Wednesday, October 7, 2015

[Pakistani Culture Workshop] The Pakistani Community in Hong Kong: An Overview

Multiculturalism in Action 2015-16
Pakistani Culture Workshop: Making a Change for the Better

Session 1: The Pakistani Community in Hong Kong: An Overview

Guest Speakers: 
Prof. Raees Baig (Social Work Department, CUHK)
Prof. Paul O’Connor (Sociology and Social Policy Department, Lingnan University)

What are the historical conditions that led to the coming of the Pakistani community to Hong Kong? Which social and cultural aspects do you know about your Pakistani neighbors? What identities has Hong Kong society given to the Pakistani community and why are they considered ethnic minorities?

The Multiculturalism in Action project, now in its third year, organized a public seminar entitled The Pakistani Community in Hong Kong: An Overview to help answer the above questions.

Prof. Paul O’Connor first presented a brief history of, and some cultural observations on the Pakistani community in Hong Kong. The earliest generation of South Asian Muslims arrived in Hong Kong with the British soldiers and merchants in 1848. They maintained distinct Islamic cultures through religious and culinary practices, as well as through playing cricket - which is still one of the most popular sports in South Asia. After the independence of Pakistan in 1947, they became known as Pakistanis.

Although the Pakistanis have established themselves in Hong Kong for a long time, they are often stereotyped as poor, and portrayed in mainstream media as outsiders and criminals. Recent statistics, Prof. O’Connor argued, have shown that ethnic minorities in Hong Kong (especially the Pakistanis) were really a valuable source of workforce for Hong Kong society. While a lot of the Pakistani community remained in the lowest income bracket, Prof. O’Connor argued that income should not be the only criterion of defining poverty. He concluded that, what Hong Kong society should do is to embrace the ethnic minorities as they are part of Hong Kong.

During the break, participants of the seminar had the opportunity to taste some Pakistani-style food: mango juice, biscuits, samosas and kebabs. Our speakers and Pakistani guests helped to explain the meaning of “halal” and invited us to critically think about the relationship between food, health, and religion.

Workshop participants enjoying Pakistani cuisine during the break.

After the break, Prof. Raees Baig shared her views on some issues of social participation among ethnic minorities in Hong Kong. Limited participation in social events, she argued, could be part of the reason why minorities were not accepted as full-fledged members of society.  

Prof. Baig then discussed the term “ethnic minority” which only started to be used after Hong Kong’s Handover in 1997 with the changes in the local political and social environment. She said we should re-think that why the South Asians were regarded as “ethnic minority”, while the Europeans were not given such a label. The incorporation of “ethnic minorities” into the social and political structure, she argued, was therefore a devaluation process- they were incorporated not because they were considered Hong Kong people, but because they were defined to belong to a special class that needed special care. She reminded us that we should be more critical as we analyze the positions and identities of ethnic minorities in Hong Kong.    

Lastly, Prof. Baig pointed out that we should not generalize a particular group as if it was homogenous: within the Pakistani group, for example, there were differences among different genders, age groups, linguistic groups, religions, and social classes.

(First Row, from left) Pakistani guests, Prof. Tam, Prof. Baig, and Prof. O’Connor, together with participants of the Workshop.

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