The slogan of protecting local interest, culture and economy seems to be becoming popular in some societies. It’s often used by politicians and lobby groups to convince the people to think of their own interest first. Migrants are often considered as snatching away jobs and social welfare.
In Hong Kong, we have seen many localist arguments to emphasise local Hongkongers’ interest. Very often, the arguments are very discrimatory and dismissive of migrants’ contribution to the society. In Brexit, we have seen similar arguments by Leave campaign leaders and supporters. While I’m writing this, I have just read a news report in The Guardian and another report in The Independent about various racist incidents in different parts of England and Wales after the Brexit referendum.
Hong Kong is a migrants’ society, no matter whether people like it or not. Many Hong Kong families originally came from mainland China. My paternal and maternal grandparents came to Hong Kong from Canton (now known as Guangdong) in the 1920s and 1930s.
Hong Kong’s economic boom in the 1980s was largely due to an influx of migrants from mainland China in the 1950s to 1970s as they provided cheap labour to Hong Kong’s industries. Many of these people fled from Communist China’s horrible political campaigns. Many Hong Kong Chinese can still recall how they took the risk to flee to Hong Kong by various ways.
After Britain and China signed the Sino-British Joint Declaration in 1984, Hong Kong people realised that they needed to face the political reality that Hong Kong will be returned to China in 1997. People started emigrating to Canada, USA, Britain and Australia, among other places. Even much more people left Hong Kong out of fear after the Tiananmen Crackdown in 1989. In mid-1990s, there were more and more mainland-born and Hong Kong-born children whose parents were Hong Kong citizens and mainland Chinese. They and their parents became new migrants in Hong Kong. There were lots of controversies on whether they should be granted the right of abode and they were considered by many local Hong Kong people as a burden and they were often accused of snatching away the social welfare in Hong Kong.
Since 1980s, migrant workers from the Philippines, Indonesia and other countries came to work in Hong Kong. They helped many families to lessen their burden by taking care of children and elderly and doing other house work so that middle-class couples in Hong Kong could go out to work. However, they face a lot of discrimination and unfair treatment at work and on the street. Despite their contribution to the local economy, they are often considered as lucky to have a chance to work in Hong Kong to support their families in their home countries.
Since 2000s, mainland professionals and mainland university students became the new migrants as well. They were considered by many Hong Kong people as snatching away their jobs. In recent years, mainland tourists became the target of ridicule because of their lack of concern of hygiene and their behaviours on the street and in shopping malls as well as the way they buy luxury goods. Many Hong Kong people and mainland Chinese use all kinds of derogatory words to attack each other – a daily common scene on social media. Defending local identity and culture and protecting national dignity are the justifications for the verbal attacks.
Hong Kong is full of hate and discrimination as it is the case in many other countries like Britain and America and many others. Very often, the hate and discrimination are against foreigners and migrants. Justifications can include protection of local people’s interests, cultural, identity and economy, among others.
The question is about what kind of society we want – a protectionist society unwelcoming migrants? Or, a society accepting people no matter where they come from? If we think that protecting locals and rejecting migrants is correct, can we first ask ourselves: how local we can claim ourselves to be? Why can we still expect people from other countries should still work and cooperate with us if we have rejected them? Or, if we simply don’t give a shit to work or get along with a certain group of people out of contempt, how can we still not admit that is discrimination?
We better face it and try to find ways to tackle it. I wonder how we can feel any better to justify discrimination against migrants by ignoring their contribution to our societies and just pushing them away as the others. If we don’t respect people from other places, how can we expect others to respect us?