Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Guest blog: Model minority and race relations: thoughts on the Asian students' assaults

By Alex Li



As a former international student, and now someone who does research on Chinese youth in Aotearoa/New Zealand, I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be Asian or Chinese in New Zealand from a race perspective, more so after the attacks. As I was talking to some students for my PhD project in the last couple of years, l realised some things have changed for international students for the better, compared to ten years ago when I was an undergrad student. But then, many things haven’t changed. This continuity is revealing, especially in terms of the racial relations Asian[1] international students face.
Let me first get this out of the way, and say that racism is real, and is well alive in NZ. Apparently not everyone agrees on this, or believes that racially based structural impediments like a ‘bamboo’ ceiling exist. I personally know people who have changed their original Chinese names to something English, including their first AND last names. The whole point is to make their names look whiter, western, just so they have a better chance of getting job interviews and not getting filtered out just because their names on the resumes look ethnic. There’ve also been experiments which affirm that a job application from an applicant described as a returning New Zealand European is more likely to receive a favourable response than applicants described as Chinese immigrants, despite applicants having the same educational qualifications and occupational experience (Ward & Masgoret, 2007).
The attacks, also, must be contextualised in the race dynamics in NZ society. Being subject to prevailing racism renders a person Other, dehumanised, and hence more vulnerable to unjust treatment including physical assault.
So I’m not denying the racial element (along with a gender one) in these attacks. Asian students, particularly female students are indeed easier targets if just in terms of their average body size. Their visa status also makes fighting back a precarious option . Their relative lack of social networks in NZ, especially with mainstream society further makes them easy prey because there are less likely to be consequences for the offenders. But I’d like to point out there’s more to it. I’m saying the social distance between Asians and Māori and Pacific Islander communities contributes to the problem at hand, and this ‘problem’ is not one between Asians and Māori and Pasifika people, but one implicating all members of New Zealand racial structure, including the Pākehā, perhaps especially the Pākehā. Talking about this racial structure has everything to do with exploring more long-term solutions that take us beyond current punitive measures; the potential of aggravating Asians – Māori/Pacific racial tension is probably more pronounced than its intended security effect.
In order to talk about Asian international students, let’s first consider the relation between Asians and the local NZ society. Among the four major racial groups in NZ, namely European, Māori, Pacific people and Asians, Asian people are typically perceived as highly competent but low in warmth relative to other ethnic groups (Sibley et al., 2011). This combination of high competence—low warmth fits with the racial stereotype of Asians as high achieving and unsociable people. So not surprisingly, Asians receive the lowest level of warmth from all the other three groups; they’re discriminated against more often than Māori and Pacific peoples (Human Rights Commission, 2009) and generally seen as offering the greatest potential threat in terms of competition for jobs and resources by the other three groups (Sibley & Ward, 2013).
Interestingly, despite the way Asians are perceived by Europeans, Asians tend to perceive Europeans very favourably, and only Europeans, not the other groups. Indeed, there is a general pro-European bias among some ethnic groups, across countries, because people have a tendency to support the status quo, and see dominant groups’ dominance, privilege and status over them as fair and just (System Justification Theory). However, this tendency of warmth towards Europeans relative to other outgroups seems especially strong among Asians, who perceive Europeans just as favourably as their own ingroup (Sibley & Ward, 2013). In fact, Asians overseas, across nations have a tendency to align with the whites as the dominant group in a society, more than with other racial minorities.
This takes us to the model minority myth of Asians, a concept that has to be brought up in this kind of this discussion. Model minority stereotype is a biased representation that portrays Asian people overseas as hardworking, high achieving and at the same time submissive, compliant to authorities, never causing troubles, in other words, the opposite of African Americans in the States, or Māori or Pacific peoples in NZ. It may sound like a positive image, but it’s not. Model minority stereotype is a tool of white supremacy, a tool of social control through racial profiling. It rewards and encourages Asian people’s social and political subjugation while reinforcing the image of Māori and Pacific groups as unruly trouble-makers, burdening the welfare system, and all the negative stereotypes you’re familiar with. And in the middle between them are the white people and the dominant structures they represent and operate, who act as a proxy between the yellow ones and the brown ones, praising the ones that behave and disciplining the ones that don’t, being a “good parent”.
You may want to ask though, why are they the parent? Even if Asians are the new kid in the ‘family’, shouldn’t there by two parents, according to the Treaty of Waitangi?
