Beneath the surface of any Hong Kong protest lies the question of identity. Pro-democracy and anti-extradition protesters often use elements of local culture, like language and humour, to distinguish the city from mainland China. But what about the city’s some 580,000 ethnic minority residents?

The exclusion non-ethnically Chinese Hongkongers experience belies the city’s reputation as an international melting pot. Despite this, some have appeared at protests over the last month.

China extradition protest admiralty clash
Photo: Todd R. Darling/HKFP.

The city has been rocked by a series of protests sparked by the government’s controversial extradition bill, which would enable the transfer of fugitives to jurisdictions where there are no prior agreements – most notably China. The protests have since evolved into a wider display of anger against the government, alleged police misconduct and calls for democracy.

HKFP spoke to five Hong Kong protesters who identify as ethnic minorities to hear their perspectives on the recent political crisis.

Pinder (pseudonym), 21, student, third-generation Indian-Hongkonger

“[During protests] people will say thank you or give me a thumbs-up, but then I don’t really know where they are coming from, because I am also part of the community. It is my right to be here and fight for the things I stand for.”

Pinder Laurel Chor ethnic minorities protest
‘Pinder.’ Photo: Laurel Chor/HKFP.

“When we walk past some of the politicians, they will say ‘Oh, we have some foreigner friends as well!’ And then will start speaking English [to us]. But then I will speak Cantonese back to them.”

“I want people to know that we are also here to help the community. We are also here to help Hong Kong grow as a city and move forward.”

Horjat Grewal, 21, intern, born and raised in Hong Kong

“The way our government is treating us is not right. This is why I’m on the streets because this is one of the moments where everybody counts. You know, there are not a lot of ethnic minorities showing up, unfortunately, for various reasons. It’s disheartening because I want more people to show up and I want more [minorities] to recognise that this is their home, I want more local people to understand that this is our home too, instead of giving us a thumbs-up or saying thanks for being here. No, this is my home, I want to be here.”

Horjat Grewal Laurel Chor
Horjat Grewal. Photo: Laurel Chor/HKFP.

“A lot of [minorities] feel that it is quite pointless. I was speaking to a lot of elder minorities and [they say] ‘What’s the point, China is going to do what they want.’  But I’m like, no, we can stop them.”

“Another reason is that they’re like, ‘We don’t understand Cantonese, we don’t know what they’re saying on the streets.’ Just because you don’t understand Cantonese doesn’t make this any less of your home. It doesn’t mean the bill won’t affect you more than someone that speaks Cantonese.”

Mario, 43, teacher, half Chinese, quarter Filipino and quarter Pakistani

“When I was very young, a long time ago in the ’80s, there was some discrimination. But just look here: we don’t care what race you are. [Other protesters] just look at us and they will hand you like a towel and ask: ‘Are you hot? Do you need a mask? Do you need eye protection?’ People will just help you, they don’t care.”

Mario Laurel Chor
Mario. Photo: Laurel Chor/HKFP.

“You don’t see [minorities protesting] because of the masks, but there are quite a lot of them in here, I can assure you.”

“Many of my friends are Southeast Asian and [they] have a bad reputation in Hong Kong. If police can commit brutality against the local Chinese, they could do the same to us, in fact, we would be treated worse than the local Chinese. We have been persecuted like this for the longest time. Even if they don’t come here to protest, as a Southeast Asian you are more likely to be asked for your ID card by the police than a normal Chinese.”

Astrid Andersson, 32, PhD student, grew up in Hong Kong

“I am trying to take a bit of a back seat [in the protests] because I understand that the optics can be a bit confusing with a white person here, especially with the narrative from China being that it is orchestrated by [foreigners]. But I am here to show my support and add to the body count of people who disapprove. I just can’t stay at home when this is happening in my city.”

Astrid Andersson Laurel Chor
Astrid Andersson. Photo: Laurel Chor/HKFP.

“Most people definitely understand that there are also white people, Westerners, that are also Hongkongers. I think that white chicks can get away with a lot of stuff in general, so if there’s an opportunity to stand up for what is right in a risky situation – where it is more risky for other people to do – then we should do it and we should leverage that privilege, and represent on their behalf, and take advantage of the minimised risk of being white and blonde and a chick.”

“I think that there is an increased risk for Hong Kong local people to have repercussions for [protesting], for sure. I mean I have a Swedish passport and I can go somewhere else if something were to happen. But other people don’t, and so they are actually risking a lot more.”

Shak, 24, maths teacher, born and raised in Hong Kong

“We’re ethnic minorities but we’re still Hongkongers at the end of the day. I was born here, I was raised here, I consider myself a Hongkonger. I’m not Chinese, but these are all my people at the same time, we’re all still fighting the same cause. 

Samir Laurel Chor
Shak. Photo: Laurel Chor/HKFP.

“[W]hether ethnic minorities or locals, we’re all the same here, it doesn’t really affect me differently to how it affects everyone else here actually. This whole issue is really unifying us all. “

Samir, 23, in retail, third-generation ethnically Indian Hongkonger

We’re not ethnically Chinese, so immediately people think we’re not from here. But this is home. My family has been here for three generations. If I have kids this will be home, so if we don’t stand up now, who’s going to stand up for them?

“Minorities, we’re kind of outcasts. We’re not Hongkongers, we’re not international expats, so we’re kind of that middle ground. That’s what I appreciate being here [at the protests], it’s that everyone is united towards a common goal – no matter where your ethnic background. We’re all unified behind one cause, which is to better Hong Kong.”

Correction: 11.6.19: The caption of the final image in this piece was corrected on July 11.

Laurel Chor is an award-winning journalist and National Geographic Explorer from Hong Kong. As a photographer, writer and filmmaker, she focuses on stories about China’s impact on the environment around the planet.