It’s not a surprise that second-generation kids wouldn’t want to address their heritage if it was something attacked by racism, prejudice and ignorance. Choosing my Chinese heritage to not define my work was a means of avoiding being potentially attacked by those things – even type-casted as ‘the Chinese artist’ – or just another second-generation person exploring her identity as art. For me, being Chinese as a kid wasn’t something to be proud of, and being from a lower-class family fairly new to Australia didn’t help either.
It annoys me so much that it took so long for me to embrace that aspect of myself (my family) both in my life and in my art. I feel as though I have wasted many years making excuses, being horrible to my family rather than learning and celebrating it, and realising how privileged I am. I was introduced to a Chinese-Australian artist at art school who was also second-generation. The big difference between us was how we treated our heritage in life and art. I hid, while he explicitly acknowledged his background shamelessly. He invited his family into his work, rituals, criticisms, mythology, culture – everything. It was normalised and they were embraced.
I saw that I could make art about my heritage with no shame and be open about it as well. It took a while but, eventually, slowly, I became more comfortable to do just that. I no longer want to make excuses that keep me feeling like the ‘other’. Now, having my Chinese heritage define my work is the same as being proud of my heritage.