Dr Kailing Xie is the Course Director for the UG Module Gender and International Development and the MA Module East Asian Development: National and regional perspectives. She is also a Senior Fellow in recognition of attainment against the UK Professional Standards Framework for teaching and learning support in higher education.
Dr. Xie has won the Warwick University’s City of Culture Award 2019-2020 to work on her project ‘Making Alien-land Home-land 且认他乡作故乡’: A Visual documentation of Chinese communities in Coventry
This project is designed to find the lost voices and faces of Chinese people living in Coventry, their life stories in the city and beyond, especially their sense of identity and belonging(s). Part of the outcome of this project is exhibited in our website. Please check this link: https://chinesevoicescovid19.com/category/making-alien-land-home-land/
Interview with Dr. Kailing Xie:
Transcript of the interview:
Dr. Kailing Xie (afterwards Dr. Xie): The project I’m currently running is mainly trying to understand the development of Chinese communities in Coventry. As we all know that as ethnic minority groups, Chinese are migrants has been in many ways have been marginalized or isolated in the British society. And although we do see like a rising voices and also more increased, increasing visibilities of Chinese faces on different media platform. However, if you do look around in Coventry particularly, I still think there’s very little to be seen. Therefore, I’m hoping that my project would be able to bring out those stories, those unheard stories, and particularly the generational and changes among the Chinese community.
So I’m hoping that taking food as a shared cultural memory be and artifact as an entering point that it can offer as different angle to look into Chinese communities, and particularly using food to exame the generational changes, and also the gender dimensions of how different individuals within the community experience their life in Coventrt.
And also, personally, I’m a foodie. So I I really think that I do believe that food does give us offer all sorts of memory that connects among people among places and connecting across cultures. So I’m quite excited that to see what my participants of this project can bring and tell their stories through this angle.
Leiyun: Can you talk a little about like what’s the original plan of your project and how did the outbreak of Covid-19 change your plan?
Dr. Xie: Actually, initially, when I started, I was really excited about taking this opportunity to really go into the different Chinese communities. We all know that there’s no single like one homogeneous Chinese communities. There are different ways of migration into the United Kingdom and obviously city of country also reflect this kind of diversity. So initially I thought I targeted as on several so called, main Chinese community groups. For example, the Chinese church in Coventry and the Chinese school run by many volunteers and parents. And also I was hoping that and be able to interview people from this kind of a new generation of immigrants into Coventry who come with their partners and or working as professionals, and go into this kind of parents group because they all have young children. So hoping that I would be able to do ethnography to meet with these my participants face to face and to be able to experience their daily life, observe it, and somehow be part of it. However, as we all know, that because of lockdown, because of the cancellation of a serious event because of Covid-19, and all the Chinese new year celebration got cancelled early this year. And obviously later on, it’s very difficult to really go to meet people, not to mention, even share food.
So my initial plan was going there and share food, share life with my participant just has to changed. So I was hoping that we could put up this kind of display and tell their stories. Now because of the obvious obstacles and challenges, and I have to basically figure out doing the exhibition online.
So that’s something that really pushed me to think maybe I could still do the exhibition. Ask my participant, instead of me going to take picture with them. And they can share photos they took themselves with me, and we can move the exhibition online somehow.
Leiyun: Did any of your interviewees or participants talk about the racist attacks or abuse they encounter during Covid-19?
Dr. Xie: So both me and my research assistantship interviewed quite a lot of individuals were basically experience locked on in Coventry. And surprisingly, actually we did not hear much this kind of overt racist-motivated attack. However, we do have participant and mention that they know they somehow send this kind of almost awkward weirdness going on when there was this kind of interactions with certain people. So they felt that they have been singled out because they look Chinese or and because of the virus. And they have been treated differently. But I would say my impression from this project is that I feel like instead of saying this kind of very obvious attack, it is more subtle. It’s much more like a micro aggression I would say.
When I was working with young people like current students, I’m very impressed by how many of them were talking about they really want to tell their own story, their own experience, because of the space and time, given them to reflect on their experience of living the UK in general. They feel like’ they have daily encounters of this kind of stereotypes about Chinese students. They basically, they said they have to really make effort to explain to their British friend that as a Chinese students, their life is rather different from what they are, British friends think their lives should look like. When we were discussing that what we could do to bring about this kind of visual exhibition, what kind of story they would like to tell. A lot of them actually said I would really like to show them how my life actually look like in China. It’s not always about red lanterns about dressing like a so called stereotypical oriental dress. My life is just like you It’s. Yeah, it is normal.
I think a lot of them has voiced this kind of experience of being viewed as the other, almost in a way that has been exoticised. So they really want to use this opportunity to tell the stories. Actually we are pretty similar. So I think that’s very interesting. And I’m also quite excited about that opportunity this project has given them.
