In the country where “Chinese” is an insult

The sons and daughters of the Chinese diaspora in Spain

, by Paloma Chen, translated by Bastian De Monte

All the versions of this article: [Deutsch] [English]

The sons and daughters of the Chinese diaspora in Spain
Photo: Paloma Chen

In Chinese they are called huayi. Their parents are called huaqiao. The majority of them are between 20 and 35 years old. In Spain their identity still remains unclear. In this second part of a series of three articles, Paloma Chen interviews children of Chinese immigrants in Spain.

Culture shock: talking feminism and sexual orientation

The mentality gap between parents and kids is remarkable: China already sees a big gap between parents and kids because of a huge transformation regarding economic conditions and China’s rising position in the world in a very short period of time. While in Spain, you have to add the fact that the children have been raised in a Western country. Some of their struggles are subject of Susana Ye’s documentary “Chiñoles y bananas”.

“There are a lot of cultural differences”, explains Charlie Ye. “I am much more open than my family. They usually tell me I don’t speak in a polite manner, but I guess they just mean that I am too direct. Concerning gender roles, it’s true that my father behaved sexist towards my mother and sisters when we still lived with him” he adds.

Carol Zhou usually speaks Spanish with her mother and siblings. Her father’s Spanish, however, is not that good, which does affect the relationship with him. “In my family, sexual orientation may cause conflict, but we don’t talk that much about that. I am bisexual and when I told my mother, she accepted it, but she was afraid because I could face discrimination from others. I consider myself fortunate because my mother is open to a lot of other realities, even though she might, out of ignorance, say racist things towards other people”.

Racism and representation

Charlie Ye notes, “I have spent my entire life dealing with micro-racism – comments, attitudes… But I’m still happy, I got used to it and in reality, they are a minority”. He is in his early twenties and has never felt included or well-represented in mass media, such as television or cinema, where there is little presence of people of Chinese or Asian origin and when so, it usually comes with mockery or stereotypical roles.

Carol Zhou explains, “I always felt like only stereotypical roles that had nothing to do with me were represented, such as the roles of the intelligent, the artistic, or the shy girl. It was not until much later, as I was growing up, deconstructing and actually thinking about my identity, that I really asked myself why there were always only white people. Especially when I was young, I was in conflict with only living with white people around, who had white families while I did not; even though I told myself that it didn’t matter.

Of course, there was always some jerk randomly yelling ‘Chinese’ at me. I always clarified that I was from here, that I was Spanish even though my family was Chinese. I wish someone had would have told me that it was not necessary – that I can be both, or feel like neither, and that both are okay. Now, at 23, even though I still feel some discrimination because of my appearance, I don’t feel intimidated anymore”.

“Where are you from?”

“Identity is important. So asking yourself where you’re from, where your origins lie, and how you feel about it, is important”, Charlie Ye stresses. “Even though you might not care about it, the majority society will make you ask yourself about this at least once in your life”, he adds. But nationality is another story; for Charlie Ye it’s only important in practical terms. “If I feel Chinese, Spanish, Asian, European? I actually feel Barcelonan, not Catalan, but like someone from the city. I am not nationalistic or patriotic, I only care about my family and my wellbeing. I am a world citizen, I guess. But if I had to choose, I would choose Barcelona”, he says.

There is a variety of opinions on this issue. Angel Zhou Lin feels like he’s just another member of society, like everyone else an individual, thinking differently about their own situation. Thus one can’t just classify people and think, for instance, that because someone grew up with a Chinese family, they are the same or necessarily similar.

For Angel Zhou, it is irrelevant to ask whether he is Spanish or Chinese. “What’s the difference?” However, he admits that he thinks much more in European or Western terms than his parents: “That entails a few differences concerning customs, values, sense of life, decisions about the future, stability”. The good news is that the conflicts between him and his parents are not severe: “My relationship with them improved a lot as years went by. I feel much closer to them now than during my teenage years”.

His cousin, Carol Zhou, answers that when she was 10 years old, she felt undoubtedly Spanish, enjoying and respecting the cultural differences with her Chinese family. “Now, however, I don’t see the need to clarify my nationality. Asking yourself if you’re Spanish or Chinese is not really relevant and just another question out of so many that you can ask yourself in order to figure out who you are. So, nationality is just one more tag. My face explains my ancestry and my Spanish passport satisfies my need to prove to white people that their presumptions are wrong. But I’m still working on that, I don’t want to rely on a document to prove my belonging to one place – this shouldn’t be necessary”, she concludes.

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