“Who Am Eye?” East Asian Identity

A brand new project is looking for stories from contributors of all ages across the Asian spectrum. “Who Am Eye?” is the title of an exciting book by Christabel Samuel. The London-based writer began the project with a unique purpose: to shine a light on the experiences of Asians over the generations. Having grown up as a British Asian, she has noticed the evolving attitudes, interest and commentary around Asian eyes and wants to capture this in the book.

The book’s focus is on the eyes, which have for so long been a signature Asian identity. Contributors of East or South East-Asian origin will be chosen to tell their story and have a close-up photograph of their eyes, which will be included in the final book.

There have been several academic and social studies around Asian people but this is an original piece that focuses on something as simple, but as personal, as eyes. In the process “Who Am Eye?” explores the human experiences which shape us all and the cultural changes between generations. 

Christabel Samuel says: 

” I moved to the UK when I was two years old. I was born in Burma and although I was young, I still remember gawping at the first sights and sounds of the big city and how different it was from Rangoon. Still I was excited to call this new place home and over two decades later I consider myself a Londoner through and through.

However as a South-East Asian growing up in 90s Britain, I was a curious creature to most of the children in my school. The kids would speculate if I was Chinese – or Japanese if they were a bit worldlier – and ask me to translate English words for them.

Then fast forward to secondary school when I was asked by one of my classmates if I was white or black. Since I was neither, I found it strange that people’s understanding of racial diversity was so limited. Despite growing up where most people in my neighbourhood were of Afro-Caribbean heritage, those moments highlighted how different I was even to them; a minority within a minority.

I am sure most of you reading this can relate to my playground experiences. Especially those within my age range (I’m 28) who have seen the world arrive on their doorsteps with the rise of the Internet.

Luckily Britain is now a more diverse place and the questions I get about my heritage are delivered less with voyeuristic fascination and more with gentle curiosity. Tracking the changes within my own life made me wonder what other Asians experienced, not only from my generation but from those older and younger than me.

I believe the answer to “Who am I?” derives not from an internal identity but is also a reflection of the culture around you. I am South East Asian and British. I have also been an object of intrigue, mockery and exoticism through the span of my 26 years here. These changes and the evolution of people’s perceptions sparked an idea in me. 

There have been several academic and social studies around Asian people but what if there was something that focused on a feature as simple, but as personal, as eyes? This is how “Who Am Eye?” was cooked up. A book which explores the human experiences which shape us all and the cultural changes between generations. 

The book will be launched for March 2016 and I am now looking for contributors to submit their stories. The final book will feature a two-page spread per person: One page of their story and one page with a close-up photograph of their eyes. (Chosen contributors will be invited to London to have their pictures taken by a professional photographer).  You can wish to keep your name anonymous; we only will print your ethnic background and age.

A copy of the book will be donated to the British Library, and SOAS (School of Oriental and African Studies) are reviewing a donation for their archives and collections. Along the way the project will also be involved in exciting events within London. So this is a great opportunity to be a part of a unique literary and social heritage.”

If would like to be a part of this ground-breaking project please contact: [email protected]

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