In this episode of What Northern Ireland Means to Me, we meet Eileen CHAN-HU, who is an educator in cultural awareness.
I’m of Chinese origin, so I’m second generation Chinese. My dad came over here in the early 1960s and I was born in Belfast. I use the term “made in Belfast”. So I see Northern Ireland very much as my home. Although I have two homes in one sense: Northern Ireland and my parents are in Hong Kong. In 2014, my father was seriously ill and I was traveling around Hong Kong for nearly a month, in and out of hospitals, and I realised one day on the underground that it wasn’t the place for me. Although everybody looked the same as me there, you know, black hair, olive skin, I didn’t feel that was my home. I incredibly missed Northern Ireland at that moment. All my friends, my colleagues, and all my years of work are here. And most of all, I think it’s the next generation. So I have two boys here and they were also born in Belfast.
As a young girl growing up, I didn’t see much diversity. I was the only Chinese kid at school. In the ’70s, you may not have understood what, you know, racism was or discrimination, but you always would have felt it in some way. So I think that has probably given me the impetus in life to work in diversity work and racial quality, who’s teaching English. English was my passion to help other Chinese children growing up whose parents also didn’t speak English. And from there, I went into community work. So today I’m CEO of CRAICNI, which stands for “Cultivate Respect, Appreciate Inclusion across Cultures in Northern Ireland”. And we do a lot of work in cultivating respect.
In Northern Ireland, people don’t understand how diverse it actually is. We have over 80 languages spoken in Northern Ireland, so I really enjoy this small place.
In terms of the future for Northern Ireland, in 2014, it was a very difficult year — there were over 921 hate crime incidents. The ratio in that is incredible against sectarian incidents. If you think of the population of minority ethnic communities, we’ve got 1.83 million supposedly in the last census, and we’re about 0.03% of the population, yet we had 921 hate crime incidents. In that year I was asked to speak at the rally for racism. But I think what I was trying to say on that day was [that] enough was enough, and as a mother of children growing up here who are now young men, it’s not what I would wish. There are now the fourth generation of Chinese. I have great nieces, great nephews. And I just hope that they wouldn’t face those barriers or difficulties that I’ve witnessed and seen with others. I think that hopefully we have come through that and we’ve survived, or ones like myself can help and support others.
What Northern Ireland Means to Me is presented by Julia Paul and produced by Shared Future News, to mark the centenary of Northern Ireland, with funding from the Heritage Fund on behalf of the Northern Ireland Office.
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Images © Allan LEONARD