Chapter 10. Speaking of identity?
Young people’s constructions of the relationship between language and ethnic identity is discussed, drawing on data from 60 British-Chinese complementary school attendees, and 38 young people of Chinese/mixed heritage that constructed themselves as not being able to speak Chinese. Those young people attending Chinese complementary school strongly foregrounded fluency in heritage language as essential to Chinese identity. Indeed some of these young people drew on moral and nationalistic discourses to challenge the possibility of identification as ‘Chinese’ without fluency in ‘mother tongue’. However, it was also found that, for those young people not able to speak the language, this did not preclude their identification as Chinese: these young people drew on a range of signifiers of Chinese culture, connection, and engagement to position themselves as wholly or partly ‘Chinese’. The impact of the different diasporic family histories for the two sample groups is discussed in relation to the young people’s different constructions, and theoretical implications of the findings considered. It is argued that, despite discourses that produce idealised notions of ‘essential’ features of Chinese culture, in practice young people demonstrate agency in their diverse productions and understandings of ‘Chineseness’.