“I felt like if I got involved in something that Hong Kong was concerned about, then maybe I would start to feel like I was part of this community,” said Jianne Soriano, a 19-year-old Filipino, reported AFP.
Soriano, who was one of many minorities who took part in the recent democratic movement in Hong Kong, are fighting racial discrimination in the city they call home.
Despite living in Hong Kong her entire life, Soriano was told at school she would never be as good as her Chinese peers. She was ridiculed by her boss for her Cantonese language skills and she even said that nobody would sit near her on the bus. The alienation she felt for all those years started to dissipate after the protest movement, which accepted her with open arms.
It was the first time she even felt equal in her own home town.
During the protest, she gave radio interviews, wrote articles, and started social media campaigns to fight for ethnic minority rights. Now she says she dreams of becoming a human rights lawyer: “Since the protests, it feels like a new era for the youth to have a say in politics. I want to inspire them.”
Soriano is not alone in feeling inspired by participating in the pro-democracy movements. Jeff Andrews is a 29-year-old Hong Konger from an Indian family. After the protests where he led nightly marches, he set up a group to inspire other South Asian youths to fight for political activism and equality. He claims that the Umbrella Movement “changed the whole landscape of Hong Kong.”
“Young people have seen what student power is all about. Ethnic minorities are going to be knocking on [the government’s] door for reform,” Andrews said.
Earlier this year, he led a petition to demand better Chinese language teaching in schools, and leads regular meetings with other students to discuss ways to implement change in the city.
Andrews said his own experience of racism in Hong Kong included being refused jobs and even being called a “monster” because of his skin color. He was also denied the right to bury his mother in a local Christian cemetery because he was told it was only for Chinese people.
Ethnic minorities in Hong Kong, mostly of South Asian decent, make up less than 3 percent of the total 7 million population. While Hong Kong’s laws formally outlaw racial discrimination, many feel the laws are too weak and poorly enforced. Activists like Soriano and Andrews are asking the government to strengthen those laws.
Some of it is already in the works. The Education Bureau says that it is currently working on an integration plan for non-Chinese speaking students, and has budgeted $26 million a year to develop a new language program. These changes are encouraging, and maybe the most important thing is that young minorities now feel that they can make a real difference in Hong Kong.
Let’s hope they are right.
Check out the video below for an more in-depth look at racism toward Filipino domestic workers in Hong Kong: