Honouring our heritage: Navigating identity and Igniting Change

A blog by Stella Chiu for Women’s History Month.

Stella Chiu, originally from Hong Kong and currently residing in the UK, co-founded Ignite Community Services, a non-profit organisation. She specialises in Corporate Communications and is dedicated to promoting Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI).

History is a tapestry woven by our ancestors and the legacy passed down to us, which shapes the path for future generations. This Women’s History Month, I seek to honour the courageous women who came before us, who pioneered transformative change and sacrificed everything for a better world.

I envision a future where commemorating Women’s History Month is no longer necessary, as gender equity has been seamlessly knitted into the fabric of society.

Equity v equality

In both my professional endeavours and voluntary role at Ignite Community Services, the non-profit organisation I co-founded, I advocate for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI), hoping to foster an environment where everyone’s unique strengths are valued.

Some people may confuse equality with equity. Consider a family with parents and a child. Providing them with the same bike disregards their differing needs – the child and the dad require distinct bikes for comfortable use. While equality suggests uniformity, equity emphasises tailoring resources to individual requirements. Thus, equity entails providing diverse tools suited to each person, optimising their abilities rather than offering uniform solutions.



Reflections on Identity

I hadn’t previously pondered my identity as a migrant until the Migrants’ Rights Network approached me to contribute to this article. The term “migrant” often carries negative undertones, influenced by various sources, including government policies, media portrayals, societal attitudes, and historical contexts. Unlike the term “migrant”, the term “expatriate” is more positively perceived, linking to those with privilege. I’ve often wondered if there’s a neutral term for individuals living in a country other than their birthplace. 

In the UK, people occasionally inquire, “Where are you from?” It’s a simple question with nuanced implications. While it demonstrates curiosity about one’s background, it may also hint at foreignness based on appearance. Personally, I don’t mind this question, but I suggest saving it for when you’re better acquainted with the person.

I recall a conversation with a former colleague who, as we grew closer, became curious about my origin. When he discovered I was from Hong Kong, he excitedly expressed his admiration for Jackie Chan, a renowned martial arts movie star from my hometown. While I understand the tendency to rely on narrow symbols or stereotypes to represent diverse groups, I didn’t take offence (another colleague sitting next to me was worried that I might not be pleased with the stereotyping of Hong Kong). Instead, I appreciated his effort to establish common ground. Though Jackie Chan doesn’t personally represent me, our conversation was engaging and enjoyable.

Overcoming Barriers

For migrant women, the theory of intersectionality can explain the compounded challenges they face in several aspects, such as gender roles and expectations, legal status, and social isolation. Language proficiency and accent can also act as additional barriers. As Stephen Hawking shared in his book, titled “Brief Answers To The Big Questions,” a slurred speech or distinctive accent may impact their opportunities and treatment. This bias often results in judgments based on accent rather than evaluating one’s actual competencies.

Certain cultural norms still dictate rigid gender roles within families. In some cultures, women are often expected to shoulder the responsibilities of caregiving and household chores, which can impede their ability to pursue career opportunities, particularly in industries characterised by long hours and heavy workloads such as finance, management consulting, and marketing.

The Price of Freedom

I consider myself fortunate to have experienced the richness of diverse London, a city that serves as a melting pot, facilitating connections with people from various corners of the globe. Thus far, I have not felt excluded. However, I recognise that my experience may not reflect the reality for all Hong Kongers residing in the UK. Demographics vary significantly, influencing individuals’ sense of belonging based on their location within the UK and the inclusivity of their workplace environment.

Many Hong Kong residents relocating to the UK sacrifice financial stability, struggling to secure comparable employment opportunities that match their qualifications and expertise. Despite our diverse paths, we share a common aspiration: the pursuit of something far deeper than material wealth. For many of us, freedom holds immeasurable value. We are confident that through our commitment to learning, progress, and engaging in society, we can steadily improve our future.

Igniting Change

Change is a journey, often requiring collective effort. Along this path, inspiring figures can offer guidance and motivation.

Michelle Yeoh, the Oscar-winning Best Actress of 2023, candidly addressed the barriers she faced in the film industry, particularly in Hollywood, during her Oscars acceptance speech. She eloquently spoke about racist stereotypes and gender inequity, urging Asian boys and girls to persist in pursuing their dreams and to maintain hope. I admire her honesty, resilience, and unwavering determination to succeed. She embodies the courage to dream boldly and has always recognised her own worth.

I believe in “Being The Change” I aspire to see in the world and taking action to inspire others to join in the causes. My belief is reflected in Ignite Community Services’ motto: “Teach people how to fish, do not simply give them the fish.” Together, we possess the power to ignite positive change, illuminating a brighter future. 

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