Teenage reporter Aleesha Naqvi interviewed non-Chinese youngsters in Hong Kong to ask if they felt they belonged here – and discovered that despite the differences, they’re proud to call this city home.
WHO CARES WHAT COLOR your passport is? Or your skin, come to that! Despite having foreign passports, many non-Chinese children identify as Hong Kongers and call this city home. In most cases, their parents arrived usually for work reasons, and then stayed on, so their children were born and raised in the city.
But here’s the curious thing: These young people generally learn English as their first language, and sometimes speak a mother tongue (which could be anything from French to Urdu to Swedish) at home—but they are not taught Cantonese.
Most schools, both the local ones and the international versions, teach Mandarin in their Chinese classes rather than Cantonese. This has been true since the mid-1990s. With three languages already, this leaves little time or brain space for young non-Chinese people to learn Cantonese, so they are slightly disconnected from their local peers.
These children are sometimes referred to using the term “third-culture kids” although this term isn’t fully correct, as the phrase normally refers to youngsters whose families move from country to country.
In contrast, many non-Chinese children have spent their entire lives in Hong Kong and form meaningful relationships and connections with the city.
In a series of interviews with Hong Kong-born, non-Chinese high school students, many commented that they felt that this city was home, despite the linguistic disconnect.
Giulia Melchioni, whose family is from Italy, would “consider myself to be from Hong Kong as I have grown up here, and the close-knit groups of people that form within communities here allow me to call this city my home.”
Another student, who is from South Asian roots, mentioned that “there isn’t really another place that I belong to. In my parent’s home country I am an outsider. Hong Kong is home for me”.
Zoe B, from an Australian background, mentioned said that she “feels proud to live here because I feel that Hong Kong has such a unique lifestyle and diversity that I probably wouldn’t have if I had grown up somewhere else.”
Another interviewee, 15-year-old Stella E, remarked on the complicated situations the city is finding itself in, saying that “seeing the hard times the city is going through makes me miss what it was like when I first moved here”.
A common theme is that they feel that Hong Kong is home, and even though many have family and citizenship in other countries, their sense of belonging is to this place at this time. “My family has made a home here and it now feels more like home than anywhere else we lived in before,” said Stella.
Third-culture kids normally end up with a complicated sense of cultural identity, and Hong Kong’s non-Chinese children are no exception. Their ethnicity and lack of Cantonese make it difficult for them to fit in with the “local” Hong Kongers. Yet at the same time, many interviewees mentioned they feel like a black sheep among their own family members and cousins who have grown up in their parents’ home countries.
Much-travelled poet Dounia Bertuccelli wrote about this in her poem Longing:
“But where is that elusive home?
That place where I belong?
Where I am neither other,
Nor outsider?“Dounia Bertuccelli
Although non-Chinese youngsters may feel they don’t fit the criteria of being a true “Hong Konger’, that still seems to be the most appropriate label for them.
NO POLITICS, THANKS
While most of them answer “yes” when asked if they feel proud to live in Hong Kong, they don’t always feel the sense of solidarity and patriotism that should come when thinking of the city you call home. The truth is that most of the non-Chinese expat youths hold quite a nonchalant attitude toward local politics. This is not to say that they don’t care about what’s going on in the city but rather that they have only a basic understanding of Hong Kong political systems.
Writing in the South China Morning Post, Zahid Mughal, said that for most of non-Chinese expats, Hong Kong is “a ‘home’ that is not tied to the physical place, but is instead created and maintained within the metaphysical expatriate bubble”.
Even though they have foreign passports, look different, and don’t speak Cantonese, it’s clear that many non-Chinese youths will continue to call this city home, and are not interested in ever giving up, or forgetting, the Hong Kong part of their identity.
Image at the top by Cottonbro/ Pexels