Leiyun: So as you like as a Chinese living in the UK, have you ever experience like this kind of unpleasant racial behaviors in the public or generally in your life in the UK?
Dr. Xie: I would say my general experience of living this country has been quite positive. I do think that British people, those I had interaction with are predominantly very welcoming and friendly. However, I personally had experienced people, basically men or young boys. And lads just pushing each other towards me while I was just walking on the street. And so that kind of thing does make me wonder is that because how I look and because I’m a woman of color and I’m a woman looks probably young some way. And that place me a slightly more disadvantaged position. And that contributed such experience. And then that does make me wonder. Another experience I had recently was during the pandemic, I was walking in a garden, which we all try to keep the social distance. But this lady, she was very basically verbally, in a way that shouted at me say, well, how rude you should have just stayed away from me, even though I did keep the 2 meters distance. And that kind of experience does make me wonder is that because I look different from them so called majority white British are women. And I was treated like this.But at these incidents, you can’t really, you can’t really generalize it. But but this kind of unpleasant aftertaste does make you wonder, is there something behind this kind of typical stereotypes because of because of where I come from or how I look like.
Leiyun: Can you tell us more about the things that actually impress you the most when you conduct that project?
Dr. Xie: I was actually quite moved by some of the stories that my participant has shared with me. Like different generation of Chinese women were standing in the kitchen, working together, preparing food. I thought when I first started about this project, I said of course food will tell us a lot about the cultural history of the community who make the food, who they eat with, what do they eat, and what does this kind of food symbolize or carries its cultural meaning and reproducing culture. So all these things I fascinated me this kind of questions.
So when I was talking to three generations of women, Chinese women living Coventry, when they were preparing food together, for me, that was just very touching thing to see. Because it does. You see this kind of emotional bond within the family. And you see that although you see the clearly generational changes and the younger women does have much more and flexibility in terms of maneuver between so called inside and outside of the family home. And they all have professional jobs. But still, the family kitchen becomes a gathering point for them to discuss their lives and share experiences and bonding with each other. And that is a very, I personally, I find that’s a very touching picture.
So hopefully in my exhibition, this kind of image can be like conveying them and communicate across. And I do think that as a cultural element, and this is something that my participants have told me that particularly want to preserve this sense of home, that the home has been protected in a way that mirror love and bonding among different family members.
On reflection, I do think that as so called ethnic minorities, and that living in this country, I do find that the aspects of collective living, living space, creating this kind of communal space in your family, home, people cooking together eat together does render different picture of British life because we are part of British society. And very often we imagine this western societies as this kind of individualized, a lot of sociologist has written about eating alone, for example. What does that mean. But at the same time we should not neglect that there are communities actually still carry this kind of warmth within their family home, within the family kitchens. And people do. The kitchen is a place that its a gendered place, but it’s also a love space that bring people together. Food has becoming this kind of bond. And that this is a story part of the story of British life. And I think the story that has not really been done justice and in a way to be represented in media.
Leiyun: So to what extent do you think like your project can respond to the current rationalization or racism against Chinese or Asian communities in the UK especially after Covid-19?
Dr. Xie: For me, I think my understanding of the whole thing is very simple. You could say, I do think that who has the power to tell what kind of story matters. And we have been I within the family circle. We all know that the power to view the power to tell the stories. So I hope that through my project, the response would be women particularly women from the ethnic minority community will be able to have opportunity to share their stories and tell their stories in their own way. So I think that can be a very empowering experience. And I hope that through this and more individuals on each side could be influenced positively to be able to see things differently, to be able to experience reality. Actually. That is how it is.It’s not what we often think like this. I think that’s what challenging the stereotypes looks like in daily life. If that makes sense.
Leiyun: In the future, how would you use this project to to make bigger influence or to make a change?
Dr. Xie: I would say, I guess change always happen from the ordinary moment, isn’t it? I do think that change happens little by little. So when we think about, for example, if I have a discussion with my Chinese students from China about racism and racist experienced they experience in this country. I think I would also personally would like to welcome more critical reflections on both sides. Because I do believe that racism affects every each one of us. And I think in terms of students, they also open up space for more reflective discussion about how they experience it, how in our daily interaction with one another, we all be shaped by this kind of structure.It’s a structural issue.
So I hope that because of there are several these kind of bad experience of incidence has happened because of Covid-19, this will open up space for more open discussions and reflections. I really hope my the students within the Chinese community, their experience of studying abroad can also give them the chance to reflect about racism. Because I do think as Chinese living abroad, I do think we are living a very interesting time. And this kind of discussion reflection are crucial.