Multiculturalism in Hong Kong - a possibility at all? (2)



By claiming to be a ‘world city’, HK has positioned itself among the biggest cities in the world, and gives an impression of being international, or cosmopolitan.  The inclusion of different ethnicities in certain campaigns or commercial activities has become some gimmicks or publicities.  For instance, an ‘Egg Parachute Competition’ held during Easter holiday (6:30 Evening News, 2006, 14 April) has drawn the attention of the people on families of various ethnic participating in it.  From the news clip of TVB, the winners were all described as ‘local families’, but with different ethnicities.  It could be a good start of being aware of their ‘local identities’, yet it could also be solely a marketing tactic as this ‘emphasis’ has exactly pinpointed the rarity of non-Chinese population in joining this type of ‘open-to-public’ events.  Although not totally positive, this phenomenon can be interpreted as the gradual recognition of the status of co-habitation of people with different races and cultural backgrounds, and can at least invite the non-Chinese to join the crowd as well as to let the Chinese know that this is possible.  Chinese in HK who continue to think that all HK people are Chinese, and Indians who continue to think that they will not be accepted by Chinese as friends will help build up more and more thicker and thicker walls.

It is a dilemma, or even a paradox, when different forms of multiculturalism are to be implemented anyway.  Should HK be a melting pot, so all non-Chinese cultures should be absorbed into local cultures and everybody shares the similar cultural elements, or should it be the bowl for serving tossed salad?  If Indian, Palestinian and Indonesian cultures are all melted and practically gone, is it another kind of violence and hegemony in the way that the minorities have lost their rights to keep their own cultures, their own lifestyles, and to the extreme their own languages?  In contrast, if their ‘own’ cultures are to be respected individually, does it mean that they are to be separated, and not incorporated into the mainstream society – the Chinese communities?  For keeping them apart, it cannot be healthy for the development of a city, especially under the vigorous movements of globalisation in different manners.  So, should the minorities be absorbed or not?  Both ‘yes’ and ‘no’ are difficult answers to take.

Then, what if HK sees them as parts of the ‘whole’, while they may not feel any sense of belongings towards HK, however long they could have been living here for.  This essay started by asking how the ethnic minorities should be incorporated into the society, but then how about if they do not want to join the crowd at all?  There are extreme cases.  Larry Feign, a cartoonist residing in HK, has written an article to criticise those ‘foreigners’ who call elsewhere home while they live and have their lives in HK (2006).  Not even being born here, he calls HK his home for his whole life, counting also the three years he lived somewhere he would rather forget about.  It was a short, humorous article after all, but has pointed out a common phenomenon, maybe not easily spotted by local Chinese, as such experiences would be uniquely for the non-Chinese HK people.  Appeared in an English ‘community magazine’ (as it positions itself), this article has said something.  Feign (2006) claims that he hates most when being asked ‘where’s home?’.  He asks,

‘Why is it that if you are non-Chinese, whether you’ve lived here for 5, 10 or 20 years, people assume that some other place must be home?  Apparently most non-Chinese think that way themselves.  “Home” is some dreary town tens of thousands of miles away that you visit at most a few weeks every year’ (2006, P.5).

Of course, there are other non-Chinese like Feign, who do care about everything in HK.  A social activist organisation, International Action is a good example, their website in which (www.thebiggerpicture.hk) these ‘gweilos’ (friendly nickname given by HK people to foreigners, mainly referring to Caucasians) state that ‘we feel we are as much Hongkongers as anyone else’ (International Action, 2004).  Elsie Elliott Tu, as the only non-Chinese Legislative Councillor in HK so far, has shown that as HK citizens, they can also take part in public affairs as ‘foreigners’.  The devoted ones cannot change everybody, though.  It is a fundamental problem to solve, while some researchers sees ‘non exclusion’ as a basis of multiculturalism in all forms (E.g.: de la Vieja, 2001).  That is to say, if the ‘to-be-respected’, ‘to-be-included’ people exclude themselves from the local society by calling themselves foreigners and name other places as ‘home’, how could multiculturalism be successful?  Such people with no motivation to be totally immersed in the local society have created more troubles to the already troublesome multiculturalism.  It further complicates the problem by confusing people on who to include in the system, if not everyone.  ‘Lacking in sense of belonging’ may be a symptom or a reason of the lack of cross-ethnical understandings and concerns. 

Communication is a two-way road, so as acceptance and tolerance.  If non exclusion means to accept the different lifestyles, different traditions, different routines, different beliefs and different mentalities, etc., what can be not excluded while somebody sees himself or herself not a part of the society?  It is a matter when the people involved exclude themselves and do not want to get included.  Does it mean that this type of people do not need to be entertained?  As multiculturalism is about how very different things can be accepted and put together below the same roof, the situation is that some people just do not want to stay under this roof.  It complicates the matter a lot by letting us know that some people do not want to join the local society, when multicultural studies hope to help them to incorporate into it. 

