Hard to believe, but not fifty years have yet passed since the offspring of mixed couples in Asia were still seen as an unwanted byproduct of the West's perceived subjugation over the East. To be sure, racism and discrimination against westerners continues to exist in various degrees of blatancy all across a newly-resurgent Asia, but if the fashion and entertainment industries are anything to go by, one thing is certain: Eurasians, once consigned to a purgatorial fate worse than being born of the lowest classes, are now all the rage.
Kirsteen Zimmern's coffee table book, The Eurasian Face, features 70 photo-essays in celebration of Asia's ever-expanding Eurasian nation. Hailing from the multicultural kingdom of Hong Kong, Zimmern confesses that, as a child, she used to chant "gwei lei ga, gwei lei ga!" (it's a ghost!) at random Caucasian sightings despite the fact that she herself is partly of Scottish ancestry. Zimmern is now making reparations by granting her fellow Eurasians face time in the form of first-person profiles in which to share their stories.
They are not celebrities, but rather, extraordinarily-ordinary civilians of hybrid heritage who comprise Hong Kong's increasingly kaleidoscopic population. Some are unabashedly proud of their genetics, such as Lawrence Matthews, the son of a Chinese model and an Englishman ("I think there is some jealousy from non-Eurasians...after all, Eurasians are widely known to be the best looking"), while others, like Chinese/German Lisa Rosentreter, who grew up in Manitoba 'embarrassed that my family's staple starch was rice,' struggled with their ambiguous ancestry.
Stephen Fung, of Chinese/Irish/Scottish descent, recalls a butcher at Hong Kong's wet market enquiring why he was so "funny looking". When told that it was Fung's dad who was Chinese, 'the butcher insisted on shaking my hand, saying that it wasn't every day that 'one of us Chinese guys gets together with a white woman.''
Cantonese/Irish Liam Fitzpatrick, a senior writer for Time Magazine who was born in late-60s Hong Kong, offers a more poignant reflection of his mixed-blood upbringing: 'We were surrounded by a jeering mob of leftists, calling (my mother) a foreigner's erohw and me her dratsab half-breed.'
Race seems to play less of a factor in these subjects' lives than their upbringing, which is described in Zimmern's book as 'Chinese morals with western social habits.' Many are in favor of the Eurasian ethnicity being officially recognized as a domiciled community ('we always have to tick the 'Others' box when filling out forms'), while just as many do not, including Chinese-Brit Sarah Fung, who declares "it's as crass and patronizing as lumping Chinese, Japanese and Korean together because they come under the umbrella of "Asian."
As an aside, it is this photographer's critical opinion that, to better study the 'genetic legacy etched upon their faces,' the portraits would have benefited from studio sessions rather than candid snapshots. Another flaw is the choice of black and white film; skin tones are vital for visually discerning someone's ethnicity, not to mention that B&W is negatively symbolic of exactly the sort of outlook which Eurasians seek to eradicate.
Tom Carter is the author of CHINA: Portrait of a People