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So. Last night I was tagged in an instagram post because my face has been featured in an ad that’s been displayed all over online, Britomart, Newmarket, Khyber Pass, Newton and in some of the most high profile spots in Auckland, scratch that, in New Zealand. Period.
One of the comments was this:
Now. Before we go lunge to our P.C horrors, I just want to clarify that I’m not “butthurt” about it (a term I learnt from the interwebz). Hence my reply laughing at the fact. I was not born yesterday, I get it — in fact, I’m used to it. I was born in Waitakere Hospital, West Auckland 26 years ago & since then have been conditioned to accept that being screamed on the streets by “Kiwis”, “FUCK YOU ASIAN C***” is just a normal occurrence in my life. But, even if I’m used to it, I still do find it a) amusing b) interesting and c) a very good starting point for some rhetoric about an issue we all know is there but often Asian people themselves don’t speak about openly.
Asians. New Zealand. What does a Kiwi look like is my first question? This blog isn’t meant to be one where I spit hatred against “them” and “us”. I absolutely adore this wonderful country & will forever want to dedicate my humblest contributions to this beautiful place & its people. It is merely a collection of anecdotes…small stories that have happened to me in everyday life living in NZ.
We just came back from a North Island tour last week with our Cookie Bus. Near the end of the 6-week tour, I remember saying out loud to my staff curiously “Hey, we’ve been outside Auckland for almost 6 weeks & I’m surprised I haven’t had anyone yell at me yet…”
Carmen: “What do you mean?”
De “Well, it happens in Auckland but moreso every time I go outside of Auckland, I get screamed at on the streets. I don’t know why it always happens to me in particular; Justin (my brother) doesn’t get it as much (NB: he’s a 6-foot tall NZ-Chinese male). I think since not only am I Asian but I’m also slight in frame & I’m a girl so I may as well have a giant target on my face.”
Carmen: “But doesn’t that make you so mad when people scream at you?”
I shrugged, “Not really. I’m used to it”.
I don’t know if it’s wrong or right that I have been conditioned my whole life to accept strangers on the street screaming at me that I’m an Asian cunt or to “Go home“. But truly, after 26 years of it, it is something I have come to accept & simply shrug off when it happens.
We broke our tour up into 4 Legs: Northland, Waikato, Lower North Island and Wellington region. Each leg has a new set of staff working & before every leg I say the same pep talk to the new incoming members “So I know I usually do Front of House but now we’re outside of Auckland…my er, “look” is not so accepted so we need to be mindful that it might just be easier if you guys serve.”
Perhaps that’s me doing reverse racism. Pre-emptively not putting me out front because I am expecting racism if I am serving. Followed quickly by, “Don’t feel sorry for me. It’s okay, I don’t actually care, it’s just easier this way.” I just wanna get the job done as seamlessly as possible & unfortunately, it is simpler that way. But the reason, whether I agree with it or not, is that this is the reality of being a New Zealand Born Chinese.
I have been stopped abruptly in supermarkets in Gisborne — some people having never interacted or spoken to an Asian person before. I’ve been screamed at by carloads of people on more than three occasions in Hamilton (and I daresay I probably haven’t been to Hamilton much more than three times either). I have been stopped in carparks on my way to the public toilets by groups of boys to jeer at me. Heck, it happened to me right outside my house the other week at the traffic lights through my car window where a guy looked at me deadset in the eye & yelled “Ni Hao Ching Chong”. Dude, if you’re old enough to drive, you’re old enough to owe me at the very least a smarter racist remark. I’ve heard that one from 5 year olds before mate.
On tour we saw Donald Trump “Make America Great Again” signs in Taranaki next to tall, proud New Zealand flags. What does our flag mean? The British union signifying our colonisation by another country? What does Tiriti o Waitangi mean? A piece of paper where people came on a boat with muskets & took NZ by force which means they now have the sole and only right to call this their home?
The only people who I would probably extend my hand out to make these sort of claims that they are more “Kiwi” than me is tangata whenua Maori — but even evidence shows that the first settlers came from east Polynesia with DNA evidence suggesting they hailed from Taiwanese aborigines over 5000 years ago….MEANING DA ORIGINAL TANGATA WHENUA ARE QUITE POSSIBLY FROM DA ASIAN MAINLAND ANYWAY! Ha ha ha.
Not that it matters. None of it matters. Who came from where & what happened there. Because lets admit it, New Zealand is a tiny remote island at the ass-crack of the world…WE ALL CAME ON A BLOODY BOAT SOMETIME OR ANOTHER!
We may think our world is becoming more accepting of different races, creeds, sexualities, genders etc but then you get Brexit and then you get Donald Trump as bloody PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA & you wonder if anything has changed or if we are just better at hiding our prejudices. I suppose all humans have both light and darkness. Including me. Heck, I hold my own darknesses & prejudices that I need to rise above. But as Dumbledore would say “It is our choices that show who we truly are”. Even if darkness resides in us, we must choose to stay in the light.
There is a wonderful exhibition on at the Auckland Museum right now celebrating 175 years of Chinese in Aotearoa. I am humbled & dumbfounded to somehow be hanging up in COMIC FORM (immortalized by the creative genius’ that are Ant Sang & Helene Wong) as a part of this exhibition (and on my skateboard nonetheless!). I would urge you to check it out as there were a lot of things I didn’t even know — like the very first Foodtown ever in New Zealand was co-opened by a NZBC (New Zealand Born Chinese), Tom Ah Chee!
There’s obviously a lot of heated debate about this sensitive issue & NZ’s housing crisis really is not helping (which might I add that 4% of house sales are to foreigners & 60% of those foreigners are indeed to Chinese. So that’s more or less only 2% of house sales going to foreign Chinese).
But. This is me. I am a Yang (and proud). And when I look into the mirror, I am indeed Singaporean Chinese in descent. It is an awkward place to be. Growing up in a country where as a child you are constantly shown that because of the colour of your skin, you are not as worthy to be here, that you are less than others, that you, no matter what you do, will never truly be considered a “real New Zealander”. You live a split identity. Neither here nor there.
But as you grow out of that childlike state of wanting to “belong”, your identity and your roots forge deeper still. I’m still learning but I am growing stronger in my identity — influenced by the virtues of both East & West. Knowing full well, that no matter what others think, inside, I know who I truly am.
Which brings back the interesting question from the start.
What does a New Zealander look like?
About the author: Deanna Yang is a Milk & Cookie connoisseur from down under. Owner of Moustache Milk & Cookie Bar & Benedict Cum
This article originally appeared on medium.