A Shakti Youth member discusses her experiences of being in an emotionally abusive relationship and the importance for everyone to recognise the impact.
In an alternate universe where every victim is safe from their abuser, not questioned and able to receive support from their network. I would be confident to stand up and speak about my experiences, but unfortunately, this has not been the case and I have to remain anonymous. In a white-dominated society like New Zealand, where women of colour already face a number of barriers, it’s difficult to be heard and even more difficult to be taken seriously. Documented below is an account of what happened when I was only 19, it’s been 3 years now and I’d like to share this with you.
Since I was a teenager my mother would warn me, “be careful of boys, you never know when they’ll take advantage of you”. I always took in her words with a grain of salt. I was young and thought I was alert enough to know if something bad were to happen. Years later I was proven wrong. You never realise how being young makes you susceptible and vulnerable to a lot of things. They taught us in year 10 health classes that “abuse” was always defined by physical actions, it meant bruises on your body and to call an 0800 helpline when you felt unsafe. It seemed straightforward, always something you could pinpoint with the human eye. But they never addressed a less visible side of intimate partner violence: emotional abuse.
I was only 14 when I first met him, he was in a long term relationship at the time with another girl. We ended up going to different high schools but met again through mutual friends at a music festival, I was 19 at the time. We started messaging and arranged to have coffee. It seemed like we had a lot in common: art, music, film, politics, feminism, we were both from Chinese migrant families too and bonded over our personal conflicts with conservative Chinese culture. Honestly, Auckland is such a small community it seemed like a miracle at the time to have found someone with similar interests and was from the same diasporic background. Little did I know it would be my worst mistake to date. You know what they say, when you start dating someone everything is perfect, it’s only up till you’ve know them for longer and all the true colours come out.
It didn’t take long before the first red flag came up, it was a rainy day when he came to visit me after class. He was well known within the East Asian community at my university, we bumped into his friends who invited us to a birthday party later that night, I said I didn’t mind going. But I was confused at the words that later escaped his mouth. He pulled me aside and told me I was too socially awkward and unable to interact with people, that it was better he went alone. Sure, I was upset but I overlooked it. At that very moment I even contemplated if there was something wrong with me. This didn’t happen once but continuously through our relationship. I didn’t realise I was actively being put down, my mental health was at one of its lowest points to date. He used that against me too, he treated my anxiety like a daily conversational topic asking if he could translate my experiences into an art project he was creating.
The mind games continued, and he would make me feel guilty about not being a “good girlfriend” and helping him. I was working a minimum wage customer service job at the time, trying to support myself and save up for future plans of going overseas. Once he found out I had weekly income, he constantly asked me to buy him food, cigarettes and alcohol, promising to pay it back, but he never did, even when we broke up. He constantly complained about not having money for daily expenses, he told me he didn’t want a part time job as it was against his “anti-capitalist”, leftist beliefs. Which I’m now relieved that I can finally say, what a load of bullshit. When I refused to help him financially he would tell me I didn’t care about him. The abuse wasn’t just through financial control, he was studying at a well known media design school at the time, and would manipulate me into helping him design his art and ghost write his essays. Telling me it was my duty to help him, claiming I was selfish if I said I had my own work to do.
I was already involved in feminist and political activism during the relationship. I was halfway through my degree and specialised in women’s issues within the Asia region. He claimed that he was interested in what I was doing, and learning more about feminism. I believed him and explained the basics of feminist philosophy. Little did I know it was another strategy used to put me down and raise his ego. He would ask about my research or an opinion on a social issue, then debate with me until he’d put me down in every single way possible. He thrived off the pleasure of “winning” a debate, later I would find out that he told a close friend of mine that I was “mentally capped” and incapable of “higher levels” of thinking. He constantly questioned my abilities of being a feminist activist, making up his own theories on feminism as he believed there was not a need to place women’s experiences first. They say never trust any man who claims to be a “feminist”, now I can safely say I am never going down that path again. Throughout all of this, I was unaware that he was eroding away my sense of self worth and security, which in turn had a significant impact on my everyday life.
