Allowing Bi-cultural identities to flourish

By Andy Lee – Operations & Strategy Manager for Satsecure

My memory is not one of my strengths. In particular my childhood memories. However, I do remember that a lot of it was spent in and around my parents’ place of work. Like a lot of 2nd generation Chinese in the UK, my parents made a living through the catering industry. And I’m a good example of that.

I vaguely remember the Chinese restaurant that my father managed in Germany in the 80s where I was born. We lived in an apartment block with the restaurant on the ground floor, so the distance between home and work was a lift ride away. When we immigrated to England, my father changed jobs but not industry. He took over his brother in law’s takeaway business, and so began the tradition of spending most weekends at the takeaway, either in the store room situated between the front serving counter and the kitchen, or upstairs watching TV (or doing my homework depending on who was asking!).

I had fun times living and working there. I remember being given the task of bagging the prawn crackers and eating every other one. Bag one eat one. Bag one eat one. I could feel the oil coating the inside of my throat! So I would wash it down with a can of coke I took from the fridge, a great example of an unhealthy diet! I’d eat so much that I’d be too full to eat any proper food when it came. I also remember being given a very blunt knife to cut mushrooms with. After about the 10th one I started to make it interesting by cutting it into all sorts of different shapes. Although I was told off, I’m sure I could see a slight grin on my dad’s face. After all, I was only eight years old.

Reflecting back on those times I don’t have any regrets on the  environment in which I was raised. I learned from an early age what discipline meant. I understood the lessons of earning money much sooner than perhaps my friends at school would. It doesn’t magically appear as soon as I ask for it. I did not learn that parents equal wallets or banks. I learned that effort is required. It comes from cutting up mushrooms and bagging prawn crackers, and that would be worth a pound! Enough for me to buy four chocolate bars and bubblegum! Joking aside, I learned that as if by magic how various ingredients sitting in ice cream tubs would get turned into juicy tasty looking chicken and pineapple chunks of the sweet and sour variety by the master chef. He was amazing. And he wore a hat. No one else wore hats. That meant he was extra special. Then I would see this boxed up, sometimes by my very own hands, bagged up and exchanged for money. I saw how money was made. At the age of eight, I saw how business works. 

Now a consequence perhaps, of the business and financial success of the previous generation is that the current society has it slightly easier. They get to have a childhood where they can be children instead of little adults if you know what I mean. They get to grow up more comfortably, handling pressures and learning life lessons that are more proportional to their age. I’ve come across many funny pictures that others posts on Facebook. One theme of funny pictures is called 1st world problems. This plays on the term 3rd world issues, issues that are very real in developing countries like having basic needs such as clean water. Whilst in developed 1st world countries, the younger generation tend to experience a different set of problems, though sometimes judging by their reaction you would think it was a life or death situation. Whilst their intention is to be humourous, there is also a lot of truth in them, exposing the entitlement culture that the younger generations are growing up in. For example, a picture of a young boy crying while holding an iPhone. He wanted a white one but had to settle for black. Or the picture of a girl staring at her open wardrobe full of clothes with the caption ‘I have nothing to wear’. Of course these pictures are exaggerated for extra effect but nevertheless it does highlight some characteristics of today’s generation. I would guess that there are certain characteristics that have perhaps weakened when compared to my parent’s generation. Words like discipline, perseverance, determination, and work ethic. These were defined and refined through long hours, hard physical labour, dealing with racism, learning and integrating into a new society, a new culture. Working hard back then, and is also still the case for so many, meant 6 days a week, 12 hours a day on your feet. And the reward? To redefine the term ‘work hard’ for their children. So that ‘work hard’ can mean sitting on their bottom for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. So that the children can have an easier, a better life. 

Growing up the way we did forms and moulds us into the people we are today. There is something extremely meaningful in remembering our roots. The 6000 mile journey that my parents took travelling to a foreign land with little savings, no community and unable to speak the language, should never be forgotten. That decision that maybe you made all those years ago has paved a new path. It has changed the direction of those that go after you, and possibly given them a head start. 

Against the odds, they managed to carve out not just a living but a life. Yes it was survival but it was also so much more than that. It was for fortune. It was for pride. It was to overcome the challenge of establishing a foothold in a country where they were the minority. If this is you, then on behalf of your children I want to thank you. Thank you for the sacrifices you’ve made. Thank you for persevering. Thank you for all the hardships that you have faced in attempting to build a better future for your family. 

So much can change in one generation, and yet so much can stay the same. I personally cherish my heritage and I would make a strong case for my peers to do the same. The challenge for us is to balance the tension between claiming our identity in this society that we have integrated into, whilst still holding a deep appreciation for our roots. The best scenario would be one where we have found a purpose in our lives that brings out our full identity as a British born Chinese, not repressing either our British characteristics nor our Chinese upbringing, but allowing both to flourish and express themselves in our daily lives. Just as our parents have radically redefined our journey for the generations that now follow them, we would do well to pay our respects to their sacrifices through embracing our new found bi-cultural identities.

About the Author 

Andy Lee lives in Manchester with his wife Lisa. He works as an Operations & Strategy Manager for Satsecure, having supported the business in scaling up from a small 3 man team to a team of 15 staff across two sites in Stockport and Leicester.

AndySmart

More importantly, he devotes a large proportion of his time to his local Church (www.ivychurch.org), serving on various teams from Youth work to Small Group Strategy planning, as well as the board of directors. He loves to read, mostly books that teach and help in personal growth and development (recently finished Axioms by Bill Hybels). Lately, he’s been looking into how our bi-cultural background puts us in a very unique position in society and how much it can impact all areas of our lives. Current fads include Burger King Whoppers, Monster Munch crisps, and herbal teas!

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