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‘Ethnic minorities’ label unhelpful, says Pinoy youth

17 May 2018

By Vir B. Lumicao

Should we be called “ethnic minorities” or simply Hongkongers?

A Filipino secondary student pointed out whether the commonly used label only perpetuates segregation in a recent forum on breaking racial stereotypes and promoting awareness of racial harmony held at the Lingnan University in Tuen Mun.

The event was the screening of a video documentary, “Own Voices: Breaking Stereotypes”, and subsequent panel produced and directed by Filipino student Jianne Soriano and co-director Alecxis Ramos.
Panelist students receive citations from event organizer. 

The one-hour, 30-minute program at Lingnan’s Lee Ying Lam Lecture Theatre was attended by about 120 teenage students and members of the academe.

Lisa Leung, an associate professor in Lingnan U’s Department of Cultural Studies, said there has been “increasing concern for the rights of disadvantaged groups” because of racial bullying, anti-immigrant and hate speech on social media and in real life and became worse in Hong Kong and elsewhere.

“These merciless eyes remind us that underneath all the gestures of respect and politeness lies some deep-seated views of stereotypes about the others that justify all of this behavior,” Leung said.

Soriano, producer and director of the 25-minute documentary, said she made the video to tell the stories of ethnic minorities who seem to be overlooked by Hong Kong media. In the university, she realized the lack of a bridge between her and the local students.

Filipino-American student Jianne Soriano explains her misgivings about ethnic stereotypes, in documentary shown during the event.
Soriano lamented that stories about ethnic minorities are “often told from a different voice that excludes them. So, she worked on the project for the past year to give ethnic minorities their own voice.

“I feel that in order to be heard, we have to tell our stories genuinely instead of relying on assumptions, generalizations and stereotypes,” she said.

The youth who appeared in the video spoke about the stereotyping and discrimination they had gone through due to their color and appearance.

One example was a Filipino-American teenage girl who said in an open letter to Hongkongers she was constantly fearing that she would have to be one or the other. She said she was often judged and heard remarks by other people asking whether she is a helper’s daughter.

In the panel discussion after the video screening, a Nepali student recounted how he had been mistaken by locals for a Hong Kong man because he spoke Cantonese. “Is it necessary to speak Cantonese to be a Hongkonger?” he asked.

A Hong Kong female student admitted she stayed away from non-Hong Kong students because her English was not good so she was scared of mingling with them. But she said she also wanted to know more about them and would, from then on, approach them.

Prof Leung said that stereotyping is actually people’s refusal to learn more and know more about others. Stereotypes are powerful because they keep one from wanting to open up their minds in order to know more about others.

In the open forum, the first to raise his hand was a Filipino secondary student who asked why non-locals are being called ethnic minorities.

“I think labeling ourselves as ethnic minorities is empowering because we need to introduce ourselves to society, but don’t you think that… the labeling of ourselves as ethnic minorities, as compared to Hongkongers… only serves to segregate society because of all these different kinds of labels?” he asked.

Equal Opportunities Commission chairperson Alfred Chan, a panel member, acknowledged that labels such as “ethnic minorities,” “new immigrants” and “migrants” give different intonation and negative meanings.

He said, in fact, he had suggested to the government to come up with more positive terms, although he said that is not easy.

“I think policy-wise, looking at all immigration legislations in particular, there is a need to (label) the kind of people especially in establishing their residency status,” Chan said, adding that the government is still trying to find out how to do it better.         

KELY Support Group, an NGO that extends help to ethnic minority youth in Hong Kong between 14 and 24 years old, organized the event in celebration of the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

“While different measures exist in Hong Kong, it is important that we know how to effectively utilise or improve them in order to better empower and support ethnic minority youth,” said Sky Siu, executive director of KELY, explaining what the support group hopes to achieve through the project.

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