It wasn’t just my politics which came under attack. In the course of our relationship we spoke about our families and how we both wanted to be reconnected to Chinese heritage. He found out that my family carried out Taoist ancestor worship whenever we visited my grandparents’ graves back home, he was really interested in it so I told him and his friends about the process. He started asking for more and more information about Chinese spiritual beliefs and values, which he had no knowledge of at the time, and coincidentally all of it turned up in his final year art project. I was sick to my stomach when I found out that my personal beliefs were stolen and aestheticised.
Towards the end of the relationship I’d picked up social smoking, drinking habits, I went out till 2am on most weekdays. I was told by him and his friends that I was boring when I didn’t show up. But now it becomes clearer and clearer that I was manipulated into all of this. He never cared about me, the relationship was a game of power and control. He took advantage of my kindness and misused my trust. He started telling me that other women were attractive and how he had feelings towards them, including one of my closest friends at the time. I wanted to leave but kept being manipulated into staying. Through the duration of our relationship he had ingrained himself into my circle of friends, making it impossible for me to escape his presence. I became helpless. I thought it all came to an halt when he cheated on me, finding out on social media that he was seeing my friend. I finally had the courage to block him. Putting a stop to what I’d had enough of.
Little did I know, he’d continue to harass me, continuously asking mutual friends about me and contacting me on other forms of social media. He’d joined the feminist group at my university for people of colour and integrated into the circle, I felt unsafe to set foot on campus knowing that a space I once felt comfortable in was taken up by my former abuser. I had no one to reach out to and no one to help hold him accountable. Friends around me never understood the seriousness and damage inflicted by this relationship, I wish they did. He reached out to me again a few months later, apologising for his mistakes, this would be the first of many. He said he still cared about me and had the audacity to ask for a second chance, but through an open relationship. At that point I’d distanced myself from everything and was lost in direction, I didn't give him a response, only to find out he’d told people he was pitying me because I was so “obsessed” him. I wasn’t. I was uncomfortable, afraid and I needed people to see that I was reaching out for help.
I tried extremely hard to move on, I found a supportive partner and was finally in a good, stable relationship. For the longest time he still tried to contact me, using my mental health and social circle as ways to manipulate and blackmail me. I would see him at parties after he had a few drinks and he would become really physical, trying to hold my hand or wrap his arm around me. At first he hid the truth, telling everyone that we just “didn’t work out” or that it was “complicated”. He even told one person he “loved me” while all of this took place. It was these types of lies which he used to build his image within the community, later using it to portray me as unreliable and even malicious. Later he started telling everyone the relationship was a two-way street, that I was somehow to blame for his abusive actions. For the longest time he made me feel like I had something to hide about my past, but in reality I knew I had nothing to be ashamed of.
It’s been two years since all of this has happened, and it still makes me anxious to bump into him at gigs or catch him with people I used to consider friends. In all honesty, I’m still trying to find closure. It was difficult to recall these events and write about them. But as time passes by it has become easier for me to speak about it. I’m grateful to have a group like Shakti Youth who have supported me through this. I can’t stress the importance for everyone out there, especially young women, to learn about the symptoms of emotional abuse and the mental trauma it can cause. It sickens me to imagine how people I may never meet will continue to buy into his philosophy. And it sickens me more that his social media continues to reflect the same superiority complex he used to police my actions. This relationship has yet again reminded me that just like white men, men of colour are equally as capable of inflicting physical and emotional harm which continues to affect women in society. I would later find out how he had inflicted similar abusive patterns towards other women of colour in the community.
Although this past relationship has showed me the difficulty of holding an abuser accountable on a communal level, for those of you having a difficult time out there, do remember there is always someone willing to believe you, give you love, security and support. If someone ever approaches you to warn you about an abuser in the community, don’t turn a blind eye. It’s not a trivial matter, it’s not gossip, nor is it a green light for you to contact the abuser to confirm what has happened. Please be mindful that you could put another person’s safety at risk. There’s consequences, and it’s not as easy as you think for someone to have the courage to open up about their experiences.
And finally to all the women reading this, please always remember that you deserve plenty. You deserve someone willing to respect you when you speak, someone willing to respect your intellect and someone that doesn’t tread on you like you’re worthless. Speak up and don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise!
Dear My Beautiful Rainbow Siblings,
I am also rainbow… just like you.
