After watching The Farewell at the cinema last year, it made me reflect on how powerful films, books, photography and art can tell stories that make us reflect on our own personal experiences. There have been many interesting stories growing up in New Zealand, and being aware that often I will first be viewed as an Asian woman. I was reading from Old Asian, New Asian, the words: As the ethnic makeup of New Zealand continues to change, the nature of our race relations will continue to impact the very real everyday experiences of those who live here. We are in a position to build on the rich exchanges that have already taken place, but we need to keep talking.
Being born and raised in New Zealand, I grew up feeling never quite fully Kiwi, and yet when I would visit Taiwan, I’d feel never quite fully Taiwanese. In New Zealand I would often feel that I didn’t fully belong because of the common questions asked on where I was from and when did I come to New Zealand. In Taiwan, I would often be asked if I’m a foreigner because of my mannerisms and appearance. Sense of belonging and having a strong sense of one’s cultural identity can be a struggle when you grow up between two cultures.
I grew on a farm which meant that I was often one of the only Asians in most settings. The experiences of being treated a certain way as a result of stereotypes was something I was aware of from a young age. I witnessed how people would speak to my parents and I witnessed the contrast of how incredibly kind people can be and how deeply rude people can be. There have been aspects of my personality and who I am that are often associated directly with my ethnicity or with a stereotype. There are aspects of values from Asian and Western culture that I can and cannot relate to.
Our family grew up interacting with the Taiwanese community and family friends were predominantly friends we spoke Mandarin Chinese with. When I was in primary school, I struggled in my first few years as I was adjusting to learning in English. The students and teachers thought I was mute until I started singing in a musical one day and everyone was shocked that I could talk. My parents were surprised and told the teachers that I was a chatterbox at home. Despite growing up in New Zealand, I spoke Chinese at home but now my English is more fluent than my Chinese now. Our environment and interactions have a significant impact on the language we speak.
Language is important in connecting with people and building empathy. That’s why it’s so important to treasure and speak your mother tongue. The beauty of living in New Zealand, especially in cities such as Auckland and Wellington, is that there is a diverse mixture of cultures. Living between two cultures is a blessing, as I am grateful for growing up in a household filled with Taiwanese and Chinese food, language, music, media, books, customs and traditions while growing up being surrounded by nature, animals, lakes, mountains and beaches.
Photography by Sun Jun