The ‘ABC’ Issue - What is it, what does it mean, and where is this all headed?


For many people of Chinese descent who have grown up in a western society, there is often a degree of cultural dissonance. From growing up eating baozi (stuffed buns) for breakfast instead of cornflakes, to not thinking twice about hearing multiple dialects within the house, or visiting family overseas on an annual basis, this tension between eastern and western cultural values can manifest itself in many different ways, and is not the same for every person that experiences it. Growing up as a product of two markedly different cultures can be both a blessing and a (proverbial) ball and chain, with one often having to balance cultural identities and ideals that sit on opposite ends of the spectrum.

What’s in a name?

You may have heard the term ‘ABC’ before. Generally, it is associated with being an ‘Australian-born Chinese’ person - that is, someone whose cultural origins are, at some point, tied to mainland China, but they themselves were born (or in large part raised) in Australia*. Furthermore, their parents may have migrated to a South-East Asian country such as Singapore or Malaysia before their genes hit Australian soil.

While this definition still holds true, what isn’t true is that all Asian people you see in western society are of Chinese heritage. This means that not all Asian people will be able to identify with the memories, experiences and challenges of specifically being an Australian-born Chinese person. When developing this platform, we wanted to create a term that individuals of any Asian identity - Vietnamese, Indonesian, Malaysian, Filipino, or Indian, to name a few - could resonate with.

Before long, the term ABC took on another dimension of meaning - ‘Asian Between Cultures’. Because while each Asian identity holds their own values, beliefs, and ways of seeing the world, many of these people face a common issue of holding two cultures within one person - the ‘ABC’ issue. Where we feel like parts of us are at odds with each other, where we feel a certain loyalty to one culture but not the other, or we feel that we’re not completely “Australian”, but not completely “Asian”. We are somewhere in between.

Where did this all come from?

THE ABC ISSUE came about because we felt that Asians Between Cultures don’t often get an opportunity to share their experiences, reasons, or struggles with people around them. Perhaps we reminisce about our Asian-Australian childhoods with our Asian-Australian friends, waxing lyrical about weekly dim sum expeditions or wishing each other well at the Lunar New Year, feeling at ease with the unique sense of community that being an Asian-Australian brings. However, there are times when we may spend time with our friends who don’t share the same cultural background, and while this doesn’t affect the strength of our friendships, there are little moments or words that make us feel like we stand out like a plate of dumplings at a barbeque. We wanted to create a space where people could connect with each other - where cultural differences are celebrated and understanding is cultivated.

Where do we go from here?

With the release of large projects such as Crazy Rich Asians bringing the discussion of Asian representation in the media and film industry into the spotlight, we’re not expecting this to just be a passing craze. Through THE ABC ISSUE, we want to share the stories, moments and experiences of ABCs initially in Australia, and later beyond. We want to offer an insight and glimpse into what makes our perspective unique, and share parts of our lives with a wider community. We want to highlight the lives and the talent of ABCs across a range of countries, industries, and ages, breaking stereotypes and ensuring we have a seat at the table. We don’t exist to give ABCs around the globe a voice; we want to amplify the voices that they already have.

*The term ‘ABC’ is also known to mean “American-born Chinese”.

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