Growing Up As A Taiwanese Kiwi

shu-qi-harpers-bazaar-china-december-2016-8(1).pngI saw the American Asian tag by Amy, and thought it’d be interesting to do a Taiwanese Kiwi one. In general, I think a lot of aspects may relate with many Kiwi Asian’s. I feel that a lot of the experiences that each individual goes through, can make them a stronger person. I think Asian’s are definitely one of the biggest groups that face many stereotypes, that can be faced with when growing up. Growing up, I feel incredibly blessed and grateful to have had a chapter of my life living on a farm. It really kept me grounded, down to earth, have an appreciation for nature and animals and grateful for the small things. When we surround ourselves with nature, we focus on what’s important.

1. Which ethnicity are you? I’m Taiwanese Kiwi, born and raised in New Zealand.

2. Which generation are you? First generation, my parents moved here from Taiwan when my sister was still very young.

3. What is the first experience where you felt that demarcation of being a minority/different? The first that I can remember in terms of my parents, were when adults would speak very slowly to my parents in English. As a child, I didn’t like it. In my mind I would think “they are not stupid you know,” and I remember feeling upset about it. One of my first experiences was when kids would say ching chong or when I would be asked what’s in my lunchbox. Most of the time, children are simply curious. Sometimes, they can be hurtful. But, I think differences can sometimes either be welcomed or opposed.

4. Were you always proud of your heritage or was there a time you rejected it? This is such a good question, because there were periods of my life where I thought to myself “I’m just a Kiwi” and didn’t fully embrace my Taiwanese side. I spoke English with my Sister, and it doesn’t feel as comfortable if I speak Mandarin with her. There were also a period of time where I felt frustration of “Kiwi” often being the image of a Caucasian person, and always asking minorities “Where are you from.” To me, being Kiwi is if you’ve lived in New Zealand for a long time, or call it your home. I always felt pretty Kiwi growing up, and most of my friends were Caucasian. I often got tired of the Asian stereotypes, but I hid it through just laughing a long and letting it slide by.

I couldn’t (and still can’t to some extent) relate to a lot of aspects of Chinese/Taiwanese culture. There were certain ways of thinking I didn’t understand or agree with. There were Taiwanese girls I interacted with at a young age, and I always felt (to put it lightly) that I was more mature and independent, and couldn’t quite relate to them. As I grow older, I’ve talked to more people and embrace both sides of being Taiwanese and being a Kiwi. Often, the term Kiwi can be focused on Pakeha/Maori because of the historical side. This is understandable, but it’s also important to acknowledge that anyone who calls New Zealand their home, are a Kiwi.

I feel like in New Zealand, I can speak my mind freely. Whereas, in Taiwan there’s a need to be careful what you say in order to keep face. There are certain cultural actions, such as gift giving and other aspects that I do think are important, such as respecting your elders. In Taiwan we tend to wear slippers in the house, in Chinese culture we drink warm water and have a lot of value placed on food. My first favourite toy was a Hello Kitty plush toy, and from then on I’ve always loved Cute things, which are normal in Asian culture.

5. What are some stereotypes that you struggle with? I remember growing up, the stereotypes I struggled with was when some students would ask me for help in Maths class, even though it was one of my worse subjects a long with Chemistry. There were also questions of Asians being smart, Asians working hard, Asians being talented in music and the list goes on. There are stereotypes of Asians not being good at English. As I was often let go in English class for my grammar mistakes, because the teacher would say “its okay, English isn’t your first language.” My classmates would say “At least you have an excuse.” The way I saw it was, I grew up here and I speak English fluently.

6. Can you speak your language? I grew up speaking Mandarin with my parents. I do speak it but not entirely fluently. I did grow up feeling frustrated at times that I couldn’t fully express myself with my personality in Mandarin. I find for some specific family friends that I have only spoken Chinese with growing up, don’t know a part of me because I’m a lot more myself when I speak English. Hopefully it will improve greatly and I will be able to express myself more. I also grew up (and til now) feeling frustrated at judgments of my Chinese level. Although, most people are nice and say it’s great. It bothered me for a while, because I do think it’s a reflection of my feelings inside, in how I do truly want to improve it.

7. How has being Kiwi Asian affected your relationship with your parents? I think now it doesn’t have such an affect, but I think perhaps when I was younger it did. I never had parents that expected me to get really good grades, they simply just wanted me to do my best. There’s several stereotypes about Asian parents, however my parents were pretty chilled out about a lot of things. There were only certain things (like any parent) where they would care about or hope for.

8. How do you feel about your heritage now? Do you identify with it? I do, and I feel proud to be Taiwanese now, whereas in my teens I may not have been so much. I don’t know if I can fully identify or relate with Taiwanese culture completely, but who knows, if I ever move back I may be able to feel it a lot more strongly. However, I see that there is so much in our culture, history, and what our ancestors have been through. Our roots are a part of us.

9. What is your favorite thing about being Kiwi Asian/your heritage? The culture, language, food and just being able to embrace myself for who I am. Just to be myself. That’s the most important thing.

Photography of Shu Qi from Harper’s Bazaar China

6 thoughts on “Growing Up As A Taiwanese Kiwi

  1. I love how in depth and exact this is. Even though I’m not a full Taiwanese/Kiwi, I can relate to a lot of your points. Regarding your point in English class, I have seen teachers treat my Asian classmates like this – despite the fact they were born in NZ. I feel in NZ (as well as global society), stereotyping Asians is acceptable and if you kick up a fuss, it’s you with the problem… It’s you that can’t take a joke.. Not the person throwing an off handed remark about your culture and ethnicity. I love it when you write about these topics, always such an interesting read :)

    1. Thanks so much Carol! I really feel that, and I also think part of Chinese culture is about harmony and avoiding conflict, and so we tend to ignore, tolerate or let some comments slide by. However, I think the issue is the people who keep casual racism alive.

  2. This was such a nice way to get to know you a bit more and to acknowledge and become aware of the many narrowing concepts/judgements people of other cultures adopt rather ignorantly it seems. It’s so important to have these conversations. People have accepted racism as a norm but often think it doesn’t exist. It’s definitely not something I want to perpetuate or allow to pass by when overheard. Thank you for offering an opportunity for some of us to learn from your own experience. I grew up heavily influenced by my maternal families European roots however my fathers side is of Native American heritage. Growing up when that was brought up into conversation the questions or remarks I would get were pretty unbelievable and I was never really sure how to respond. Again thank you so much for this share!

  3. “People have accepted racism as a norm but often think it doesn’t exist.” I can’t nod my head enough! I feel like this happens very often, where people will say something quite generalised, stereotypical or in a factual manner, but it’s really insensitive. It can be something said by those who have not faced many racist experiences, are intolerant to certain cultures or haven’t had any personal attack on their ethnicity. White is still viewed as the dominant and norm, but I hope that in a world of different cultures we can treat everyone more and more the same. I hope we can be more accepting of different cultures. Thank you so much for your comment Tori!

  4. Love it! I’m going to add this to my Mix “Asian American” collection. I’ve been trying to find AA bloggers and yes, I understand you are a Kiwi ;) but there are similarities! I particularly liked, “I couldn’t fully express myself with my personality in Mandarin”. There’s something really interesting in that. This ability to express ourselves in different languages and cultures. Maybe we even take on a different personality when we are speaking other languages too. Thanks for your honesty Katie!

  5. Thank you so much, I’m flattered. I can imagine they’d be lots of similarities! Especially with Asians growing up in Western society. Thanks for your comment Lani xx

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