I know what it is like to feel confused by your sexuality, and even question about it. Asking yourself whether you are still “normal” or it is a “sin”?
I know how stressful it is to be accused by our parents for being “too western” due to your sexuality.
I truly to understand how painful it is to be shunned, shamed, abused, hit or even disowned by your parents just because of your sexuality.
I can truly relate to how traumatising it is to be blamed or punished by our loved ones at home for the claim of your religion.
I know what it is like to feel like as if you were born “different” from other people.
I know what it is like that you have to “police” what you wear and act in order to conform with the “mainstream” gender norms, because you are afraid of your parents might shame or hit you... It’s frustrating.
I understand what it is like to feel lonely and isolated from your family, parents, friends, loved ones and community, as if you are alone in this world.
But, I’m writing this (open) letter to say you are NEVER ALONE.
You are the MOST BEAUTIFUL and BRAVE person on earth; the one who is being true to himself/herself and themselves despite what society says.
Yes, this might be the hardest time of your life, especially with your parents and family members. Some of you might have really supportive and accepting families, and that would be such a relief! For many of you, you might be struggling with how your families, religious or cultural community view sexuality and gender. But there is a community of us around you that can support you, that be your chosen family.
You are just the BRAVEST, GREATEST and most BEAUTIFUL person in just the way you are. These challenges will there but we can be there for each other and we are in this together.
Never give up. Never ever give up. Don’t forget to love yourself.
You don’t need to “come out” and “fight against” your parents and others in order to demand for the acceptance from them. It could be risky. Instead, love and accept your “beautiful rainbow” self.
Remember, you’re just like the “rainbow”, shining through the dark sky of grief.
That’s why we call ourselves “rainbow”, because we are resilient and beautiful beings.
Keep Smiling =)
Love from your Rainbow Big Sister,
For additional mental and cultural supports for LGBT migrant youth:
1. Shakti (if you Asian, Middle Eastern of African and are experiencing family violence, call 0800 SHAKTI)
2. Rainbow Youth, a charity a charity which provides advocacy and social supports for LGBT youth.
3. EquAsian (social support group for Asians)
4. OutLine (0800 OUTLINE: telephone counselling)
Draw a picture for the Asian Girl to Be among
Other portraits of the Others that don’t look wrong
To collective eyes that seek where we belong
We’re all made to be the Asian Girl™ at a point, space or headspace in time. That perspective never stemmed from our own eyes. The self-consciousness of alienation experienced by a migrant woman of colour growing up in Aotearoa has always uncomfortably blanketed our psyche, as we looked in the mirror and saw what ‘they’ would assume of us.
When I was 8, I’d listen to pop radio stations all day. I wanted to be a part of the same white girl choruses, melodies, words and world that my Pākehā classmates seemed to live in. This world was a place of comfort in being, where they could just be the default ‘girl’ instead of being a “_*ethnicity here*_ girl’. A sense of hyper awareness rose in my subconscious- dooming me to a future of shyness, aka unnecessary humility and silence, aka regrets of the words I wish I’d said to defend myself, affirm myself, accept myself and allow myself. Thus begins our formative years in search and struggle for the validation of being heard and visible- as a ‘token’, rejection and rebellion against their culture then our culture and a further couple years in undoing the internalised racism and sexism along the way.
I never heard a Korean (other than PSY) or any other East Asian artist on New Zealand radio stations or saw anyone looking like me on the TV screen unless they were blended into the background or only had one dimension. Our colours were absent on the sparse canvas of diversity and as a result I felt absent from opportunities to ever make and perform my own music. The vast majority of people I ever saw perform their music with a confidence that expected attention- were Pākehā and boys. Compared to the privilege of their presence, my music seemed too personal and quiet to present my voice and my words. But I came to learn that It’s unhealthy to bite your tongue in such a way that the words you hold in sprout as failed crops, withering from a lack of allowance from those around you who do not accept nor try to see the wholeness of your being.
We are Asian girls and our identities and cultures don’t have a trademark. Our own essence and experiences shouldn’t be covered by self-consciousness, but expressed in awareness and allowance. The art you make is therapeutic, validating, empowering and highly communicative in speaking your truth. In the art we allow ourselves to create and put out there are the movements of expression that links our perceived experiences, identities, culture and language as multifaceted and creatively unique women of colour to that of our sisters, mothers, aunties and grandmothers.