So the model minority image is not an honour. It’s more like a fake promise to white privilege which will never realise. Besides, this image is often used to hide existing inequalities, and disadvantages faced by the Asian community. For example, statistics show that as a whole, the heterogeneous Asian population is often better educated, but less likely to be employed than the general population; while Asians report lower median income level than the population, Chinese have lower income level than the average Asian population (Statistics New Zealand, 2013). But these adversities often go unnoticed and unreported, as compared to the image of Chinese people at house auctions, which does not help with the already prevalent negative perceptions of Asian population.
There’s also the argument that Asians’ racial relation to Māori has to do with the unresolved tension between biculturalism and multiculturalism in New Zealand (Bartley & Spoonley, 2004; Ward & Masgoret, 2008). Māori, the indigenous group, are already subject to continued political and cultural marginalisation, so the influx of immigrants, especially new Asian immigrants are perceived as competition for already limited resources and cultural recognition, or, as diluting the government’s commitment to ensuring Māori’ rights to resources (Ip, 2003). However, research indicates Māori actually express more support for multiculturalism, and more appreciation for diversity, than Asians and Europeans. In general, everyone in NZ seems to support the idea of NZ as a multicultural society, but once it comes to reshuffling resource distribution, support level drops to pretty low, except with Māori and Pacific peoples (Sibley & Ward, 2013).
This means it’s very problematic to set up Asians and Māori and Pacific communities in an opposing relation, as especially noticeable in popular discourse after the attacks. As we talk about Asian-Māori relations in particular, it’s important to educate ourselves about NZ’s neo-colonial past and present, to acknowledge the role of Pākehā in the continued distributive injustice and structural inequalities faced by Māori and Pacific people, to re-examine Asian communities’ alliance with white domination, and NOT to reduce our relation to Māori communities to a competing, even antagonistic one. A successful multicultural society is based on all ethnicities receiving equal recognition and developing relationships of collaboration and appreciation instead of competition, and Māori and Pacific peoples are not the ones who’re hindering this process.
Now we move onto Asian international students.  The exclusion they experience is on multiple levels. Firstly, the facilities and services offered by NZ education institutions often do not match up with their image being promoted overseas for student recruitment, and there’s a stark lack of attention paid to international students’ social and emotional needs. The impression that ‘we don’t care about you as much as about your money’ is felt among the students. In a 2004 survey, only a minority of international students viewed coming to New Zealand for education as good value and reported willing to recommend it to prospective students (Ward & Masgoret, 2004). From 2003 to 2012, the number of international students enrolled in almost all types of export education providers in NZ saw a continuous drop, particularly among students from China, South Korea and Japan (while the revenue brought in consistently rises) (Ministry of Education, 2013). A survey in 2011 reported high satisfaction among international students with their institutions, but a breakdown of result shows satisfaction level with learning experience greatly outscores ratings with living and support services, with students from Institutes of Technology and Polytechnic sector in particular reporting low satisfaction in these aspects, which appears under analysed (Generosa, Molano, Stokes, Schulze, & others, 2013).
This leads to the interpersonal level of exclusion. The 2011 survey results show a continuation from earlier reports (Ward & Masgoret, 2004) in that international students find it difficult to form friendships with local New Zealanders, and perceive that New Zealanders aren’t interested to know them better (Generosa et al., 2013).
Compared to Asian international students, students coming from Europe, North America, South America and Australia (ESANA) who are more similar to New Zealanders in terms of language and cultural background did report feeling more included in classrooms and receiving more social support, but they were also less likely to believe that New Zealanders are friendly. In comparison, Asian students are more likely to see building friendships with local New Zealanders as difficult, and believe that New Zealanders are not interested in having international friends and report lower life satisfaction (Ward & Masgoret, 2004). Language ability, nationality and cultural background are the three most common perceived reasons for negative treatment (Generosa et al., 2013). In particular, Chinese students who make up the largest percentage of international students tend to have fewer New Zealand friends than the other international students and perceive more discrimination (Butcher & McGrath, 2004; Ward & Masgoret, 2004). Consistently, they express lowest level of satisfaction with living and academic experience in NZ (Ward & Masgoret, 2004; Yang, Li, & Sligo, 2008).
Lastly, for Chinese internationals students, there may be an extra dimension of marginalisation from their co-ethnic community, the settlers’ community in NZ. I’ll mostly talk about Chinese students here because this is the group I’ve worked with for my research and  I don’t know how much I can generalise my findings to other Asian groups. For Chinese International students, they are often not seen as part of the local Chinese community because of their student status, which renders their stay in NZ as more temporary and short-term. Immigrants or settlers, are typically not hugely interested in their well-being, though with the increasing number of new immigrants, who are more likely to share unifying ethnic identity and cultural values as international students, this might be changing.


