That Foreigner Poem

Paddington Bear was a dirty Latino

from the darkest of dark Peru.

Then he got saved by that nice English family

who taught him to speak Proper,

dressed him in a mac and Wellington boots.

Now he’s cuddly, tame and cultured,

fits in so well with their living room!

Then again, who am I to judge?

I mean, I’m not that different myself:

Just swap the marmalade for marijuana,

the macintosh for dreads and Doc Marten boots,

and I’m just another Londoner in Paddington station:

your token Oriental girl for hire

to make your subculture look diverse!

Fitting in so well with your shabby-chic furniture

and the latest gypsy folk-punk band.

See, we all like our foreigners ‘different’

but only in such a way that we can understand.

Just enough to call ourselves ‘tolerant’,

but not so much that we get out of hand.

Because beneath every rallying call for diversity

is that throbbing baseline beat:

Foreigner go home, foreigner go home, foreigner go home,

unless you’re serious about being just like me.

Then again, maybe I’m being too cynical,

I mean, I like the way I tweak my accent,

choose my clothes and cut my hair.

I like the looks I get when I go back home

as people stop and stare, muttering,

just another middle-class asshole,

corrupted  by the West.

 

But these days I’m more likely to get flak

back home for how I speak Chinese,

see, my Mandarin’s tainted by a Beijing drawl

from making too many friends

who happen to have been born there.

These days, people tend to glare,

asking, are you PRC*?

Meaning: how much can I respect you?

Are you one of us? Are you about to spit?

Did you shower in the past week?

Can I end this conversation now?

Didn’t you know, it’s the latest threat

to Singapore today: this flood of

People’s Republic-born Chinese,

out to flaunt their nouveau-richness

steal your husband, your job, your baby!

Because xenophobia is a meme,

found in every country.

I wish it WAS confined to

Daily Mail readers from Essex,

but its been here throughout history,

ever since the first Neanderthal

saw the first Homo Sapiens getting off

a boat from Africa and grunted,

hey, you’re not from here.

Then devolved into complaints

about too many Jewish and Irish people

clogging up London’s streets

Then it was the Italians, the South Asians,

the Eastern Europeans: its like

every generation there’s a new culture

to discover, to blame, to hate.

And in the end, its not even being from

‘over there’, more like a constant test,

a list of boxes you must tick:

like passport colour, skin colour, accent,

language, clothes, most important:

how long it takes for you to get

one of their jokes.

You only pass when someone says

THEY CAN’T DEPORT YOU,

YOU’RE MORE BRITISH THAN ME!

(but who is ‘them’ and who is ‘we’?)

And on and on and on it goes,

this constant litany, of

Foreigner go home, foreigner go home, foreigner go home

(but I’d really love to visit your village one day!)

Foreigner go home, foreigner go home, foreigner go home

(but leave us your cleaning skills, your football skills,

your takeaways, your lovely jewellery!)

Foreigner go home, foreigner go home, foreigner go home

(see I’ve always had this fantasy about, is it true that Asian girls…)

Foreigner go home, foreigner go home, foreigner go home

with me.

Because, Paddington Bear?

I bet even he gets tired of passing sometimes,

tired of playing that simpering, gentle toy

who should be so grateful to this country.

So keep your guilt, keep your ‘tolerance’

as if foreigners were alcohol,

so if you come across more than ten of us

in one night, you’re gonna start a pub brawl?

Keep your deep knowledge of my country.

I don’t even care if you’ve never heard of it before,

as long as you can imagine

a world before  they created West and East,

just drop your assumptions, read my lips

and listen when we speak.

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