessions.
Is ethnicity and culture something you feel comfortable expressing and being open about in the workplace?
I definitely feel like I can be very open with my culture where I work. I have never been made to feel uncomfortable about my heritage. And although it’s not a topic that we’ve openly spoken about often, it wouldn’t phase me bringing it up. One great memory that sticks out for me is when I took the whole company out for a meal at a Chinese Restaurant. It was after a team bonding session at an Escape Room and I was able to introduce everyone to truly authentic Chinese food. I remember feeling nervous that they wouldn’t like it, but it was such a buzz afterwards when they all came up to me to tell me how much they loved the food and it was a genuine pleasure to share that side of my culture with them.
I realise that this feeling of comfortableness might not be the case for a lot of people. For example, one of my sisters lives in a small town and has often had microaggressions directed at her in her workplace. She is now a big advocate for ESEA (East & South East Asian) communities and brings awareness to the #stopasianhate campaigns.
There are ongoing Asian Hate Crimes around the world and as someone from the community how do these affect you?
I need only look on my social media to see the various crimes that have been occurring, not just in America but in the UK too. It really saddens and upsets me and does make me worry. I worry for my parents, my husbands parents, my sisters and in particular my young daughter – I would hate for her to see or hear anything.
I remember right when the pandemic hit, I was walking through town and a couple of men walked by, I’d say late twenties (old enough to know better) and as soon as they saw me, they started covering their mouths up and giving me a wide berth but sniggering as they did it. I was with my daughter at the time – she was only 2 so didn’t even notice but it really shocked me and made me really angry.
Luckily, I haven’t experienced anything else since then but I’m not naïve to think it doesn’t happen and I’m also very aware that apart from parks and playgrounds, I’ve not really been anywhere. It hasn’t stopped me from going places, but it can make me stop and think.
The pandemic has definitely increased discrimination and abuse against East Asians but it’s nothing new. Growing up, I’ve always had to deal with racism in some form or another, but you learn to put your head down and ignore it…sometimes you might even laugh along so you don’t upset others. I’m grateful that it’s never been physical but that doesn’t mean the words hurt any less.
Do you feel there is enough done to condemn these outrageous attacks?
Yes and no. I feel like there is more awareness surrounding the attacks and violence against the Asian community (with the likes of certain celebrities bringing it to light) but not enough. It’s not given enough exposure in mainstream media and I feel like I’m only very aware of it because it affects my community and because I follow the social pages/news outlets that focus on ESEA communities and the #stopasianhate movement.
When you are affected by these attacks against your community, do you feel supported and for those reading and wanting to support their Asian colleagues and friends what can they do to help?
I do. As I’ve grown up, I’ve surrounded myself with a great group of friends and I feel we’re all very open to sharing and talking about what is going on. My sister is very active in raising awareness and has garnered a large support network of allies that are not only willing to support her but willing to stand with her and spread awareness too.
For anyone wanting to help, I would just say engage – educate yourself first before others. There are so many organisations that are pushing awareness. You don’t need to be an expert but just the willingness to learn and understand is a great start.
And if you witness a hate crime, address the situation by approaching the victim and offering support. Don’t be silent.
Is there anything companies can do to help and support their Asian employees?
I think cultivating company culture that is positive, progressive, and supportive is important. I don’t think it’s necessary to single out any particular race, religion or gender (some people might disagree) but simply by allowing people to feel like they are able to speak up/raise issues/concerns if they want to, is a great start.
I work in a SME so I understand it may be easier in this type of environment to be heard and not feel lost in the crowd.
I know some larger companies have departments/teams that focus on diversity and inclusion and so will provide their employees with resources, organise talks, offer unconscious bias training and employee assistance programs that offer counselling – all great ideas. But it all stems from the company culture – it has to be genuine and authentic and not just to tick a box.
Lastly is there any proverb, tradition or anything from your culture that strongly influences you which you could share with us?
I don’t really have a proverb…maybe more a cultural value. My community is one that is built on having strong family ties. The pandemic has really highlighted how important family is and made me appreciate that I have these networks around me. Especially for my daughter – it’s important to me that she gets to experience all sides to her British Chinese culture.
I consider my friends as family too and I really believe that surrounding yourself with the right people, the right allies, will ensure that you can navigate through life just that bit happier!