I’m aware some Chinese from local immigrant community are very engaged in offering better protection for the students since the attacks happened. The ‘older’ Chinese immigrant communities however, may be more distant. In particular, there’s a noteworthy dynamic between settler youth—Chinese youth who were born or raised in NZ - and Chinese international students, who are sometimes, not typically, but commonly enough, referred to by settler youth as FOB Chinese –Fresh Off the Boat. Accordingly, there’s very little interaction between the two groups, as settler Chinese youth often associate with other settler youth, or local New Zealand youth, or sometimes even make an effort to distance themselves from Chinese international students. This distancing is quite telling, because it shows settler Chinese youth are aware of the negative stereotypes against Chinese; often they’ve been subject to racism themselves. A high proportion of Asian settler youth in New Zealand have experienced racial discrimination in varied forms including name-calling, being told to go home and social exclusion (Bartley & Spoonley, 2008). As a defence mechanism, they’re compelled to try VERY hard to integrate, even assimilate, into NZ mainstream society, and that sadly, in NZ context, often involves getting rid of their ‘Chineseness’, and not associating with people who are perceived as ‘too Chinese’, ‘too FOB’, such as Chinese international students. Again, this comes back to racism. The settler youth’s response to international students is partially a matter of cultural difference, but the underlying struggle around acceptance and assimilation they have to go through should not be overlooked.
So overall, segregation is evident for Asian international students.  This is not the kind of imposed segregation like that in the States before the civil rights movement, but it’s nonetheless very real, and needs conscious intervention, and it needs to be from both sides, or multiple sides.
This is not about pointing fingers, but neither do I wish to frame Asian students as passive victims of racism. Developing a connection with the host society involves two-way interactions. NZ local society is responsible for Asian students’ marginalisation, but on the other hand, there are things Asian students can do to foster better inter-racial, and intra-racial understandings. For example, Chinese international students also report having more co-ethnic friends than other students groups, and less willingness to make efforts to initiate friendships with New Zealanders. Asian community in general report very limited personal contact with Māori (Bartley & Spoonley, 2008). On the other hand, we also know from research that warmth between ethnic groups tends to be reciprocated (Sibley & Ward, 2013) (perhaps with Asians’ warmth to Pākehā as an exception) and greater contact with New Zealanders is associated with decreased perception of discrimination, increased feelings of cultural inclusiveness and greater satisfaction with social support (Generosa et al., 2013; Ward & Masgoret, 2004).
Speaking from personal experience, which I’m sure many readers can relate to, I find Māori peers warm and welcoming, sometimes more so than Pākehā peers, maybe partly because Asian cultures actually bear more resemblance to Māori or Pacific cultures than with Pākehā  cultures. So what stops us from learning Te Reo Māori? From appreciating their cultural practices (and not just in the form of cultural tourism such as a institutionally funded 5-day marae retreat which yields no sustained understanding of modern urban Maori lives)? What stops us from making an effort to know our Māori or Pacific peers? That is a question we all need to ponder on.
I’d like my input here, which is more like a summary of previous work done in the field, to be a prompt for further discussion, rather than a solution or conclusion. The result, or rather, the starting point I wish for is that Asians and Māori/Pacific peoples are able to see each other as real humans. The panel discussion held last Friday made it clear that Asian international students aren’t seen this way, and that’s an unfortunate result of the race relations I’ve outlined above. Yet, assault of another human being is often a result of dehumanisation of the victim. Given the lack of mutual understanding between Asian students and Māori and Pacific youth, it’s reasonable to believe Asian students are more vulnerable to such violent ordeals because they’re in a position more likely to be dehumaniāed. Then Asian communities’ dehumanisation of Māori and Pacific community as criminals or offenders due to this gap in mutual understanding is only going to contribute to a vicious cycle.
Racism is hard to combat, because ultimately it’s a structural and systemic issue. Equity in resource distribution is a challenge for policy makers, and changing negative representation of Asians or for Māori and Pacific people implicates efforts from mainstream media. But on an individual basis, we do have capacity to negotiate our positioning in NZ society, to forge better intercultural contact, which is a strategy to enhance ethnic perceptions and relations, and perhaps most importantly, to stop relying on Pākehā as cultural, social even legislative brokers, and  rethink our strategy to demand protection from authorities (e.g., police, government) without making an attempt to see, and be seen by the kaitiaki of this land.
Asians in the United States have offered us an example for reference with the ex-NYPD officer Peter Liang’s case. Following Liang’s sentencing, there were split reactions and debates within Asian communities which would affect Asian-African relations. Some protested the conviction in support of Peter Liang on the basis that there were white cops who got away with murdering black people and saw Liang’s conviction as racial scapegoating. However, other members of Asian communities such as #Asians4BlackLives and CAAAV Organising Asian Communities responded back with demanding #JusticeForAkaiGurley and his family and have been challenging anti-blackness in Asian American communities. They argued that all police officers regardless of ethnicity should be held accountable and the priority should be to support the families of the victims of police violence. Asian youth have actively joined in solidarity movements with African American communities. In doing so, they’re not only raising awareness of the divided relation between the two ethnic communities, but also pointing out the real issue is not one between these two communities but one with existing racial structure where white domination is maintained at both communities’ expenses and that Asian American complicity in anti-blackness needs to end.


