ESEA Heritage Month: a poem

On 1st September, ESEA Heritage Month – which was started by b.esean (Britain’s East and Southeast Asian Network) – will enter its second year. I’m really excited to see this special month take off, to help celebrate and honour ESEA (East and Southeast Asian) people and communities across the UK, their heritage, cultures and their contributions to British society.

As you will probably know if you know me or have been following this blog, I am a strong advocate for the ESEA community, ESEA representation and anti-Asian (especially ESEA) hate. However, this time should not be confined to just one month, but the rest of the year, where we are not forgotten about and consistently included in the country’s diverse society.

I hope you enjoy this poem I have written which also marks my 100th blog post on Tan’s Topics. Click the links to read my previous poem, Dear people who try to silence our voices and my post Stop Asian and East Hate. And if you work for an organisation looking to help better support and include your ESEA colleagues, read how to here.

Green Day sang “Wake me up when September ends”,
But this September I want to stay awake.
I want to stay awake for a movement I hope will carry on,
A movement that will within people a change shake.

ESEA Heritage Month will celebrate and honour Britain's East and Southeast Asians,
Their heritage, culture, history and everything in between.
It’s a chance for ESEA people to celebrate themselves,
To stand up, be heard and be seen.

For far too long we have been negatively lumped together or conflated,
The unchallenged butt of “banter” and jokes.
We’ve been “othered” and assumed afraid of doing something,
Without people realising or caring about the hurt that it evokes.

In everyday life we are often forgotten,
Believed by some to be better off or our experiences are pushed aside.
But that couldn’t be further from the truth,
For it only creates further problems and a bigger divide.

But together we are one million-plus strong,
And if there’s anything the last two years have taught us all,
It’s that people will only really take notice,
When we no longer stay silent and finally stand tall.

It’s important to celebrate and embrace your cultural and linguistic differences,
Whether you’re Chinese, Japanese, Korean or Thai,
But we mustn’t give into the division and unite together,
Whether you’re from Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines or Brunei.

We must support each other,
As much as we need support from allies.
So my message to non ESEA people is,
Open your minds, open your ears and open your eyes.

You love Thai food and China’s wonders,
You love K-Pop music and Japanese animation,
The government loves our contribution to society and the economy,
But fails to acknowledge our pain and our frustration.

Without your understanding of the experiences we go through,
Without your empathy of how we have been made to feel,
Without your voice and presence alongside ours,
Our movement will never take the wheel.

So here’s to an exciting ESEA Heritage Month,
But it’s not just about us being noticed and honoured for thirty days,
It should be a catalyst for 365 days every year,
Where we are uplifted and not left behind in any way.

© Choon Young Tan/陈俊扬

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