We can create what we want to, all by ourselves. The independent age of ‘bedroom artists’ allows us to hold total authority over the art we can make. Whether you write poems in your notebook, produce music using cracked programmes to upload to soundcloud or post your art to instagram, feel a very rightful and deserved pride in your work.
By Yery Cho
You can check out Yery's band Imugi 이무기's Vacasian EP on their Soundcloud.
Our respected parents , Uncles, Aunts and our respected teachers -
May I ask you all question?
Do the youth matter to you or does the growth and nourishment of youth matter to you in any way?
When we talk we are told to keep quiet.
When we state that we are getting bullied or we are not feeling secure in our schools, we are told to keep quiet because it is really common so JUST IGNORE it.
Have you ever thought how those words will affect us . .
These words makes us supportless, helpless.
Because we are encouraged to keep quite and tolerate it. Do you think it is a good idea to tolerate and let it go the way it is so that it can destroy our futures by affecting us mentally and physically.
Our dear adults, have you ever thought about who will look after this world, after this country, after this community, if we are not in the state that we are physically fit and healthy.
You all are at the age where you will have experienced this already in your teenage years.
You have lots of knowledge that you can help us to put an end on these activities going on around us.
We say that “Youth are the seeds of life." No one can get roots or fruits without seeds. Without the roots we cannot stand and without fruits we cannot grow.
In science you would have heard that for a seed to germinate, the seeds need a moist environment. It needs space, water and sunlight to grow.
That is all we want so that we can have a better future, so that we can have a better future for ourselves and our next generations.
All we need to germinate is space, your light of knowledge and the water of encouragement and the path that can help us to stop things like discrimination, cyber bullying, bullying so that we can have a bright future and we can get strong roots and sweet fruits.
My dear friends who are going through bullying and discrimination. The interesting thing is, we expect that someone else is going to come and fight for us to not get bullied or be discriminated against.
We are not so small that we cannot understand that we cannot expect someone else to come and stand up for us when we are not standing for ourselves because we have surrendered ourselves to our fears.
How can we expect that someone else will come and give us respect when we don't respect ourselves?
The best way to stop all this is to stand up for yourself by freeing yourself from the prison of fear.
Use DNA for that.
Now by DNA I don't mean deoxyribonucleic acid.
By DNA I mean Decide Now and Act.
Free yourself from the slavery of fear and raise your voices.
By keeping respect to time, in my conclusion our respected elders please guide us with your light of knowledge and experiences so that we can fully finish all sorts of violence and discrimination in our community and my dear friends don ́t expect that someone else will help you with your problems if you don't stand up for yourself.
“YOUTH ARE SEEDS OF LIFE YOU CANNOT GET YOUR FRUITS OR YOUR ROOTS WITHOUT THE NOURISHMENT OF THE SEEDS.”
-- This piece was written and presented by Siddhi at the 2017 Youth March in Auckland.
It drives on ignorance, it thrives on stereotypical thoughts that consume our minds when interacting with those who differ from us.
It thrives on prejudice
It thrives on difference
This is discrimination
It comes in form of intimidation, abuse, violence , threat and humiliation
Discrimination isn’t about abomination, it's straight up hateration
Discrimination against gender
Discrimination against race
Discrimination against religion
Ethnicity, sexuality and diversity
It's a disgrace why hate, why can't we just appreciate differences everywhere you go, everywhere you look and check it out everywhere you are there's somebody different even in the slightest way.
I mean can you imagine walking down the street and having people stare at you for no reason just out of blue or talk behind your back and even shoot a bullet in your back, because of your complexion and the fact that you are coming out of gas station with a pack of skittles in a kind of Arizona.
I see in your possession there are Muslims, the Christians, the Sikhs and the Jews but they are all human just like you and let you know why do we feel like we have rights to discriminate, so bullies laugh - I look down and desegregate.
We are all equal no one has right to intimidate or dominate and because a Muslim girl has to cover her body. Does she deserves to be victim of the hate?