Perhaps similar to Liang’s case, there have also been split reactions from members of Asian communities in response to the attacks but the realness of violence in NZ against Asian students has knocked an otherwise unseen and unheard group of people into existence. Now that we’re seen, what we say and do matters more than ever.


Footnotes:

[1] In the context of this paper I’m mostly using ‘Asian’ to refer to East Asians -- people from mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, and Korea.


References
Bartley, A., & Spoonley, P. (2004). Constructing a workable multiculturalism in a bicultural society. Waitangi Revisited: Perspectives on the Treaty of Waitangi, 2, 136–148.


Bartley, A., & Spoonley, P. (2008). Intergenerational Transnationalism: 1.5 Generation Asian Migrants in New Zealand. International Migration, 46(4), 63–84.


Butcher, A., & McGrath, T. (2004). International students in New Zealand: Needs and responses. International Education Journal, 5(4), 540–551.


Generosa, A., Molano, W., Stokes, F., Schulze, H., & others. (2013). The satisfaction of international students in New Zealand universities and ITPs. Berl Economics, Final Report to The Ministry of Education. Retrieved from http://thehub.superu.govt.nz/sites/default/files/42383_The-Satisfaction-of-International-Students-in-NZ-Unis-and-ITPS_0.pdf


Human Rights Commission. (2009). Tui Tui Tuituia: Race relations in 2008. Wellington, NZ: Human Rights Commission.


Ip, M. (2003). Maori-Chinese encounters: indigine-immigrant interaction in New Zealand. Asian Studies Review, 27(2), 227–252.


Ministry of Education. (2013). International Student Enrolments in New Zealand 2006-2012.


Sibley, C. G., Stewart, K., Houkamau, C., Manuela, S., Perry, R., Wootton, L. W., … Asbrock,
F. (2011). Ethnic Group Stereotypes in New Zealand. New Zealand Journal of Psychology, 40(2), 25–36.


Sibley, C. G., & Ward, C. (2013). Measuring the preconditions for a successful multicultural society: A barometer test of New Zealand. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 37(6), 700–713. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijintrel.2013.09.008


Statistics New Zealand. (2013). 2013 Census ethnic group profiles: Chinese. Retrieved 10 April 2016, from http://www.stats.govt.nz/Census/2013-census/profile-and-summary-reports/ethnic-profiles.aspx?request_value=24737&tabname=Income


Ward, C., & Masgoret, A. M. (2004). The experiences of international students in New Zealand (Report on the Results of a National Survey). Wellington: Ministry of Education. Retrieved from internal-pdf://ward 2004-IEC_NewZealandInternationalStudentExperience-2181929265/ward 2004-IEC_NewZealandInternationalStudentExperience.pdf


Ward, C., & Masgoret, A.-M. (2007). Immigrant entry into the workforce: A research note from New Zealand. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 31(4), 525–530.


Ward, C., & Masgoret, A. M. (2008). Attitudes toward Immigrants, Immigration, and Multiculturalism in New Zealand: A Social Psychological Analysis1. International Migration Review, 42(1), 227–248.

