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Lia Watson

Durham/Nottingham, England

Beijing, China

There was just this unconscious bias. Sometimes I used to think if I wasn’t Asian it'd be so much easier to just fit in with everyone.

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My mom really wanted a kid and she couldn’t have one. England said she was too old to have a kid here, so she went to China because she saw an advert in the newspaper. China has a higher age range to adopt so she was like, “Let’s go to China.”

[in regards to feelings about adoption/growing up as an adoptee]

Personally it didn’t bother me that much when I was young. My mom explained what happened to me at a very young age and she had books on adoption. I learned it’s okay to have a different skin color or to look different from your parents. I eventually started going to Chinese school to try and learn Mandarin, but I found it really difficult as the other people already spoke Chinese at home with their family. I just couldn't keep up with them. I also used to go to Chinese Sunday school and do the performances. It was nice to see other people who looked like me. I didn’t really fit in with them, but I was still grateful for that. My mom didn’t force me to go Chinese school, but she gave me the opportunity.

Because we were in a northeast and rural area, there was no ethnicity there. We were surrounded by just white people. I was the only non white person in my primary school. All the other kids got really confused and made racist comments. They would say, “Ching chong” all the time. In the classroom, whenever we talked about Chinese New Year, everyone would turn to look at me. People would ask, “Why are your eyes like that?” or say horrible remarks like, “You’re so weird” or “All Asians have no boobs. Asians are ugly.” That was really hurtful. When I first got those remarks, I thought I would tell the teacher, but you’re not meant to. If I told the teacher, they would tell them off but then the kids would hate me more. I ended up not having many friends because of that.

But I don’t think it bothered me because I always felt like at least I was wanted. There was this one girl in primary school whose mom didn't want her and gave her away to her aunt. It made her really jealous that I was adopted and I think she started picking on me because of that. Secondary School was even more difficult; even teachers started to bully me because I was Asian. There was just this unconscious bias. Sometimes I used to think if I wasn’t Asian it'd be so much easier to just fit in with everyone.

When I went to sixth form, the friendship group I hung out with was really nice. They liked me, but they would always say, “Lia, the Asian friend.” It got a bit annoying because I was just seen as “the Asian.” And then some people would say, “Oh, I don’t date Asians.” Like, no. Just because you met one Asian doesn’t mean you’re not going to date the whole of Asian people. I started to call them out, but they didn’t realize they were doing it. There were times though that I didn’t want to call it out because it would be ruining the flow of the conversation. I think it’s difficult for people who haven’t grown up with anyone with a diverse background. Once my friend made fun of the Chinese accent at the Chinese takeaway and at the time I laughed, but now I look back on it like “That’s really bad. You don’t do that.”

My mom still has problems knowing when to call people out. Sometimes my grandma says really racist stuff and my mom will say, “That is not okay.” But if you’re at a party, you don’t want to have a go at her in front of everyone. It’s really difficult to know when to say something and when not to. I think most adults struggle with talking about race now. People don’t really know how to react to it.

It wasn’t until recently that I've moved to Nottingham, which is a big city with different cultures, that I've just started to accept and be happy to be Asian. Instead of saying I’m just the “Asian friend,” my friends say my name like “Oh, Lia is coming.”

Now when I go back up North, I get sick of everyone being like, “Oh yeah, Asians are good at math” and all that. It’s not funny anymore.

People in Nottingham have started thinking Chinese New Year is cool. My mom always made sure that we celebrated Moon Festival and Chinese New Year, but people bullied me because of that in primary and secondary school. But I was really grateful for my mom exposing me to aspects of Chinese culture because it made me remember who I am. I really like Moon Festival because it’s about thinking about your family and it was nice to have that one day a year where you’re going to think about your family and what could have happened. I feel like it’s very therapeutic. And now people in Nottingham tell me they celebrate it too. I was so shocked they didn’t make fun of me because of it. So now I’m glad to be Asian. It makes me different.

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