The following article was first published in the Evening Standard on 16 February 2018. To see the original story click here.
In May 2015 I completed a journey which nobody else had ever made. It began 20 years ago, and 200 miles away, in York. My parents settled there after escaping Communism in China. As entrepreneurs, they started a takeaway, which we lived above, and encouraged me to pursue my interest in politics as I worked alongside them.
That led to me taking my seat in Parliament as the first — and currently only — MP of British-Chinese heritage two decades later.
It’s a journey I never thought I’d make, but as we celebrate Chinese New Year today, it’s one we need others from the British-Chinese community to repeat. If our voice is to be heard as decisions are made, we must be in the room, at the table, speaking up and influencing outcomes — not just in Parliament, but in councils and boardrooms across Britain. There are too few school governors, charity trustees, JPs, councillors and MPs from the Chinese community — and too few British-Chinese journalists and media personalities.
While our concerns and aspirations overlap substantially with everyone else’s — we all want a strong economy, good schools, a clean environment — there are also unique challenges facing the 400,000-strong British-Chinese community. These are rarely articulated as I think they should be.
From the social care needs of first-generation immigrants, who often don’t speak English, to the racism many still face, it is only by having more representatives in public life that those challenges will be addressed. That the Labour MP, Hugh Gaffney, freely used the offensive term “chinky” in a public speech this month only reinforces how much work needs to be done.
Some suggest the so-called “model minority” is doing just fine. In many ways, it is. After all, Chinese children do better than any other ethnic group at GCSEs, the community is well integrated, and British Chinese are often high-earners, well represented in the professions.
But when it comes to public life, the British Chinese have kept their heads down, preferring to focus on business and family life. Being geographically dispersed rather than concentrated in clusters as other minority ethnic communities are has diluted our collective voice, while the fact that many first-generation immigrants came from a country with little tradition of democracy hasn’t helped.
Our New Year’s resolution must be to forgo the temptation of quiet integration, and instead embrace active involvement in public life. Only by getting involved in community campaigns, joining political parties, standing for election, and becoming decision-makers, can we play our part in shaping Britain’s future.
Alan Mak is the Conservative MP for Havant