Yang, Y., Li, M., & Sligo, F. (2008). Chinese international students’ satisfaction levels with their learning experiences in New Zealand. ANZCA08: Power and Place: Refereed Proceedings: http://anzca08. Massey. Ac. Nz Wellington, 1–29.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Kim Kardashian - Virgin Or Whore? How White Feminism Is Still Obsessed Over Outdated Dilemmas

I've noticed that the most prominent critics of Kim Kardashian's latest stunt have been white upper-class women who believed they were speaking against her actions in the name of feminism. Just Google 'celebrities react to Kim Kardashian nudes' and you'll see what I mean.

All the wisecracking and undermining comments coming from these rich white people goes to show that even if you're a rich brown person, you'll still be considered trash by the white upper class, including the self-proclaimed progressives.

Countless white women have donned fictitious personas and posed nude for magazines and film and consequently had their work deemed 'tasteful', 'high fashion', and/or 'crucial for character development'. Examples that come to mind include burlesque star Dita Von Teese, Samantha of Sex And The City, and Lena Dunham's character in Girls.

So the message we've been getting all along is that women can be sexual people, but only when their imagery is fictional and made for a consumptive audience. We can try on sexiness as a costume to serve purposes outside of ourselves, but as soon as we shows signs of non-constructed sexuality, signs that we are real in our desires and are proud of the fact, we get torn apart by friends, loved ones and wider society for 'disrespecting the sanctity of our bodies' and 'selling ourselves short'.

Where are the cis-white advocates of sex positivity when you actually need them?

I think a lot of white feminists simply can't accept the reality that sexuality and intellect can coexist in a woman, much less a woman of colour, still much less a mother of colour. They flaunt their book smarts and cultural capital in place of their flesh in an attempt to elevate themselves above their long-held stereotype of the primitive lustful brown/black/yellow people, invoking archaic binaries such as civility and primitivity, highbrow and lowbrow, and, who could forget, virgin and whore.

Critics can't fathom how Kim, with a body that is brown and thus the antithesis of the white ideal, can be so audacious as to defy the rules of "respectable" feminism by expressing confidence in her sexuality, and god forbid, encouraging the same mentality in other women with unconventional bodies.

It's 2016 and most people still can't wrap their heads around the truth. Which is that people fuck, that women of colour are people too, that it is totally normal to want sex and to want to get sex by displaying one's own sexuality. We've been doing it since year zero. We've, ahem, come so far in our technological age, learning and applying our discoveries in science to invent smartphones, salad spinners, and a robot actress that has gone on to compete with human nominees at a film festival, and yet... We still struggle with this age-old truth about ourselves and our ancestors.

Whether we like it or not, such facts remain. Thus we can conclude that publishing nudes on our own terms won't set back the women's rights movement. Perpetuating the stigma that accompanies body confidence and female sexiness, on the other hand...

Sunday, July 19, 2015

When Brown Voices Collide: a Malay-Javanese woman's perspective on West Papua

This article was first 'published' as a personal "Note" on the my personal Facebook account last month. I tried to get feedback from New Zealand based activists and Leftwing/radical bloggers on appropriate platforms for which it can be shared but it seemed to gain little response aside from the empathetic "likes" of my post. I realise also since then, that this article exposed myself as a vulnerable victim-survivor of various social issues and wondered if it would overwhelm readers. So before you do read further please note that my aim at disclosing some of these emotional insights shared are meant to demonstrate the linkages I drew from my subjectivity as a brown, indigenous, often-"othered-as-Asian-migrant" person in Aotearoa New Zealand amidst the various hurdles anyone whose experienced burnout in activism as well as multiple levels of marginalisation by way of gender, race, sexuality, faith, spirituality identity/embodiment, deal with severe mental health issues. I hope my personal accounts will not go to waste, as in doing so, I was primarily aiming to bring fore one brown woman's reality of psychological effects of inter-generational colonisation, to highlight the strands of denial, inabilities/capacities to heal and problematic discourses of having to choose with the "oppressed or oppressor" when attempting to understand other brown people's struggles in the course of decolonisation today. It also hopes to demonstrate how decolonisation is not just a political process but a deeply spiritual exercise as well. -batik, 20th July 2015.



A couple of years ago, I blogged here of how I was in the middle of the UNICEF Headquarters building in New York having a lively discussion with a friend who works there about indigenous self-determination for the people of Singapura, and how it may revive a sense of political consciousness amongst Nusantara (Malay archipelago) natives from Indonesia to Thailand. The spanner in the works was West Papua.