Genocide and apartheid slavery based on a warped sense of superiority war it makes me want to cry so why can’t we just get along, see before us who they are, not how they differ from us.
It drives on ignorance, it thrives on stereotypical thoughts that consume our minds when interacting with those who differ from us.
It thrives on prejudice
It thrives on difference
Discrimination, we need to think about and re-evaluate, why hate?
Why can’t we just appreciate and make a change on this here date.
This beautiful poem was written and performed by Gurpreet at the 2017 Youth March.
Also, telling me how disadvantaged they are as a way to build trust on me, and kind of get me to break down the wall I had put up to indicate he was a good person. This did work quite well to his advantage because I actually believed how good he was until I had gotten to know him from a deeper level, I started to see his rotten evil ways. Over the time I had gotten to know him we had lived together twice.
The second time was worse than the first because he forced me to take this pill that was against my consent, and forced it in my mouth. He physically abused me, stole a pair of my stockings, had visitors without my consent and he called the police to have me chased down with helicopters, police cars, and even dogs. I must admit that there were times that I had been aggressive too and a tad bit violent but it was a reaction to his action that I did not to know what do but was provoked. I felt like he had set up my life entirely, and forcing me to stay with his rules & regulations like a little slave as I had watched with human trafficking teens. The predators usually play a game on innocent young adults lives, and manipulate it with mind control games as I had watched.
My advice to young teens emerging from girls to women is to not let prince charming steal your heart so easily because it might be an illusion of love, get to know him for many years, and set your expectations as well as assurances in the relationship before you progress to moving in with him. PS: If you notice little symptoms that bug you like his eyes are open while your canoodling then, I suggest to leave him or if he says to move abroad or if he rushes the relationship to move forward.
First of all, I would like to thank all the people who came to this march for Youth Week. To begin with, New Zealand is a multicultural nation. 19% of people living in Auckland are Asian. They came to New Zealand since it is known as the country that accepts difference. I came here for the same reason.
I imagined about New Zealand before I came here. The nation where all people have equal lives. The nation where everyone communicates with each other with no difficulties. Helping each other when needed. No ignorance. Happier life-style.
However, the reality was different. There was lots of discrimination happening. Discrimination happens when people are not treated equally. So why do people treat others differently? I think the biggest reason is the difference.
Racial discrimination is happening a lot in New Zealand. These includes different skin colours, ethnicity, race, nationality, religion beliefs and so on. 55% of the people who got discriminated reported that they got discriminated against on these factors. Also, Asians report the highest levels of racial discrimination which is 20% of all ethnicities in New Zealand according to my research.
I had also experienced racial discrimination. On the first day I came here which is 19th of January, I wanted to have some ice cream. So, I went in the McDonalds and ordered the 1 ice cream I had in mind. Unfortunately, the waitress who took my order ignored me even though I spoke really loud. Therefore, it took 15 minutes to order. The wait is not important, but the thing I was upset about was her behaviour.
I dream for my second home country New Zealand to be much a better place with no discrimination. I know that it will not be solved in one day. I think the fastest way to solve this problem is to show our existence. We have to prove that we have equal lives.
So how can we show our existence? We can hold lots of activities like protests or festivals. Or we can volunteer for New Zealand. This shows the appreciation we have for New Zealand. I end my speech with dreaming of a much better place.
- This speech was written and presented by June at Youth March 2017. A copy of this speech, and the others presented at the march, can be purchased in the first issue of S.Y.N.C. zine.
I’m willing to bet a dollar that everybody here has been acquainted with a member of youth. If I win, pay up the 78 cents and I will buy a helping of avocado toast while taking selfies on snapchat with the dog filter for all my friends to ignore.
My name is Lily and I’m a member of the worst generation known to man. It’s okay, you can say the word. Post-millennial. You know, the zombie-resembling ones with an overwhelming obsession with their phones, texting, tweeting, instagramming, snapchatting, and god forbid, political activism.
Yes, you heard me right. The generation who can barely vote, are actually more politically engaged than their predecessors. Looking at recent events on the news, there is no absence of resistance from all over the globe, especially from younger demographics, as they are the ones leading the marches, campaigning to be heard and fighting back oppression. Their actions makes me so honoured to be standing here before all of you today, representing the youth community of Aotearoa.
