They called me a Chink and spat at me. No one helped
An Irish-Vietnamese girl growing up in Ireland gets used to racial slurs. But being spat on this week was a new low
“My name is Úna. I’m from Kerry and because I don’t look like the average Irish person I am sometimes insulted, humiliated and verbally abused.”
‘And you’re a f**king Chink!” That’s how I was greeted on Thursday while I was waiting for a friend outside a hotel in the middle of Dublin. As the group of teenage boys walked on, laughing, I replied in kind with an exasperated, “Oh, f**k off!” That was when one of the young boys grabbed my face, shook it and spat on me.
My name is Úna. I’m from Kerry and because I don’t look like the average Irish person I am sometimes insulted, humiliated and verbally abused.
I was born in Vietnam in 1991, adopted by a fantastic Kerry woman when I was six weeks old and have been in Ireland ever since. My adoptive grandfather, a native Irish speaker, taught the language to me from the age of three, so Irish was my first tongue. I’m more Irish than I will ever be Vietnamese, and I’m proud of that.
I’m 21, and over the years I’ve become desensitised to all the racial slurs thrown at me on a regular basis, but this was the first time I had been physically assaulted because of my race, and it shook me to the core. No one came to my aid, even on the bustling street where I was attacked.
Humiliated, I took took a step back and contemplated what had happened. I was just spat on, I thought; someone actually spat at me. I wiped the spit out of my hair, but it stuck to my clothes and face. The anger began to rise in my chest.
I immediately wanted to tackle the close-mindedness of those in a nation that prides itself on being “welcoming”. There and then, to me, it truly was a lie.
There was no way I was going to let this sit. I posted my outrage online within minutes. The reaction was swift and immense; I was showered with support and expressions of horror. I also reported the incident to the Garda.
Disgusting and foolish
What these teenage boys did was unacceptable, disgusting and foolish. I shouldn’t need to hide or feel scared in my own country. I’ve the right to be able to call myself Irish; sure, if anyone talked to me they’d hear a strong Kerry accent. I am an Irish citizen, and nothing will change that.
This is far from the first time I’ve been racially abused. I couldn’t even count how many times “ching chong” or “slanty eyes” insults have been thrown my way.
Thursday’s attack brought to mind another incident that occurred while I was a student.
On a Dublin bus some young boys continually yelled “Konichiwa” in my direction, then laughed uncontrollably. Konichiwa is a Japanese greeting, and I’m not Japanese. Though I firmly told them to stop, their parents simply looked on.
It’s a cliche, but to prevent events like these, racism and hate must be tackled at home. If you’re a parent and you hear your child making a throwaway, backhanded comment, you need to tell them it’s not okay to say that.
I’m very grateful for the support I’ve received both online and off. It’s so important for people to realise that we live in an Ireland that’s multiculturally diverse, where hatred, ignorance and abuse will not be tolerated.
My friends don’t care where I’m from. As far as they’re concerned I’m Irish and from Kerry, and the fact that I look “different” means nothing to them. We’re friends, and that’s that.
I know a lot of other Vietnamese adoptees, and I sincerely hope they don’t experience such harassment, but I really doubt they’ll be free of it.
I don’t believe Ireland is a racist society, but racists live among us. People are living in ignorance not just in Dublin but across the country.
Do I hate the young boys who abused me racially and spat in my face? Absolutely not. I pity them and I pity their parents. They clearly have no idea of the richness a multicultural society can bring. They’re missing out on life.
Úna-Minh Kavanagh is a journalist who blogs at unakavanagh.com/blog