I had not much knowledge nor exposure to what happened then. My life was 24/7 feminist as an NGO worker doing advocacy and lobbying with New Zealand and Australian politicians, pushing for attention on the issues and social service needs of immigrant women victims of trafficking and domestic violence.



Since then, life has slowed down a little. In 2014, I had a mysterious virus flirting within my system and was hospitalised for a week in Melbourne. I got better and was cleared normal. Then a few months later I attempted suicide. When I was clinically diagnosed with depression, I quit my job and decided to take care of myself better. I got some counselling, made time for family, drank tea more than coffee and stayed away from activism for six months.


Staying away from activism was perhaps one of the most difficult things I had to do. In some ways, I feel like I was addicted to it, like I was unhealthily married to it. Once at a conference, I was a panel speaker and when asked what keeps me inspired and motivated to keep going amidst all of the wrongs in the world, I said, injustice. Injustice keeps me going. What a bold thing to say, I thought after that. What a death sentence too, another voice laughed at me inside my head.


So I made a deal with myself. That while I promise to steer away from protests, rallies, political events and trolling on threads online, I will however keep myself aware and write my thoughts out just for myself, not publish it for the world, AND only if and when I feel deeply bothered about the issue so much so that I could not get to sleep.


I slept a little and lot in those six months. But somehow in between the realm of awake and asleep, I was still very much agitated. I saw visions of my grandma from time to time, and then strange dreams of being chased or poled on a spitfire. I guess Muslims call those hellish dreams. My family believed I was going insane, but also had faith that I was battling those long-seeded demons stirring in my head.


My story is not unique. One day I perchanced myself accompanying a guest speaker at a hui addressing a queer and gender diverse youth audience in Auckland. One of the panellists there spoke about their poetry and how they felt a lived reality in their dreams, finding truth and spiritual consciousness through their dream encounters. Much of it, they explained, was to do with their insisting on that world being as tangible and valid as the social scientific rationale, and how much that aided their healing process as an indigenous person today. Of course people thought they were mad. For the first time in a long time I felt deeply touched. I cried quietly in the audience amongst fidgety young people who may or may not truly appreciate the wisdom that existed in the room.


According to psychologists, the demons eating us up, causing us to sleep restless are forms of anxiety, often fuelled by guilt. I would like to agree and have found myself agreeing for the last 20 odd years since I accessed support services for my mental and emotional health concerns. But part of me also believe that there are actual embodiments of unsettled social issues in my consciousness as an indigenous person of colour, that does not get addressed in counselling practices. Yes, I cannot control what happens in the world. Yes, a lot of what happened to me was beyond my control. Yes, I can only change what is within my means. I have to let go of the things that are bad and keep the memories that are good. I can keep living, one day at a time. Everything else, I surrender to Allah.


But I have been feeling uneasy in my body for far too long. This light brown skinned body that was birthed from the womb of a Javanese mother, had Malay blood genealogies scattered and displaced all across Nusantara from Singapura to Madura. My blood drew stories of alim ulamas – religious leaders, as well as tradespeople, poets and storytellers as well as thieves, witches and crooks. The colonized memories linger in my veins of course, through the words of grandparents then later corrected by parents – to the extent that I do not know what is fact and fiction anymore. Oral history can be empowering but also confusing. I guess at some point, I decided to believe whatever I want to, and call it my self-determined knowledge.


In the midst of this romantic excursion of my past, there were also many unsettling stories that revealed some nasty things about these people I call my own. My maternal Javanese grandfather for instance distinguish himself as a Javanese and not a Malay. “Those Malays are always making bad choices,” he would say. My elder uncle would say, “I see so many broken marriages in the Malay community, young Malays just don’t know the sacredness of family life.” There is a sense of self-righteousness that seem to go well with their fairer skin tones, when they speak of the Malay people as a whole. I often find myself conflicted and when I puncture in, “you mean us Malays?”, I can see them dismissing it in their eyes like I’ve missed the point of their monologue. And don’t get me started on my cousins – many are of mixed parentage (Chinese and Malay) and the ones that aren’t are so assimilated in Singaporean Chinese/Japanese/Korean pop culture, that they bear little interest in political affairs, let alone of the indigenous communities in Nusantara countries.