Since voting is a luxury available only to those who are legally able, younger people, like me, have been congregating online on a pursuit for better understanding of what is going on the the world. Not to put my extremely intelligent parents down, but everything I’ve learnt about social justice, is from teenage girls on the internet. They have been raising awareness for important issues through accessible social media networks and it’s spreading everywhere, thus raising a generation who are not afraid to challenge outdated societal norms, such as sexism, racism, ableism, classism; a range of oppressive overlapping systems to maintain a hierarchy to keep certain groups above others. Must I remind you, these are formed prior to the existence of millennials and were upheld by previous generations. We want to dismantle these systems to establish equity for everybody and we don’t care if an old person afraid of change and is against our agenda because human rights matters more than one’s ego.
Most adults underestimate us and our capabilities, because they live by the misconception that children lack comprehension of the world’s problems. Maybe some of us do, which is why it’s crucial that we never stop educating ourselves on what is happening around us, as it probably will directly or indirectly impact our lives. Knowing about the world, as messed up as it is, allows for learning from past mistakes so we can progress as a society. Hopefully a society that is better than the one we are currently living in.
We, as a generation, have a responsibility to surpass those before us. Don’t let the title of “first independent country to grant women’s suffrage” fool you, as we still have a long way to go.
We have an advantage too; the internet. With one convenient google search, you can find out everything you need to know and more, such as our unacceptably high domestic violence rates, sanitary products taxed as luxury items, child poverty, mass homelessness; it’s no picnic. Let us no longer hide behind the facade that Aotearoa is perfect, and start fighting for change.
- One of the speeches from the 2017 Shakti Youth March, presented and written by Lily. Images taken from Lily's instagram. You can follow her here.
that of love,
the choice of it
over hate -
- This piece was performed and written by Brecon for Youth March 2017.
I’d like to tell you a story about one of my Chinese friends who’s lived in New Zealand since she was very young. She decided that she wanted to swap her English class for Chinese. To say the least, her English teacher did not take it very well. That same day in class, the same teacher said, “A girl left English to do Chinese to get more E credits for med school.” My friend has no intention of being a doctor. The teacher had made assumptions based purely on my friend’s ethnicity. After all, don’t all Chinese students want to be doctors, isn’t that the stereotype? This is only one example, but I could stand up here and give several more examples of incidents similar to this.
Discrimination occurs far too often within society, whether it is just one small comment or a racist fuelled hate crime. One comment may seem harmless but words are very powerful weapons and speaking from personal experience, these comments hurt and they can really affect you long after they’re been made. One comment can completely deplete your self-esteem level and confidence, leaving behind the shell of the person that was there and it takes a long time to get over it and the worst part of it is guilt and anger. Why guilt? Guilt comes from believing that maybe, somehow, you did do something wrong, that you somehow provoked an attack by someone, that you somehow brought it upon yourself. Why anger? Why not? Because of the unfairness of such people that exist within our society and somehow gain satisfaction from demeaning other people.
However, you do thankfully eventually realise that it was not your fault and your only fault is existing and being yourself. You also realise that you have just as much right to be there as someone else and that nobody has the right to judge you and automatically make assumptions about you as a person. It takes a long time for people to realise these truths and many people are constantly living in fear that they will be judged.
However, one positive thing that I have learnt from my experiences is that change can be made. I strongly believe that change starts with you as an individual. We can all play our small part in making the world a much better place. Every single one of us here right now can start by trying to stop judging other people, we don’t know other’s people life stories, we don’t know what they have seen, done or been through. The best thing we can offer, is an open mind and no judgement. Taking these small steps ourselves, we can all change our mindsets, which can lead to an overall change in attitude in society and things such as racism and discrimination will be heard about less and less frequently. When I was 15, I arrived home in tears, after sitting in a bus in front of a woman who was whispering behind me “Go back to where you came from” and other things like that. Now, I would talk to my 15 year old self and using an idea rom Renee Liang’s poem “banana,” I would say to her the next time someone makes a racist comment toward you, remember, “It doesn’t tell them anything about you, but it sure tells you something about them."
“Count our voices, our voices count.”
- Written by Leanne. Another one of the brilliant speeches shared at the Youth March 2017.