Man, I’ve had this thing for nearly two years, and only posted on it once. I was going to write a couple of blogs here, but I was never happy with them. It was mostly me airing personal grievances on certain matters, though its nothing too disparaging of other people’s attitudes. That said, a quick update – I no longer work at Lewisham Hospital, I’m still in Strange Chocolate, I have a new laptop, graphics tablet and bass guitar, and I still look like a well-fed Filipino Jesus with hipster glasses on.
So, Dazmund mk.3 is almost finished initialising and updating, with my three years at Goldsmiths University of London coming to an end and completing my BA in Applied Social Science Community Development & Youth Work – a course that helped me explore my own identity as a Filipino man in subtle but also obvious ways. So much so, it lead me to writing my dissertation around both my identity as a South East Asian person (I will not use the word Oriental for myself) and the field of work I am about to go into – Why are Chinese & South East Asians rarely seen accessing community and youth work services in London?
Obviously, man’s not gonna post the whole dissertation here, but I wanted to discuss some of the themes I discovered during my research on the topic. It started off broad, but became narrower and narrower until I had something concrete to build on. Now, here’s the uncomfortable discussion around East Asian stereotypes. Be honest. You probably think of our kind as studious with high grades, well-behaved, likely to be in either high-flying jobs or running food businesses, obedient, stoic, insular… that sort of thing. Now, I don’t break away from these perceptions an awful lot as I have been getting good grades (at least), I’m never in trouble (with the law), I likes the food and cooking, I will do as you say… until you abuse your authority, and I can be a bit standoffish if I’m not familiar with you. However, I have grown up in London – well-spoken lad and all – yet I always felt like an outsider and never truly belonged in many social circles because my personality may not fit the expectations of others, as I have always been “Other” – the option I choose in a form when describing my ethnic origin.
It doesn’t help that those of East Asian origin account for a small percentage of the population of the UK. Though that percentage is a little higher in cities like London, we are quite scattered and diasporic in nature. It also means that our own experiences has been marginalised somewhat, especially with the moral panics today around black people in gangs and Muslim extremism. That said, we weren’t immune to racial assumptions ourselves. Remember all that Yellow Peril stuff when there was a fear of Triad gangs in the 90’s? Nowadays, that couldn’t be further from the truth, as we are now seen as the “model minority” – a racialised double edged sword on how we are seen by Western society. Sure, it makes us look like upstanding citizens of society with our academic achievements and dedication to earning money for ourselves, but it ignores the issues we face around discrimination and how we are not taken very seriously.
This extends to community and youth work as well, because the practitioners of that field are not familiar with East Asian people and their cultures – particularly Confucianism – and therefore seem to misinterpret our values and approaches. Believe me, I’ve gotten in trouble and called out on it by my supervisors in my field work and volunteering experiences. Of course, East Asians do not get a free pass here. That insular tag that I’ve heard so many times from others is very much justified – my visit to the Lewisham Indo Chinese Community Centre being a prime example of blatant insularity to the point of shunning others (that “other” word again). This leads me on to the title of the blog and one of the main themes of my dissertation – saving face.
Reputation, pride and honour are considered important parts of East Asian culture. It’s not exclusive to China – it also applies to my own experience as someone with Filipino parents, despite being born in London. This is our “face“, and it defines us as people and the obligations we must meet. In contrast to the Western concepts around individualism and the self, Eastern cultures based around Confucianism are about collectivism, which includes honouring our family and maintaining harmonious relations at all costs – to the point of denial. As someone who has worked with people with learning disabilities and has understandings of mental illness, this does trouble me particularly, given that Eastern cultures have no concept or recognition of these aspects in their culture. I wish I was lying about that, but that was confirmed through the interviews I conducted with East Asian people who emigrated to the UK. One must think how someone with autism, birth defects or some form of depression can cope in East Asian households. This whole thing around the “face” and collectivism appears to be a VERY foreign – for a lack of a better word – concept with Western people. I guess that whole “All Asians are/look alike” had to come from somewhere, if I can be politically incorrect.
The stereotype of East Asian academic achievers is intrinsic to the whole “face” concept as well, because wisdom is valued in this culture. High grades bring honour to one’s family and wealth by extension – though with the racial inequalities in the UK in terms of employing ethnic minorities, the latter point is debatable to say the least. Of course, failure in this leads to losing “face”, therefore bringing shame to your family. In fact, we actively avoid anything “shameful”, hence the stereotypical view of East Asian people being so well-behaved and stoic. Needless to say, being at Goldsmiths was my second attempt at university as I flunked a good 15 years ago and stayed for longer than I should have, and this has plagued me for that amount of time. I actually did want to pursue a career in community and youth work, but that was debunked because it is not seen as being as valuable as engineering, medical practice, law or accountancy. That said, with the grades I’ve been getting, it’s not because I’m declaring myself superior to other people in any way or have to achieve them for my own selfish gain – far from it. It is my duty to achieve high grades in my culture.
I will say that having that need to prove and improve has its advantages. In my interests in playing music, singing, drawing art, playing video games, cooking, and even in how I work, my bloody-minded motivation to get better in anything I do or have an inkling of interest in is part of my cultural instillment, and it has worked to my advantage as I can pass off as a versatile person with many “talents” to offer – almost a Renaissance man, if you will. However, I appreciate comedy and humour to a huge degree – something I feel many East Asians see as shameful and can make people “lose face”, hence their poor sense of humour. Let’s be fair – when do you see a Chinese comedian? East Asian comedians come from acculturation in Western countries. Shout outs to my homeboy from the Philippines – Rex Navarrete. Extremely funny guy. Though to be fair, the Philippines is the most Westernised East Asian country today with all the colonialism going on for the last 500 years there. My surname is a legacy of that. After all, nobody expected the Spanish Inquisition – especially not those indigenous Pagan pygmies.
Before really getting stuck in to this dissertation, I was definitely concerned with what I would be doing once I finish university. Now, with the research and reflecting I’ve been doing, I could see myself disseminating some of these Eastern values to many community and youth work settings, because the cultural and language barriers are so huge at the moment, being a messenger or halfway house would be an ideal role for me. To be fair, there are so very few East Asian community and youth workers in existence (save for the ones who shun outsiders – I’ll never forget, Lewisham Indo Chinese Community Centre) – hell, in my time at Goldsmiths, I never saw a single East Asian person in the years below or above me. They mostly comprised of Caucasian, Afro-Caribbean, African and Muslim people – including my esteemed classmates. Therefore, I’m in a unique position to be a potentially influential figure and leader – something I’ve always aspired to being.
Anyway, if you would like to read about the concept of face, check out China Mike’s excellent article on the subject called The Cult of “Face” or Sam Louie’s explanations here and here. They detail the concepts discussed here and a whole lot more. You can even watch the Alice Wu’s 2004 film Saving Face for a visual example on the subject, though I’ve yet to see it with all the work I’ve been doing lately.
Thanks for reading this long ting. Take care of yourselves, and each other.
Daryl out. See you in my next blog post two years from now.