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Ethnic minorities in Hong Kong

Don’t ask Hong Kong’s ethnic minorities to fit the Chinese mould: integration is a two-way street

  • The way to integration should not be limited to the minorities acquiring the mainstream language, but include mutual understanding and respect for difference
  • Ineffective education policies that have consistently failed ethnic minority youth in learning the Chinese language shouldn’t go unmentioned
PUBLISHED : Sunday, 13 January, 2019, 3:12pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 13 January, 2019, 3:12pm

We refer to the article by Fiona Sun, “20-year-old student of Bangladeshi origin hopes to become Hong Kong’s first ethnic minority lawmaker” (January 5). We would like to address the understanding of social integration of ethnic minorities in Hong Kong as depicted in the article which might raise concerns among some.

“Bakar chose Cantonese as a compulsory course in school while most of her ethnic minority classmates studied it as a second language,” the article says, going on to add: “Her efforts have paid off, and she has blended seamlessly into society. About 90 per cent of her friends are locals, she says.”

These sentences present an oversimplified view that the hard work and effort that Ms Bakar has put into mastering the local Chinese language is all that is needed to “blend seamlessly” into Hong Kong society. This appears to subtly point a finger at the large number of people from ethnic minority communities who aren’t as fluent in Cantonese and who are stereotyped as “lazy” or “reluctant” when, in fact, it requires more than hard work to integrate into Hong Kong society.

While learning the language is important and pivotal for integration, the ineffective education policies that have consistently failed the ethnic minority youth in learning the Chinese language shouldn’t go unmentioned.

Language is not why Hong Kong's ethnic minority groups remain marginalised

The phrase “blended seamlessly” and the point that most of “her friends are locals” suggest an assimilation approach that implies Ms Bakar is giving up her own ethnic identity as a Bangladeshi and prioritising the identity of an ethnically Chinese person. Rather, why don’t we respect her choices, if she wanted to maintain her Bangladeshi identity along with – or without – a Hongkonger identity?

Social integration is a two-way process between locals and “non-locals” (here, ethnic minorities), and the primary focus should not only be on the non-local person. The way to integration should not be limited to the minorities acquiring the mainstream language but also include sharing and understanding common ground, as well as respecting differences in culture between locals and non-locals.

Language is not why Hong Kong's ethnic minority groups remain marginalised

Ms Bakar should be applauded for her achievements. She has done her part mastering Cantonese, adopted the local culture and is willing to work for the betterment of Hong Kong society. But are the locals willing to empathise and accept her contribution?

Gizem Arat, postdoctoral fellow, and Merina Sunuwar, research assistant, the University of Hong Kong