If I can’t talk about the issues that stem from our bodies and genealogies, how do we start to talk about healing as individuals? I know it is often the other way round in western cultures. But for me, having learnt through decolonisation in my political consciousness interrupted/interrupting my personal health and well-being, I realise that my body, my mind and soul can never be fully healed unless I focus my energy into rebuilding relationships amongst the people closest to me. Once I start doing that, I hope to gain support and confidence so that we amongst us that are affected and strengthened in spirit, start extending the same energies with others in our networks. Grassroots they call it? Yeah. This time I’d like to see that happen intimately, quietly and meaningfully in community development, not necessarily in media sensationalised protest stunts.


This is why when someone brings up West Papua, I get stuck. Not because I’m sitting comfortable in my Indonesian ancestral privilege. Not because I’m not aware of the atrocities that are occurring everyday, perpetrated by the Indonesian military. And definitely not because of my complicities as a Muslim, absolving the Indonesian Muslim majority Government’s mission to force convert Melanesian natives into Islam in West Papua. The tragedy of West Papua is trapped in the endless saga of a brutal history of colonialism in the Asia-Pacific. And as much as it would be easier for us to name and shame Indonesia as a colonizer the same way indigenous peoples in Aotearoa New Zealand, Australia and Canada have done upon the white majority, I cannot and will not equate the situation of Indonesians in West Papua.


Yes, what they are doing is wrong. Yes, there is no excuse for imperialist violence, and sectarian killings. And indeed there is nothing Islamic about violating non-believers in a situation of non-attack in non self-defence. But if indigenous rights based and Pasifika activists are seeking to challenge the oppressions faced by West Papuans, there needs to be a wider decolonisation strategy in addressing multi-temporal historical colonisations in the Asia-Pacific.

It is recognising that this is not JUST about capitalist agendas and resource exploitation. It is recognising that there is deeply-rooted anti-Islamic, pro-Church propaganda running in the underbelly of certain Asia-Pacific solidarities (the same problematic way might I add in the anti-Semitic approach taken by some Muslims supporting pro-Palestine solidarities). And that all this killing and exploitation is fuelled by unresolved effects of colonisation, beginning from absence of reparations by former colonial empires, and effective grassroots organising work in Nusantara that firmly mobilises indigenous peoples to get to its own political consciousness without the white-washing of the UN Declaration of Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and parliament sovereign legislation in their individual (and thus divided) nation-states.



To all that have read this and consider me a genuine ally, I would like to extend my solidarity for the plight of West Papua as a disenfranchised indigenous Malay from Singapura of Indonesian heritage. But if I were to jump in on your bandwagon I know that I am only sabotaging the important efforts of self-determination in West Papua and taking no responsibility for the real cause of this systematic violence called colonisation. As you can see we are all victim-survivors of a bigger political problem. And for me that problem needs to be addressed according to multiple strategies. It has to begin with the work that I have to do with my people first in Singapura, and across communities that self-identify as Nusantara. And while it will be quiet, I can promise you it will not be in silence. I hope you know that we have you in our spirit and prayers as we learn to find ways to survive and heal as formerly colonized peoples. One day at a time.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

My decolonized revolution will be spiritually connective and nothing else.

I started getting involved in activism at the age of 16 but my consciousness of injustice, oppression and unfairness started early. At the age of 3, I learnt to shoplift, stealing my first candybar facilitated by my grandmother. At the age of 5 I understood what domestic violence looked like behind closed doors, witnessing the fights between my grandparents and my parents, between my father and my mother and then eventually amongst my parents and me. It should not surprise anyone that I tried to run away from home at the age of 7. I filled up two big rubbish bags with my clothes and toys and books and was ready to make it in the streets of Singapura.

I am now 31 and alive and kicking in New Zealand. Memories like these do not make me an activist but when someone asks me what got you into activism in the first place, it is these memories that flood my mind.  And it is not just me am sure.

Monday, January 19, 2015

My relationship with poetry.

When I was younger living in Singapura, I had to lie to my parents about a lot of things. Like "going to the library" could mean, going on a date with a boy. Or going to watch a N16 movie with some friends. Or going to an all-ages punk gig on a Saturday that starts around 3pm and ends around 7pm. Sometimes I really was at the library. Reading books that I should not be reading. Writing things I should not be thinking.

I am the eldest in my family and while it is established today that I am the black sheep of the family (due to my choice of living in activism and not getting a real job), I also happen to be the most multi-talented over-achiever one amongst my siblings. Throughout my primary school life, I often won some sort of annual Best Prize for English, or Malay, or storytelling, or essay-writing, talent quests, and even sports day events. My parents would stock all my trophies, medals and plaques in the glass china cabinet for people to see when they visit. My younger sister got very jealous and insecure growing up. She probably felt like she was always in my shadow, or worse, that those medals and trophies meant that I was somehow smart(er) or worthi(er) in the family.

