Hard News by Russell Brown


The meaning of a Banana

I don't know how many registered users SkyKiwi has these days -- it's certainly well over 100,000 -- but it represents a place of news, gossip and cultural ferment that is invisible to most of us, simply because it takes place behind a screen of language. It appears almost entirely in Chinese text.

This press release on this weekend's Bananas NZ: Going Global conference sparked a vigorous debate on Chinese identity and the place of 1.5ers, Chinese international students and Bananas (a reclaimed term signifying "yellow on the outside and white on the inside") in New Zealand.

What are people saying? I've been provided with translations of some of the comments, as follows:

- "I am not a banana - NEVER! I am heir of Dragon, I am son of MOTHER CHINA."

- "Always support the International Student cause. Don't let your side down!"

- "Despite how fluent you are in English, in white people's eyes you will always be Chinese. Even though you have come here to study, don't forget that you are Chinese!!!"

- "I think the fault lies with the parents. Why do they (parents) not send their kids to Chinese kids or speak Chinese at home. That's why the Bananas have lost their culture. I completely blame the parents."

- "Look at the Mäori, even those Mäori who don't speak Mäori are proud of their heritage. Another example is NZ born Koreans - they speak Korean and are proud of being Korean. So there are some 2nd generation NZ born Chinese who are ashamed to be Chinese or don't consider themselves Chinese? I think those who think that don't have the right to be Chinese."

- "So these Bananas are ashamed to be Chinese? That's because they don't understand Chinese. It's the same as Koreans: they look down on everybody who is not Korean because they don't understand others."

- "It doesn't matter if I go overseas or not, values around identity, culture and society, do not shift. If Bananas want others to accept them, they have to educate themselves around how to be Chinese first and then they will be proud of who they are. Respect from others follows after that."

- "Living in New Zealand as an international student allows me to see China and New Zealand from the outside in. I believe that Chinese culture needs to stamp its mark in NZ society. That's the only way we can rid any trace of this "rubbish" (ie Banana thinking)."

- "If the world and life change, then experience and knowledge change too. They are all interconnected."

- "I reckon no matter how long you have been overseas, you're still Chinese. Just get on with life. Don't worry - others will accept your ethnicity."

- "Nothing stays the same. Stretch your imagination and widen your vision."

Like I said, lively.

I'm playing a part in the conference this year, as moderator of a geek session on Sunday afternoon, featuring SkyKiwi founder Justin Zhang; Antony Young, the president of Optimedia; and Singapore's pride, Mr Brown.

See also, my Listener column about Mr Brown, today's podcast interview with Wong Liu Sheung -- and Tze Ming Mok's report and speech from the first Banana conference in 2005, landmarks the both of them.

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