Love Bites: A Year of Solidarity for British East and South-East Asian Communities
This month's columnist reflects on how British East and South-East Asian communities have been brought closer together over 2020
It’s Japanese Week on Bake Off, and the contestants make steamed buns, a dish universally recognised as of Chinese origin. Later, while commenting on matcha – a bright green tea powder with traditional significance – Paul Hollywood, the judge, remarks that it’s “disgusting”. I take to social media, interested in how much of a stir this is causing. Most comments I see from BESEA (British East and South-East Asian) folk are along the lines of I’m not angry… Just disappointed.
Truthfully, on the scale of transgressions made towards people with Asian heritage, Bake Off doesn’t rank that high. In 2020, hate-crime against BESEA people increased threefold. For people like myself, UK-born, living away from family and unable to visit, it’s been a particularly anxious year. Over the phone someone tells me it’s the first time in decades they’ve felt scared to walk the street. Someone else says that when they go to hospital for a non-COVID reason they get stared at suspiciously by other patients. And I can’t help.
Yet even here there’s unexpected joy to be found. Online, I watch as activist groups spring up, including ESAS (East and Southeast Asian Scotland), BESEA.N (British East and South-East Asian Network) and EVR (EndtheVirusofRacism). Digital, BESEA-led arts festivals are organised. Social media groups are made to connect foodies or writers with East-Asian heritage. Through these, I join other BESEA people throughout the country, as well as diaspora around the world. Together, we talk about the fight-back against racism and misidentification. But we also share in joy as well – we talk about our families and experiences.
We celebrate 中秋节 (Mid-Autumn Festival) together. We laugh at memes others may not understand. This kind of solidarity and activism isn’t new, but 2020 has pushed more people, myself included, to engage with it. The racists had hoped that COVID could divide us further. They were wrong.
Sean Wai Keung is a Glasgow-based poet and performance-maker, and editor of Bella Caledonia's Many Voices, Many Kitchens project
Sean's new poetry collection Sifkan Glaschu is out in 2021 via Verve Poetry Press