“I was born in Berlin, my parents are from Vietnam. At the moment I am studying Communication in Social and Economics Context in the UDK. I spent 2 years in Vietnam when I was still little, then moved back to Germany to go to kindergarten, then I grew up here my whole life so I’d definitely consider myself as a Berliner.
I feel safe in Berlin because it’s my hometown and I am familiar with most of the people and the neighborhoods. But on the other hand, there is a lot of time that doesn’t make me feel safe and secured at all. There were incidents in the past that made me feel uneasy, so I have been much much more cautious than before. Although, I think it could be worse if you were in another country, or simply another city in Germany. So I’m actually very happy to be in Berlin.
Berlin has changed a lot and I think I am allowed to say that because I’ve been living in this city for 26 years now and I noticed all the changes. Especially for me - I’m German but I don’t look German. During the time I was in primary school, I was the only one who was an immigrant, so people would really let me know that I look different from most of the people here, by giving me “Ching Chang Chong” remarks or whatever on the street.
For example, people will see and recognise that you are not from Germany or of a German descent - you are not blonde and don’t have blue eyes. Of course people are curious so they will ask you - which is totally fine. But there are some people who are just not as curious and friendly, so they start making assumptions - which are not necessarily bad, but they start being very pushy because you ignore them and they don’t realise that you feel uncomfortable, so they just keep being pushy and asking.
I have experienced a lot of street harassment in Berlin, I feel like it happens almost every week or more. I have too many stories now I am confused which to tell, hahaha. One time I was at a bar with a group of friends and all of a sudden two guys came to our table, asking “Hey! Where are you guys from?”, in a very rude manner. I ended up saying “I’m sorry, but you’re disturbing us right now. We don’t want to talk to you, we don’t want to answer this kind of question.”, then he didn’t leave, he just “OK, I guess you are.. No, wait. You’re not Japanese because Japanese people would be nice.”, they were acting very rude and just kept standing there, giving us bad vibes, being all grumpy. It was a horrible experience.
Another moment in Hamburg, in the center of the city. I was filming the landscape and there were like two kids between 3-6 years old who were doing this “Ching Chang Chong” to me. Then I turned my head just wanted to see who they were, but apparently… the parents were actually standing right beside them, looking at me straight into my eyes with their hands and arms crossed, no reaction at all while their kids tried to make fun of me. I was like.. What? Are you not even ashamed of it? I think most parents would be ashamed if their kids start pointing fingers to other people, but they were doing this racist remarks to a stranger yet the parents did nothing. I was so speechless.. I grew up here, I’m used to it. I know. But at that moment I was just speechless. It was really crazy. I mean of course kids are not aware of it, they don’t understand which is right or wrong yet, they don’t know what being racist means and so on.
Also, my boyfriend is a French. When we started dating in the beginning of the relationship, he was not aware of it at all. So hanging around with me he was super shocked like he could not believe it that in the middle of Berlin people really do this racist remarks to me. There were also a couple of times that he could not protect me because sometimes he didn’t even hear it when I received these remarks even though he was standing or walking next to me. I guess if you are not really aware or exposed to the problem, you won’t really notice or pay attention to it and it would slip away.
So a lot of times I just got angry and much angrier. Then I realised that most people actually don’t mean it in a bad way - they don’t have bad intention. Perhaps they are just not educated enough. One time there was a group of guys confronting me again with this whole “Ching Chang Chong”, “Ni Hao”, “Konnichiwa” whatever, then I stopped them. I talked to them. “Hey, you are all nice guys right? And you don’t want to hurt me right?” Then they were agreeing to all I said apparently. “Then let me tell you what, next time if you see any Asian woman, just say hello if you’re not sure whether she speaks German or not. And please, don’t say those racist remarks because it’s annoying, it doesn’t have any meaning and it kind of hurts because I was born here and I don’t want to hear all the time that I don’t belong here in this city, in this country, in this culture. So, yeah just don’t treat people differently just because their physical appearance looks different to most people in this city. Promise me, never again do this to any Asian women next time?” - then they told me that I was right and say yes yes yes. I think those moments really show that these people don’t have bad intentions, but they don’t know how bad it would or could affect us.
When I ignore these things, it’s mostly because I don’t want to make a fuss of it, because it really stresses me out. But most of the times I also feel like that I need to say something. If I don’t make these people aware that they are wrong for doing such thing, then when would they learn? They would just keep doing the same thing to other Asian people on the street. But of course, I don’t always have the energy to do it nor doing it all by myself, but in that moment after I talked to them.. I felt really good! Hahaha. First of all, I felt like even if it was just a person or a small group, I could change something or someone… in a good way. I mean I dont’ know whether they have changed or not but at least I did try. It’s not something everyone would do I guess.
There were some situations that I was afraid, like at a bus stop, already quite late, somewhere in the East of Berlin probably. There were like 2 people walking pass through me and started yelling at me “Chinapfanne! Schlitzauge!” and they kept doing it like for the next 200 metres and you could just hear it because it was very empty. It made me feel totally uncomfortable and unsafe. No one was around.
The Vietnamese community in Berlin is very big. I know a lot of people who don’t want to be part of this Vietnamese culture and community - they hate it. I kind of used to be like this as well actually, avoiding the community. Because in this group they are just staying in the same bubble so they are not so open-minded, even though they are in Germany. Of course it’s not necessarily a bad thing, but they are just with the same group of people everyday, closing themselves, creating a wall between them and the German people - I could not really identify myself as part of the group. Or perhaps they feel very comfortable with each other because then they don’t need to explain to their friends why they do and like certain things that are not so common in Germany. It’s a comfort zone for them.
When I was in high school, I would eat these small apples but they are very sour, it’s the kind of fruit that Vietnamese people really enjoy eating and would eat it with salt. My friends were like what the fuck are you doing? They were grossed out somehow. But come on, it was not a dog food or something, it was just an apple with salt. Hahaha! So yeah sometimes I also enjoy being around Vietnamese people where I don’t have to explain this kind of thing, like why it’s good… because it’s good!
I don’t know if I could say I feel proud to be Asian. I mean isn’t it the same for anyone? In which family or culture you are born to, you would just feel something about it. Of course I feel proud and grateful for being able to learn about two different cultures. I feel like I do have two worlds which makes me more tolerant and open-minded than other people which is a huge advantage. I don’t identify myself as part of one group of culture, but I can choose the best of each of them.”