The Importance of Chinese New Year in a Disconnected Reality

 

The artwork ‘Ox’ (February 2021) is a celebration of Chinese New Year, it refers back to the red envelopes and traditional Chinese art that I have seen since I was a child. Chinese New Year is one of the only times when I genuinely feel connected to my heritage, as I grew up feeling disconnected from this, and still do at times. The disconnection is not an experience unique to myself, it is felt by many people of colour who live in the diaspora of their own racial background. Personally, it is a push-pull relationship between my internal and external experience of race. I grew up working class in the suburbs of Liverpool, brought up by my mum (who is half Chinese and half English) and went to a white majority school. Although I grew up surrounded by British culture with hints of Chinese culture, I was instantly Othered and seen as the ‘Chinese one’ and ‘more Chinese’ than I culturally am. For instance, I can not speak Cantonese and have never been to Hong Kong, where my family is from. The social expectation to know about Chinese culture and language as a means to fit racial stereotypes further widened the gap of disconnection. It is pretty ironic that I aligned more with British culture than Chinese culture, as I am three quarters Chinese and a quarter English. Being surrounded by the expanse of whiteness made me want to fit in, which is an extremely common feeling for anybody who has been Othered. The extent of this resulted in me saying that I did not have a middle name as a way to get closer to whiteness, and to exclude one of the things that directly connects me to my heritage. Once more, it is ironic to say that I tried to fit in with my white friends and neighbourhood, because I am a twin and we were the only Chinese twins I had ever seen - we literally stuck out like a sore thumb. The racial disconnection was not limited to my relationship with whiteness. It was also experienced when I visited my Chinese family, who I did not see often as they live in London. Everyone would be speaking Chinese and me and my brothers did not have a clue what was going on. This was a weird paradox, as food was one of the only ways I felt connected to my heritage and I would simultaneously feel disconnected due to the language barrier. Throughout my teen years, the feeling of racial disconnection was on repeat until I began to look to traditional Chinese art for inspiration when I was about 15 years old. Looking back, this is when I started to reconnect with Chinese culture on my own terms and with my own power, and this has been ongoing to this day. The feeling of reconnection was furthered in my final year of university, where I explored the representation of Chinese men in Western media and a disconnected identity in society - these are still underlying themes in my current work. As I started to learn about race and identity, I began to question elements about my relationship with race. Now I own my identity as a Chinese British queer person to a point where I do not give energy to social expectations, and I encourage every person of colour and anyone who is Othered to do the same. Reconnecting with my culture and heritage is not an end point, it is a constant learning experience that I am sure will last a lifetime and into the next. Ultimately, this artwork is not only a celebration of Chinese New Year, but a message of self love and self acceptance to my younger self, and inner child. The reclaiming of my heritage is even more important with the rise of attacks against East Asians around the world, as a result of racist attitudes and the coronavirus.