Colonisation, The Greatest Imposter
Growing up, I always felt small. I’m half-Vietnamese, half-Chinese, and I live in New Zealand – so of course I didn’t feel like I belonged.
For a long time, I worshipped blonde wavy hair, white bread sandwiches over rice and, most, dish-washers – because my family’s was used to store plastic take away boxes.
Like many other Asian kids, I never spoke my native tongue in front of my classmates. I feared giving myself another reason to be different in this sea of white, on top of already looking different, would put a target on my back.
However, in my first year of high school, I found myself welcoming this other side of me, a side I had tried to hide for a very long time. I was in maths class, and my teacher was reading out the roll – a string of Sams, Rebeccas and Hollys.
“Celine, are you Vietnamese? I love Vietnamese food, I really do…”
Then another student chimed in, “Me too!”
Slowly, like music to my ears, a choir began to sing a song – a song where all the lyrics were poorly-pronounced dishes from my childhood. That day I went home and smiled at the yellow skin and slanted eyes I saw in the mirror.
Unfortunately, that same day, my young self mistook the world’s love for phở as an acceptance of my people. Boy was I wrong.
I’m 19 now, and although I was born to a land that prides itself on its melting pot of cultures, we are still all stirred into the same ideal. Colonisation has been the greatest imposter, and has disguised itself for many years through the facade of equal progress.
It is masked behind Chinese New Year decorations at the mall and in the surplus of Asian-immigration to New Zealand, but with my small eyes, I have learned to look closer. White men call themselves cultured because I was their one-night stand. People give themselves an entitlement to say “chink” when they have Asian friends. They don’t know it originates from the sound of hammering together the American railroads – railroads my ancestors worked on as slaves. Fashion Nova sells my traditional clothing with half the fabric and half the decency. They don’t know it’s stitched by women who don’t make enough to afford their own, and whose culture they’re appropriating.
I am tired of my culture being your fetish, your reason to be ignorant, and your costume.
Even my history is being colonised, as the Vietnam war is sewn into America’s story and not mine. How come the world never talks about them fighting in a country they had no place in? That killed 58,000 of theirs, and two million of ours – yet the latter is always forgotten? How come no one speaks about how my people became refugees in their own country. My heritage doesn’t run through my blood without acknowledging that it carries the semen of white men. Vietnam’s most devastating years as a nation is still being used as some joke to describe one’s hardship, but there is truly nothing funny about what my family went through.
My own father was a refugee because of the Vietnam War, and as much as he loves New Zealand, he’d simply found himself in the country of those who prompted his escape in the first place.
Vietnam is not alone in being stripped of its history and culture by colonisation. During the early 20th Century, American colonisation of the Philippines called for widespread indoctrination of the English language. Today, in the country’s capital of Manila, where the integration of English has been so considerable that the native language of Tagalog has evolved into ‘Tag-lish’ to fit Western standards. In fact, many call centres across the world outsource to the Philippines to take advantage of cheap labour for moderate English fluency. And as a new Chinatown is being built in my area, another town in China is being dismantled and transformed – its ancient bricks replaced with new white tiles to attract tourists to a place familiar enough so that they don’t have to acclimatise.
For so much of my youth, I was ignorant to the deterioration of my own culture. I longed to fit in so badly that I only bought clothes from the shops everyone else went to, forgetting that like the clothes on my back, parts of me are also ‘Made in China’ – and that will never change. It took too many sacrifices of bleaching my skin and failing to retain my Chinese to arrive at where I am today. My ancestors fought too hard for me to watch the world undo their progress. So I begin to work hard to be curious, and to be furious, because those before me weren’t allowed to be.
Cover by Polina