Although the government has changed the system so ethnic minority children can apply to all government schools, it is still hard for them to get into the better schools. This is because they cannot compete with local Chinese children when it comes to Chinese language skills.
Tauqir Ahmad is only too aware of the consequences this can have. “When we come to Hong Kong, our biggest aim is to get the best education and best involvement here,” says the 26-year-old ethnic Pakistani. “However, no matter how hard we struggle, we cannot gain the things that local people do.”
Ahmad came to Hong Kong 14 years ago after his father found a job here. When he left school after form five, he could understand but not speak Cantonese well. In the workplace, he believes he has suffered from discrimination.
“Local people can succeed really fast compared to ethnic minorities,” he says. Ahmad used to work as a shipping assistant at a smaller branch of an international company with a monthly salary of around HK$8,000. He says staff were usually promoted to company headquarters, with an increased salary of around HK$15,000 a month, after a while.
He waited for two and a half years but was not given a promotion opportunity while a Chinese colleague with a form three education was promoted after just two years. Ahmad looks at the floor and says, “I felt ashamed that the less experienced Chinese workers got promoted before I did… I am never promoted because we are ethnic minorities.”
Ahmad now works as an assistant project director at the Services for Ethnic Minorities Group and Community Work Unit at the Lady Maclehose Centre.
Although he enjoys his current job, he experiences frustrations in his everyday life in Hong Kong. He encounters inequalities and his local friends are confined to people at work. He is embarrassed when people stand up on the bus when he sits beside them. Understanding how hard life can be for minorities, Ahmad is glad that he can help others by providing housing and educational advice at work.
Perhaps it is not surprising that Ahmad says,“I like Pakistan better. Of course, we are Hong Kong residents. That’s why we are living here. But my ethnicity, where I belong to, is Pakistan.”
Vivek Mahbubani, an ethnic Indian, is the third generation in his family to live in Hong Kong. Although he speaks fluent Cantonese and English, he says people still give him a hard time in his daily life. He has been called names both at school and on the streets. He has also been treated rudely but he has learnt to accept it.
“It’s all about ‘we are better than you so why are you in my country? Go away,’” says Mahbubani, who has mined his experiences for his routines as a stand-up comedian. “They are just trying to protect themselves.”