Monday, 4 June 2012

Identity

The Queen's Jubilee has been an interesting time for me as I try to continue to make sense of my identity.  I have mentioned before that what brought my parents together was a shared desire to sever the ties with their respective cultural backgrounds.  They settled in the UK yet openly mocked everything English.  There was no English mustard in the house, the only peas were petite pois , horseradish was just for visitors and holidays would be spent along the Rhine ogling and marvelling at all things German!

I was musing about the Silver Jubilee back in 1977, when as a child I was left in charge of the hot dog stall in the vicar's garden. Never having tasted English mustard and thinking it in all likelihood was not stronger than German, I innocently drenched the hot dogs in the English concoction and was somewhat perplexed by the reaction of my customers.


At Mass yesterday I wore a Malaysian batik cheongsam; flying the flag for the Commonwealth.  I sometimes call myself a "child of Empire" and whilst not English British, I can feel Empire British.  But what sort of identity is that? The British hard-wired half the globe to a particular way of education, particular sporting preferences, a particular way of eating, a particular style of administration, a particular set of manners, particular goals in self-betterment and a British sense of humour.  Culturally, this was the inheritance my parents couldn't escape from. They may have ditched the ethnic inheritance but they couldn't ditch the Britishness.  It is a remarkable thing and maybe it is perhaps beginning to die out which is sad.  Liberal hand wringers are killing it off and the left wing guilt trip associated with the having an Empire has infested national identity in most Commonwealth countries.  It is OK to be anti-British.  Yes they were cruel, pig headed, insensitive, stubborn and failures in a crisis, but isn't any administrative power. Has what has replaced the British been any better?

I have a fully Chinese cousin who has spent most of her life living in London.  She is desperate to find some roots and find some cultural identity.  She is learning Mandarin at nigh school.  I wish her well but somehow to me this misses the point.  None of our forefathers ever spoke Mandarin and indeed Mandarin sound so ugly and graceless next to the Hakka and Hokkien dialects of a just 2 generations back.  The Chinese fables and myths are important culturally, the food certainly hits a spot and is pure comfort, but open us up and you will not be able to extract the Britisher from the Chinese woman.

Monarchy is good.  It enables me to feel at home at my village Jubilee party.  It is our common inheritance.  I have a photograph of my grandfather sat at his desk in Penang with a portrait of the Queen behind him (and Our Lady of Perpetual Succor infront of him).  My Chinese grandmother could recite the names of the towns in Lancashire, from West to East and which industry they each specialised in and which canals linked them, she could sing Scottish folk songs and she could make a Victoria sponge.  Cultural indoctrination this may have been, but is was never overpowering, she remembered the Scottish missionaries who taught her with affection.  They didn't set out to say the British way of life was better, they knew their pupils would get the Chinese culture back home, but they were ambitious for their pupils.  I for one am very grateful they were.  Grandfather would never have made it to Oxford and Inner Temple without the British and Grandmother would never have known how to hold fabulous tea parties without them either

Hurrah for the British Empire. Hurrah for our our Monarchy too, as the thought that all this Britishness is somehow related to Parliament and the bureaucracy of the state is quite nauseating!

No comments: