When people learn that I grew up in Mississippi, there is often a look of surprise. Then a laugh. Then the inevitable comment – “You’ve come a long way from Mississippi!” In some ways, it’s true. I live in Hong Kong, China so I am a long way from the place of my birth. But in other ways, growing up in the Deep South continues to affect the way I think and respond.
One example is my understanding of race relations, especially in terms of blacks and whites. Sociologists say that the Mississippi Chinese were ‘between black and white’ though I’m pretty sure my parents would have described it differently. Nonetheless, I came to know people of all colors through the customers and workers in our small grocery store. I also felt the impact of desegregation of schools and the civil rights movement taking place during my childhood.
Those memories are stirred up in Hong Kong when I see discrimination against ethnic minorities, migrant workers and asylum seekers living here. The blatant racism that is so clear to me seems to be a minor issue to many Chinese Hong Kongers who make up 95% of the population. Fermi Wong, a tireless campaigner for the rights of ethnic minorities, shared a comment from a legislator whom she was lobbying on the issue of education. “Fermi, why bother me with such a small thing? No one will care.” No one will care that they are at the bottom of society in terms of socioeconomic status. No one will care that they experience intergenerational poverty because of unequal opportunities and limited education. No one will care that they have no voice, no representation, no rights. And until more people care, the situation will remain the same.
Another occasion for looking back to Mississippi was realizing my discomfort in joining public protests. Even as far back as seminary days, I remember my progressive classmates trying to get me to support various causes – the women’s center, nuclear disarmament, gay and lesbian rights, justice in Latin America, etc. I was sympathetic to everything. But the thought of marching on the streets waving signs and chanting slogans was about the last thing in the world I wanted to be doing. Not long ago, it occurred to me why. I was following the model of my father. In order to make it in American society, my dad worked hard to get along with everyone in the community. We were taught not to be ‘troublemakers’ or it would bring shame or worse to our family. The fear of violence was perhaps an unspoken reason. So even after I left Mississippi and my father passed away, I still carry emotions that caused me to seek protection and avoid conflict.
Hong Kong society is in the midst of conflict over the implementation of universal suffrage for the elections of our leaders. The call for non-violent civil disobedience by certain sectors, including some Christians, touches something very deep in my heart as a child of the South. I was too young then to understand the courage and sacrifice of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Yet, almost 50 years later, I clearly see how his life inspired generations around the world, including in Hong Kong, to put themselves on the line to fight for what they believe in. For sure, the culture may be very different than the U.S.in the 1960s. For sure, there may be other options besides non-violent civil disobedience to advocate for change. But for sure, there will come a time and a place for people of faith, myself included, to demonstrate what it means to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God.
Thank you for your support of my ministry at Hong Kong Christian Council as we celebrate our 60th anniversary in 2014. Since its founding, HKCC is the visible sign of church unity in Hong Kong, promoting a united witness and outreach to the whole society. In partnership with Global Ministries, we pray that we might be found faithful to our calling and mission in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
In peace and joy,
Judy Chan serves with the Hong Kong Christian Council. She is responsible for communications for the Council. She is also in charge of ecumenical radio broadcasting ministry, English publications and ecumenical partnerships in Hong Kong and overseas.