Which one fits: Hongkonger or Chinese?
Follow your heart, not political ideology, when facing a question about where you come from
Have you ever found yourself pausing for a second when people ask you where you come from?
If you are like me, born in one place before moving to another to make a living, you may understand what I am saying. It's not a problem, because while your hometown is where your roots are, you can also have a second or even third "home city" where you live for many years.
But in that first second after being asked where you come from, what is your instinctive response? If you think deeper, you will realise it is actually a question about your sense of identity. At Yale University, where I've been selected to join the Yale World Fellows programme this year, my classmates face the same question all the time. So the 16 of us were advised to read the book In the Name of Identity by Amin Maalouf, a Lebanese-born French author whose mother tongue is Arabic but who has written in French for many decades.
In the book, Maalouf says: "So am I half French and half Lebanese? Of course not. Identity can't be compartmentalised. You can't divide it up into halves or thirds or any other separate segments."
I agree with Maalouf. Everyone should have a strong sense of his or her unique identity. Your identity reveals your story. How can you simply repeat or copy others' stories and life experiences?
In Hong Kong, my second hometown, where I have lived since 2008, many people are facing a so-called "identity crisis". It's about colonialism, post-colonialism and perhaps also related to realism, depending on whether you believe mainland-Hong Kong relations is a zero-sum game.
Remember the poll conducted by the University of Hong Kong about the identity of Hong Kong residents and whether they considered themselves Chinese or Hongkongers? Beijing hated the poll so much because it was considered politically sensitive and a challenge to full control of Hong Kong by the central government. I'm not sure it was that sensitive, or worth Beijing complaining about all the time.
What's wrong with people responding with "I'm a Hongkonger" or "I'm a Shanghainese" - if such a poll could be conducted in my hometown, where media control remains extremely tight.
Friends from New York are proud to call themselves New Yorkers. Does that suggest they pose a challenge to the sovereignty of the United States of America?
Your identity is your story and sometimes some people are just too sensitive and mix almost everything with politics. If there's a political problem, then fix the political problem rather than just complain or force people to accept an identity they don't feel engaged with.
After all, love cannot be forced. We all know that.