The Eastenders is a well-known and much watched TV drama in the UK about stories of the ethnic minorities living in an area at the east end of London. As a matter of fact, the mention of the East End can unfortunately conjure up pictures of people at the lower-class of the society. Ethnicity is (on paper?) celebrated in the UK. The corresponding policy of caring for the ethic minorities, however, does create problems to the same group of people.
What is the case in Hong Kong?
The 2006 Hong Kong By-census revealed that there were about 350,000 people of ethnic minorities living in Hong Kong, who were, and still are, mainly South Asians including Indian, Pakistani and Nepalese. As an aside, by the term Asians, the British take them as people living in Asia except for China, Japan and Australia. This sense is not applicable here.
There is a recent development whereby more illegal immigrants coming from as far as Afghanistan seek political asylum in Hong Kong. The move has been commonly reported among the media as a sleight of hand to prolong the stay in Hong Kong for the chance of a job in between the period. Since the establishment of such cases takes time, this group of people lives here for a long period and makes up a part of the ethnic minorities in this city.
As the society is rightly caring more about equal opportunities for all, the Legislative Council, the local law-making body, has enacted the now effective Race Discrimination Ordinance, which is right.
By reason of this, both the government and non-government bodies are starting to provide services in relation to getting messages across to these people in their own languages.
There are of course some super-rich South Asians thriving on their business in Hong Kong. But what cannot be denied is that most of them are in the lower strata of the society. These people need something to get them up the social ladder.
And the first rung of this ladder is surely the language.
So, due restraint has to be exercised in providing the language services. Such services can help perpetuate their social stagnation by way of isolating them in their own social comfort zone where their respective national languages are spoken. If the language services are to be expanded, the fallout can also add an unnecessary financial burden to the society.
Paradoxically, speaking different languages is not the best way to foster understanding of the ethnic minorities. This will in contrary serve to alienate them from the locals.
In this connection, it is gratifying to notice another parallel trend as seen in the student intakes by publicly funded schools. More children from these ethnic minority groups are attending mainstream schools, learning the local language and other knowledge as every local kid does. The number of six-year-old primary one students in the year 2007/08 is as high as double the number a decade ago.
This is the right way to kick-start their engine to zoom them up the social ladder. The language services can be given in a transitory fashion, with a view to reducing the scope over a certain number of years.
(Photos shown in this post were randomly taken in the street and do not relate to the written contents in any way.)