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The Best Of Hong Kong
Lifestyle News
By Yannie Chan | October 7th, 2020

Jeffrey Andrews is one of Hong Kong’s first registered ethnic minority social workers. This past summer, he also became the first ethnic minority to vie for a seat at Hong Kong’s Legislative Council. In July, Andrews participated in the pro-democracy primaries for the now-postponed 2020 Legislative Council election. While he ultimately wasn’t successful, his campaign was an important step in raising awareness for minority inclusion. We spoke to him about systemic discrimination, the injustices he sees at work every day, and why he remains hopeful for the future. 

A Troubled Youth Himself

I’m a Hongkonger of Indian descent, and one of the first ethnic minority social workers in Hong Kong. I walked the wrong path myself. I got in trouble and was arrested. Honestly, I’ve had so much pain and trauma growing up in Hong Kong. People shut their doors on me. People spat at me on the football pitch. I hated my skin color. I asked my mother, “why did you make me this color?” I used to buy all these whitening creams because people would give me so much grief for being so dark. All of that pushed me into this wrong path because I just wanted to be a rebel. The moment of my arrest was God’s way of waking me up and offering me another chance. 

Somehow, very luckily, a local Chinese social worker came and bailed me out. From then on, she took me under her wings. I eventually enrolled in the social work program at the Caritas Institute of Higher Education in 2010 — that was the first social work degree to accept local ethnic minorities. How come in 2010 we were the first batch to even be enrolled in a social work program? It was baffling. Now, slowly, all the other universities have followed suit. 

The First Ethnic Minority to Vie for a Legco Seat

This year, I also tried to be the first elected Legco member. I joined the pro-democracy camp primary, but unfortunately, I wasn’t successful, but what I’ve done is give a voice for our community. There’s still a little bit of me that wants to run in the actual Legco election. We’ll see what’s going to happen next year. 

I don’t really see myself as a politician, but it’s necessary to be a politician these days because everything is about policy. You have to challenge the government to make changes. As a social worker, I’ve tried it at the ground level, the community level, the lobbying level. But it seems like if you want to change things and break this vicious cycle, you’ve got to get into politics. 

Take MTR, for example, one of the biggest employers in Hong Kong. About three years ago, I went there for a talk and I asked them, “hey, how many ethnic minorities have you hired?” They pointed to this one guy, and it’s a white guy! Many local ethnic minorities speak fluent Cantonese, and many can read and write Chinese. But MTR has not taken the steps to hire more ethnic minorities. What is the government doing? What is the Equal Opportunities Commission doing? Eventually, the only way society can prevail with minority inclusion is to take the step and hire us. This is also why I want to go into Legco, because it’s important in a city like Hong Kong that our voice is heard. I’m surprised there is no functional constituency for minorities. You have all kinds of sectors but not for minorities.

A Vicious Cycle of Youths Led Down a Wrong Path

I still see a vicious cycle of young youths being led in a very wrong path. I’ve been there myself. A big part of it is due to the lack of a sense of belonging to the city. Why? Just look at our textbooks. We’ve been here for a hundred years. We founded the Star Ferry. But there’s no mention in the history books of ethnic minority contributions. 

So, of course, the local Chinese kids out there sitting next to you have no clue you belong in this city as much as he does. And then there’re no cultural exchanges, no diversity talks. No one ever tells you that you can go to the Sikh Temple. It’s free, there’s great food, and you can learn why the guy has a turban on! We want to be like Singapore, and yet we have not even attempted half the things they have. 

One of the biggest problems is we still don’t have a proper Chinese curriculum for ethnic minority students. There’s this government-initiated program called “Chinese as a second-language framework”. But it’s not a proper curriculum, and schools always encourage us to do the GCE or GCSE. They say, it’s better, you’ll pass it, it’ll give you a bit of foundation to get to where you want to go. But actually, you’ll be going the long and hard way, because it’s not accepted in post-secondary institutions across the board. It’s never really recognized in mainstream society as standard Cantonese. It might eventually get you into the police force. That’s why all the young people back in the day wanted to be policemen because they think that’s the highest official job we can attain. We’re always feeling like second-class citizens. 

A Long History of Racial Profiling

Police violence has been a serious issue for our community for years. It’s just that there’s now a renewed awareness because sadly it’s also an issue among the local Chinese population. I’ve been racially profiled for years. When I see a police officer, I’m already getting ready for my ID card. Because I know they’re going to stop me. I know they’re going to put me in a corner, asking me all kinds of questions. And the hostility that they display towards ethnic minorities is evident. Many of my cases start with an ethnic minority person having an altercation with a local Chinese person. Someone calls the police, and guess who the policemen go to? The Chinese person. The ethnic minority person is assumed to be the perpetrator. 

One of my clients was a recognized refugee. He was in the MTR station, and five police officers checked him and harassed him in a very violating way. Because he was on anti-depressants, he looked high. He moved his arms or struggled a bit, and the police took a huge offense. My client said they took him to a room in the MTR, beat him up, and charged him for assaulting police officers. I photocopied hundreds of pages of his medical documents and everything I could use to tell his story and went to the police station. I wore a suit, because, for minorities, we have to do all these steps just so that we’re taken seriously. The officers took all those documents, and 45 minutes later, they dropped the charges. I don’t know how many more of these cases are out there.

“People Want to Understand”

I’ve been doing cultural sensitivity training at schools and corporates. When you go into a local Chinese school and you’re faced with hundreds of kids, there’ll be murmurs: “what is this guy doing here?” But then as soon as I share my story, you see people opening up. There’s some laughter, a little bit of tears. I talk about my whole journey, from growing up here and facing discrimination to losing my mom. I let all my feelings out. When I let myself become vulnerable, what happens is that the person on the other side realizes, “what he’s going through is also what I’m going through.” People have been so receptive. If it wasn’t for Covid-19, I’d be doing Chungking tours. People invite me left right and center. It means people want to understand. They want to bridge this gap, and as long as I have the energy — which is not easy — I’ll still do it.

A Devasting Fire and How People Can Help

In September, our office at Chungking Mansions was severely damaged in a fire. It shook the foundations of our organization. We’ve been at Chungking Mansion for 15, 16 years, and we receive no funding. I still have nightmares. It’s extremely painful, and I’m so grateful for the community support. I posted the news on my political campaign page, and look at much money we’ve raised in two weeks. It’s unthinkable ten years ago. That just shows that people who were against you will come back and work things out with you. 

You can help by making an online donation or making a transfer to HSBC Account: 567-320973-005 (HSBC bank code: 004) (Acct Name: Christian Action ) and emailing your bank-in slip to mary.ho@christian-action.org.hk and specifying “CFR Rebuild”. We’ll also be looking for manpower to help out with moving, cleaning, sorting things out. We’ll be coordinating that down the road. People interested can sign up as volunteers on our website

From our Point of View series.