But when I was in secondary school, suddenly things changed.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Mellow Yellow 6

Excerpts from Mellow Yellow 6  


Assimilation 

"In moving between these situations and societies, I've navigated different types of adaptation and assimilation: assimilation out of respect for local culture and practices, adaptation in order to be understood (eg. learning the language and colloquialisms, also trying to pick up the local non-verbal cues and social norms) and to communicate and observe effectively. This is in order to process my environment in a more involved, responsible, accountable and less disassociated way. These are choices I made autonomously, with agency."  -  Anna Vo


Interview with Omar Musa. By batik.

"This is the point when I quickly grabbed my pen and paper. “You know in Australia.... multiculturalism is seen as this dirty word, like some sorta of fallacy. But I think even before the influx of immigration, there were hundreds of Aboriginal tribes which in itself is multicultural. The problem is when people aim to have this homogenous culture of what is basically determined by white Australians.”

I quip in about the situation in Aotearoa New Zealand, where a lot of tension in discussions around multiculturalism is driven by a fear of multiculturalism as a threat to New Zealand as a bicultural nation that prides in supposedly honouring Pakeha relations with Maori as indigenous peoples. Omar responds “like, sometimes I see in online debates or whatever like people say they're okay with multi-racial but multiculturalism is divisive because Australia needs to be united, there needs to be one united culture...” and that's where his sense of hope and reclaiming multiculturalism as this positive concept stems from. “It's a natural way of society anywhere in the world now.” "


“Are you a Kiwi?”: Asian hitching stories

"Some drivers would randomly start talking about Asian people they’ve met or known. A Welsh guy even praised my people: “you Chinese are excellent bridge-builders!” I can’t remember the context, maybe it was about the ineffectiveness of walls? Especially the great wall? Which came from a conversation about the fall of the Berlin wall? But bridges! We build great bridges at least. I’ve never built one myself, but hit me up if you need a bridge built cos it’s in my blood!"  
...
When non-Pakeha migrants accept or claim the identity of being ‘Kiwi’, I think it risks reinforcing the ethnocentric divisions made between those that have assimilated to an acceptable degree to those that are marked as foreign and problematic. At the same time, buying into the idea of a homogenous national identity founded and promoted by a colonial settler society means siding with the colonisers by default. When they can make you believe that your identity, a core of the self is connected to this colonial settler nation- state and the dominant culture, it makes it easier to pit ethnic minorities against tangata whenua and divide those with citizenship/permanent residency and those without. I think assimilation into the dominant culture has the tendency to breed complicity in colonial dynamics and border imperialism." -  Bamboo


Adapting assimilation

"I've gone through a whole bunch of feelings about not being able to speak Cantonese. Embarrassment, shame, grief, loss, frustration, anger, grace, understanding, forgiveness. At the
moment I'm feeling pretty generous towards my folks." - Dumpling

Margins and centres of the 'body beautiful'

"Before transitioning hormonally, I'd never seen myself existing in a public story. There are few, if any, representations, Hollywood stars, main characters in books, actors on TV, who are short butch chinese pansexual women." - Dumpling





Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Sticks and stones are much quicker than words

Trigger/Content warning: physical violence, family violence, ponderings on survivor identity.


When I was at High School, I thought that us Asians got hit with bamboo canes, the Maori and Polynesian kids got hit with electric jug cords and broken chair legs, and the white kids got grounded and Time Out. I thought this was just a cultural thing. Different ethnic groups choice of child disciplinary tool, based on how tough each group was. The Maori and PI's were bigger and the toughest, so they got the harshest hidings. Then us Asians next. Because although we were smaller than the whites, we were much tougher. And then because the whites are the weakest and the softest, they just got grounded, banned from TV or something.

None of this was seen as child abuse until later. At least in my world. Sure it was was when someone's Dad went too far. But too far was hospitalised. Back then it just seemed natural, normal. You knew the deal, knew the consequences. You tried not to get caught, and if you did, you knew what was coming. And if your folks were in the kind of bad mood where they'd belt you one, you tried to keep out of their way. Physical violence was definitely not Real violence (bar a hospital trip), it was sexual violence that was the serious bad thing. We knew about that. Emotional or psychological violence didn't even feature. Spiritual violence wasn't a thing. That was merely your parents being parents.