I live and work in a society that is composed of Indigenous people and descendants of immigrants and settlers. The descendants of immigrants and settlers make up most of the population. Within this sector of the population, the dominant majority are of European heritage. There also minorities from many different ethnic and racial backgrounds. I am a relatively recent arrival, myself, from South-East Asia, having only a few decades under my belt, so to speak. Based on my last name, appearance, and national origin, one might assume that I belong to one of the Asian minorities or a distinct Asian community.
However, that assumption would be inaccurate.
I am an ambiguous member of the Asian diaspora as I do not identify with or participate in any established, organized, or recognizable Asian ethno-cultural community. Instead, since I immigrated, I have gravitated towards and participated in the culture of the dominant Euro-Canadian majority. This may be due to a variety of reasons, for example, the legacy of British colonialism which has contributed to my linguistic bias because English is my mother tongue and I am English educated. Most likely, it is due to the absence of my ethnic group in my adopted country except for my immediate family.
If my ethnic group exists anywhere in the world, that would be remarkable, because I am of mixed heritage. My mother is the descendant of many generations of intermarriage between the mixed offspring of mainly colonial European men and Asian women. People of such ancestry identify themselves as Eurasian which is a hybrid term of the words, European and Asian. While the European heritage of Eurasians survived colonialism in South-east Asia through the passing down of family names, for example, De Souza, languages such as English, and religions – mainly Christianity, their Asian heritage, on the other hand, became obscure. Sadly, my mother cannot identify or trace her Asian heritage. My late father was a 5th generation descendant of Teochew Chinese and Malay intermarriage. People in South-East Asia of such mixed ancestry identify themselves as Peranakan which is a Malay word that means descendants.
During Asian Heritage Month 2023, I take the opportunity to pay a proud and solemn tribute to my Asian and mixed ancestry – known and unknown – even though it is not connected to my adopted country and did not contribute to its nation building. I also take the opportunity to point out that Asian heritage is not monolithic. Neither is it always full-blooded in nature. While some folks may take immense pride in being or identifying as full-blooded, there is also as much pride to being mixed.
From an Intercultural Development perspective, neither identity is superior or inferior or better or worse than the other. There are many complexities and nuances to Asian heritage and being mixed that are often invisible to the naked eye. These should not be assumed, criticized, or minimized, but accepted and valued. When team members increase their individual and collective cultural self-awareness and develop a deeper understanding of culture and cultural differences, they can avoid the pitfalls of inaccurate cultural assumptions. This can help them to foster inclusion and equity for minorities at the workplace including mixed race and ethnicity employees.
Finally, I encourage mixed race and ethnicity individuals to identify as such in their conversations about their cultural and professional identities and to inspire others to do the same. To discuss how to initiate these conversations and to increase individual and collective cultural self-awareness for your team, use this link to contact us: https://sightsonsuccessconsulting.com/contact/