The Invisible Voter
Minority matters, especially when the population of ethnic minorities in Hong Kong is now more than several hundred thousand people.
According to government statistics in 2011, there were 451,183 ethnic minority people living in Hong Kong. Among them almost 200,000 have been living in the city for seven years or more. Yet few candidates who stand in this year’s legislative elections have included the rights of ethnic minorities in their political platforms. Even if they do so, most all of their pamphlets are in Chinese.
The irony is that Rina has been keen to vote long before "universal suffrage" became the talk of the town. Born in Nepal and moved to Hong Kong 20 years ago, she understands the importance and significance of election on the basis of "one-person-one-vote". "Even one vote matters," she says.
As the mother of a seven-year-old boy, the wife of a construction worker and a resident in the grassroots Sham Shui Po district, she knows she must exercises her civil and political rights to push for improvements in education and career opportunities for her family.
"We must be interested," she adds. "It’s not only me but all immigrants in Hong Kong."
She recalled a few years ago when she went voting she couldn’t make head or tail of the candidates’ platforms as all promotional materials were in Chinese. Frustrated but eager to get involved, Rina looked closely at the candidates’ photos and made her choice by instinct. What she could hope for was that she had made the right choice and the candidate, if elected, would genuinely care for her and the community.
In fact, Rina is not alone in terms of being cut off from civil participation due to language barrier. According to a recent survey by The Hong Kong Council of Social Services, about 90 per cent of ethnic minority people who are eligible voters could neither speak nor write Chinese. Unfortunately, most publicity materials for the elections are in Chinese.
Apart from language barrier, Rina has little time and energy to learn more about community and public affairs. As a housewife she is exhausted on most days after taking care of her son and housework.
Thanks to support from Hong Kong Christian Service, HER Fund’s sponsored partner, Rina is now getting more involved in civic and community affairs. Whether it was meeting with officials from the Education Bureau or exchanging views with candidates standing in the upcoming Legislative Council elections, Rina seized every opportunity to get her message across.
On top of her list of concerns is her son's education. Rina hopes her son can master both Cantonese and written Chinese. After all, her son was born in Hong Kong and is every bit as "local" as all kids in the community.
In fact, calling Rina’s son and many ethnic minority children who are locally born in Hong Kong “Non-Chinese Speaking Students” is a subtle form of labelling. Although the government has ostensibly allocated more resources to support ethnic minority students’ language education, the lack of support and supervision makes the effects of such measures questionable.
"My husband suggested our boy to study in an English speaking school but I disagree. Our son is not going to live in America or Nepal or anywhere. He will be living in Hong Kong, so he must learn Cantonese."
There's a saying that people's livelihood is no small matter. To Rina, she just wants to find her son a Chinese language tutor as well as more Cantonese classes with flexible hours available in the community so that she could learn the language also.
Yet these "petty" dreams had never been realized over the past two decades.
Rina admitted she was disappointed with Hong Kong's social environment, yet she believes as long as we adhere to our core values, such as civil participation and democratic elections, Hong Kong will eventually turn the corner.
Photo Credit: Lam Chun Tung
Acknowledgement: 香港基督教服務處 Hong Kong Christian Service