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Story of the Month - November 2017

Updated: Sep 9, 2020

According to the 2016 Census, there are over 46,000 non-Chinese minority students enrolled in local primary and secondary schools, many of whom are of South Asian origin. How do these minority students cope with the local school system while maintaining their heritage culture?


Centre member Prof. Michelle GU Min-yue, a scholar in education, has conducted a study on a group of teenage female secondary students originated from Pakistan. Some of them were born in Hong Kong; others were born in Pakistan and migrated with their family for years. They are all fluent in English and Urdu, and while their written Chinese proficiency is not high, they can communicate in Cantonese.


Prof. Gu found that these girls face multiple marginalization. At home, they face pressure from their gendered heritage custom, such as the unequal position between females and males, and the cultural imposition of arranged marriage at a young age thereby making university education inaccessible. In the larger society, they encounter various types of exclusion due to stereotypes about South Asian “cultural deficiencies” and mainstream society’s insensitivity to the cultural and/or religious practices of ethnic minority groups. 谷教授的研究發現,這些少女面臨著多重邊緣化。在家裡,她們面對性別化的傳統習俗如男女地位不平等,而給年幼少女安排婚姻的習俗則間接令她們難以進入大學。此外,主流社會對南亞文化抱有不少刻板印象,又對少數族裔的文化和宗教習俗缺乏敏感度,因而遭遇到各種排斥。

Yet the Pakistani girls are not just passive victims of negative stereotypes. Take one girl’s experience on the MTR as an example. When a local Chinese expressed racist comments about her scarf and skin color in Cantonese, thinking that she did not understand Cantonese. She responded by taking out her phone and speaking in Cantonese. Speaking the language of the majority has afforded her a measure of self-empowerment.


Prof. Gu’s research shows that these participants, as active agents adopt culturally, religiously, behaviourally and linguistically grounded strategies to make the most of the opportunities they have or hope to gain access to. In the meantime they devise the strategies to circumvent the obstacles that they expect to encounter along the way. They also continue to establish new relationships with their surroundings and construct multiple identities as Pakistani, Muslim, female and internationally oriented Hong Kong people, in different contexts in which they navigate. While mainstream culture has to a certain extent released Pakistani girls from the oppression and pressure of religion and customs, more guidance and support is needed to realize their dreams, and to make this release less temporary and uncertain.


Photo of Apliu Street, Sham Shui Po, Hong Kong. Sham Shui Po is one of the districts where many Pakistanis reside.



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