I grew up secure in my identity as a British-Chinese woman because I was given the space to become whoever I wanted to be. Representation has made me increasingly confident in that identity. I now proudly lead VoiceESEA’s Data Team (@voiceESEA), an organisation that focuses on protecting everyone’s right to equality- increasing the chance of everyone in the next generation being able to grow up feeling the same as me, empowered and proud. Joining the grassroots organisation was the first moment of hopefulness I have had in years.
I was born and raised in an incredibly ethnically diverse part of East London, where most of my classmates and friends were third generation migrants as well. Racism, then, existed primarily in stories of my grandparents fending off attacks in their takeaway-from drunken men on Friday nights when they moved here in the 1960s- or from watching the news. Personally, however, racism towards East Asians wasn’t prominent growing up. For the most part, I was unscathed and unbothered- free to grow up so healthy and secure in my identity as both a woman and an ethnic minority, that throughout my adult life, I’ve been able to champion and assimilate as much to my heritage as possible, through fashion, language and storytelling.
Discussions of systemic issues, such as racism, at university, however, made me aware of modern struggles I’d never even thought to consider.
Firstly, on representation. The lack of it in media had never bothered me before. I’d grown up in a Chinese church community, so grew up with seemingly ‘enough’ positive role models to learn from, whether in terms of understanding my heritage whilst in the UK, or career-wise. I also grew up close to my grandparents so have always had a sense of Asian pride and belonging.
Self-confidence, however, came with representation. I had no idea it’d mean so much, and I can’t wait for the next generation to view thriving Asians as completely normal. For one, I sobbed in the opening scene of Crazy Rich Asians- overwhelmingly proud of this fictional power lady in conversations I’ve definitely had to turn up my British accent in- just unwavering in the face of outright discrimination where the stereotype would have been to cower and walk away. I also unashamedly cried when I saw Kelly Marie Tran normalising wearing her Áo dài to the premiere of Raya and the Last Dragon. As a budding photojournalist (@passedport), Kenneth Lam (@KenLams) will also testify to my excitement at realising there was an entire Asian creative community to learn from in London when I assisted him in his ‘Modern Family’ shoot last year.
The monolithic stereotype of silent Asians, devoted to 996 work cultures in STEM had been ingrained in me for so long.
As with this shoot, it’s incredible to think that this is a societal turning point- in which me and mine will be unquestionably considered powerful. Inspirational. Damn cool. Shit-hot. Born leaders across all industries. With features I’d slowly come to recognise as ‘unconventional beauty’ instead of ‘unattractive’… now the conventional beauty standard. And no longer “ok” with the ignorant comments.
Which leads me nicely onto VoiceESEA (@voiceESEA). Hearing about COVID-fuelled, anti-Asian racism left me devastated and furious. The idea of potential racist attacks smashed away at any sense of belonging. The stories of attacks were reminiscent of stories from my grandparents in the 1960s. I was frankly terrified that generations after the first wave of migration into this country, my future nieces and nephews would have to suffer the same cycles of abuse because the education system had clearly never changed.
After a week of feeling hopeless for my ESEA community, I met Yinsey (owner of this incredible gown), who invited me to contribute to VoiceESEA in my capacity as a Data Scientist. I leapt at the opportunity to make constructive, tangible sustainable change, and the protection of my community. It was the first glimmer of hope I have had in a long time.
This group came across differently. Headed by young professionals, they immediately got to constructively problem solving.
As a team, our goal is to eliminate racial discrimination against ESEA so everyone can feel safe, respected and proud to live in the UK.
As a data-driven grassroots organisation, we produce thoroughly researched educational materials to engage better discussion and decision-making and have started to amplify ESEA voices through a legally binding petition.
Our first goal is to get to 100k signatures by the end of August. In the first two weeks, we already hit 10k signatures after it was mentioned on WeChat, a platform many Chinese people who reside in the UK use. Our work provides comfort to ESEA readers who are nervous about the attacks and we hope they are aware of the support networks available to them in this time. Through the community, I’ve learned so much about how different ESEA groups have been impacted by the racism and am so driven to see the violence stop. Please sign and share where you can!
My grandparents were notably proud of VoiceESEA – and just generally glad that our generation is using our degrees and voices to speak up for those who have had to stay silent for so long. I’m so unbelievably proud to see people reshaping how Asians are viewed from both the top-down and the bottom-up, as with ‘Asians In Britain’ and absolutely cannot wait to watch growth unfold!! ”
Instagram: @abbeywong1 @passedport
Voice ESEA: @voiceesea
Producers: @chrispoonmd & @stephfungal
Assistant photographer: @jordancoxtv
Makeup artists: @nanayumua & @lecreaturedibeatrice