The hierarchy is rather obvious here, for a Chinese dominant society.  All non-Chinese are ‘minorities’, and Caucasians are the elites without clear reasons, while South Asians are the more suppressed on the other hand.  It could be due to the historical reason of colonialism, or simply in accordance with the Chinese mentality built up by an internalised ideology from the shameful days of late Qing Dynasty, which does not matter in the discussion here.  Any reason can it be, but it does not change the phenomenon, what it is being studied now.  Even though it was clearly stated at the beginning of this essay that the relationships between minorities would not be discussed, as a part of the background for further discussion, this observation can be seen as a part of the context.  The higher social status in general may make the ‘westerners’ not want to associate themselves with the local Chinese, while the Indians and Palestinians, for instance, would like to feel more equal to them, and sometimes for economic reasons, would prefer staying in HK (Mingpao, 2006, April 6) and more willingly (by choosing) call this city their home.  However, even local born Indians are further divided into smaller communities.

Gill Paul, a local born Indian, has been a half-celebrity lately in HK, after his participation in the game show ‘Minutes to Fame’ in 2005, and his declaration of loving HK and treating it as his home, in addition to his perfect Cantonese has stirred up some discussions.  Giggs (Gurdeep as his Indian name), 24, an Indian who speaks Hindu, but with Punjabi as his mother tongue, was born in HK and educated most of the time here.  He can understand Cantonese, but can hardly speak it, and he claims that not any Indian he knows can speak Cantonese as fluently as Gill does.  Amongst his friends, all of them are Indians except his work colleagues and some netfriends.  None of his Indian friends could get into any local university, while only few of them have got a degree from abroad. And for Rina, it is another extreme.  She has just graduated from university and is now a white-collar.  Without looking at her face, one could never tell that she is an Indian by hearing the Cantonese she speaks. Why is there such a big difference?  The answer may be found back from their schooldays.  Giggs went to a local school mainly for South Asian children, and he did not play with Chinese kids in school, merely because of the adhesion to friends from same or more similar cultures.  This should be regarded as a certain form of diasporic experience for him (E.g.: Ang, 1998; Clifford, n.d.), for the conceived ‘Indian-ness’ has created a power to draw people together. His ‘all-Indian’ community has minimised his motivation in learning Cantonese (the spoken language) and Chinese (the written language), in addition to the fact that he has seldom been in touch with Cantonese.  It is imaginable from how many people whom he and his friends could learn Cantonese in daily life. The desire of learning these languages (home language and Cantonese) is directly related to their wants to perseverance of their inborn cultural identity as well as their identity as a HK local (Verma et al, 1999, P.77).  It matches with Giggs’s case, since he ranks ‘Punjabi’ as his primary cultural identity, followed by ‘Hongkonger’, and not really calling himself an Indian, if he could choose.

If Gill’s appearance on TV has called for the awareness of the existence of non-Chinese HK locals, the relationship between ‘us’ and ‘them’ should be the focus of concern.  It is not a time to blame anybody on the previous ignorance and negligence of the ethnic minorities in HK, but a time to look at how things can be improved.

All these various examples bring us to another big argument about multiculturalism.  It is never easy to tell who should be called a real local and who should not, for even people just moved in a couple of years ago would love this place and call in home, and someone who were born and raised up here may resist it. Then, does ethnicity counts, still?  Teresa López de la Vieja gets it right, she says, ‘meanwhile global and local trends are producing fragmentation and a kind of clash among cultural identities’ (de la Vieja, 2001, P.182).  It is not only applicable on the minorities, but also on most HK residents, regardless of their genders, ages, social classes, ethnicities, and practically everything.

De la Vieja (2001) has also asked, ‘how to produce special rights for the sake of minorities and groups, warranting at the same time basic rights for every citizen (P.183)?’ It is exactly responded by the argument of Devore.  She (Devore, 1997) believes that by putting the focus on multiculturalism, it has already resulted in insufficient attention on other factors including but not only limited to gender, sexual orientation and social class.  Just like in postcolonial critiques, discussions and arguments between the colonisers and the colonised groups have missed out the voices of the subalterns, and while the ethnical elites are discussing about the implementations of multiculturalism, the minorities, or especially the sub-groups within minorities are have not got any positions in it.  Oppression which comes from some unjust ‘traditional practices’ towards the ones from the weaker gender, or lower social classes could be induced and even if not reinforced, at least to be allowed (Beckett & Macey, 2001), which is a worry of focusing too much on multiculturalism, to a level that some basic human rights or civil rights are put aside.  In the same way, by putting the focus on multiculturalism, the differences between groups and communities within the same ethnic group could be easily overlooked.  Devore (1997) proved this by comparing the number and depths of research done on the listed issues in the social work literatures, which offer the most true to life scenarios about the interactions between the studied communities.  So, should South-Asians be seen as one group of foreigners in HK? It seems that the answer is an obvious ‘no’.  Depending on the ethnicity as well as other variables like social class, education background, gender, etc., the differences within one ‘cultural group’ may vary so much that any single adaptation of culture will not be enough for the whole population to feel at ease.  From the above examples of a few different Indians, some great differences can already be found.  When the various factors within the same ethnic group are neglected, there would also be a big problem of stereotyping, which is never good.


(~to be continued~)