“There’s a scene in Wayne Wang’s The Joy Luck Club (1993) where a Chinese woman named Waverly brings her white Western husband to a family dinner, hoping her mother might like him. Instead, he fails to impress them by improperly using chopsticks and insulting the mother’s cooking by marinating the dish with a sauce, humiliating Waverly. It’s an example of a western person who means well, but how they’re from two different cultures and fail to understand each other. It’s a small example, but it can even go further. I grew up in North-Brabant, a southern province in the Netherlands where they love celebrating carnival. My family owned a Chinese restaurant there and during carnival I partied with some of my classmates. Suddenly they wanted to go eat Chinese food, because they love it so much. But when we arrived at the restaurant I began to notice how rude they were against the Chinese employees at the restaurant. They were insulting the workers. I couldn’t take it so I walked away. They couldn’t see how insulting they were. They tried to figure out what was going on and said that they were just joking. I get that carnival is all about having fun, but it shouldn’t have to be at the expense of another human being. They never stopped though, because they feel that it’s part of their culture. It kind of makes me think of the ‘Black Pete’ discussion, how some people feel that it’s part of their norms and values. But it’s not appreciated by other communities. But who is right then and who is wrong? During Carnival some people also dress up in a way that ridicules Chinese people. Are we supposed to feel that’s normal? Anyway I live in Amsterdam now and I could never live in Brabant ever again. It’s too painful and you can’t even start a discussion with people who are like that. That’s why I try to address these topics through my own films. Treating questions such as, “are we really that tolerant? And how come a lot of people do not think of themselves as racist?”
Photo and story by Feargal Agard.