East & South East Asians for Labour – a name truly representing our diversity

Sarah Owen

Every Lunar New Year signifies change, and for Chinese for Labour this year is no exception. After over 20 years as an affiliate to the Labour Party under that name, we are changing our name to East & South East Asians for Labour. We are so proud to be bringing in this change. Our membership and the work of Chinese for Labour is wonderfully diverse, and we need a name that truly represents that diversity.

As chair, I am mixed heritage and am often referred to as the first woman MP of Chinese descent – but it is more accurate to describe me as the first MP of South East Asian descent, given my mother’s side of the family are Malaysian and a mix of Singaporean and Nonya with Chinese ancestors.

Our current makeup of members at Chinese for Labour includes Taiwanese, Hong Kongers, Malaysians, Vietnamese, Thais, Filipinos, mainland Chinese and more. It is a wonderful mix that isn’t reflected in our current name. With this change, we hope to be even more inclusive, reaching out to others in the movement from East and South East Asia – because representation matters.

Throughout this pandemic, it has been the people most vulnerable and those at the sharp end of the crisis who have been an afterthought for government. Healthcare workers left struggling for personal protective while ministers dished out contracts so their pals could profit. Thousands of self-employed people and businesses excluded while the Chancellor ignored their calls for support. East and South East Asians spat at, abused and targeted while Tory politicians made us the butt of their jokes and news outlets made us the face of Covid.

2021 is the year of the Ox. Those born in the year of the Ox are said to be hardworking, honest and do not look to be the centre of attention – it is a sign that sums up our health and social care workers who have given and suffered so much. We’ve seen the devastating impact that the pandemic has had in this country and on specific groups of people, especially overseas workers in the NHS and social care. The death rate among the 40,000 Filipino healthcare workers in this country is devastatingly and disproportionately high.

To give you an idea of just how big an issue this is, seven of the first 16 healthcare workers in Wales to tragically die during this pandemic were Filipino. People like Francis Fernando from the Filipino Nurses Association UK have done a brilliant job in highlighting the problem and calling for action, but we want to create a political space for that representation too. Whether you are a woman, from a Black, Asian or minority ethnic background, LGBTQ+, disabled or working class, we know representation is key to bringing the change we need and want.

We are under no illusion that this name change will take some education. For far-right racists, the pandemic has been an opportunity to lump us all together and target their hatred, but it is not only these people who have been lazy in understanding who we are. The mainstream media, politicians and news outlets in the UK have been slower than other countries to represent the wonderful diversity within Asian culture. I hope that this name change can be part of a greater understanding and a force for good.

During this crisis, we’ve seen people bridge ethnicities and cultures to tackle the racism and systemic inequalities that this pandemic has exposed. The work of the fantastic women in BSEAN is a testament to that. With the forthcoming online harms bill, the immigration bill and the economic damage from the pandemic, we have many challenges but also opportunities ahead to recover and rebuild a more equal society. East & South East Asians for Labour is growing from the strong foundations started by Sonny Leong, Lady Katy Blair, Stephen Ng and Meeling Ng to one I know will be an even greater force for good. From all of us at East & South East Asians for Labour, Gong Xi Fa Chai – Happy New Year!

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