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Human Rights
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Migration, East Asia, Immigrants, London, Vietnam, UK, China, Tradition
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This photographic documentary offers a glimpse into the lives of East Asians and the challenges they face in culturally integrating to European surroundings: the purpose being to increase understanding of minorities within western countries.
Wesley Law

1999 — student runner-up

Despite increased cultural awareness of people in East Asian countries, little may be known abut those same people who have immigrated to the west, possibly living next door. This photographic documentary offers a glimpse into the lives of East Asians and the challenges they face in culturally integrating into European surroundings: the purpose being to increase understanding of minorities within western countries. I will continue to document the work places, private lives, and social lives of a group of East Asians, children of immigrants or immigrants themselves, who are living and working in London. This documentary will not only open the closed doors of East Asians, but will illustrate their lives and cultures—speckled or completely transformed by western icons and influences.

This groups of East Asians I am photographing consist of brothers Jackie, Hui, Minhh and Sang, Sang’s wife Maggie, and their friends, Dung (pronounced, “young”) and Hung. They are the first East Asians in their families to grow up in Europe. They now have the challenges of maintaining their own ancestral heritage, yet co-existing with the rest of the western world. The western world surrounding them influences their style of dress, traditions, professions, lifestyles and habits. They hold jobs as stereotypical as cooks in a Chinese take-away to the less stereotypical as social workers. Socio-economic differences exist even within this small social circle. Through understanding their lives and cultural influences, we may have a better understanding for those who enter a country unlike their own, and compassion in their struggle to adapt and start over.

Most of the existing work comes from Sang and Maggie’s wedding, but I am also spending time with the brothers and their friends in all aspects of their lives. Recreation, jobs, Chinese holidays, European holidays and relationships are areas in their lives which I will continue to photograph. These photographs will reveal the integration that occurs and the challenges they face. I am currently living in London and will be continuing this project through the spring semester. I hope the completion of this project will bring about an understanding in the people of East Asian cultures living and working within western communities.

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Lion dancers for the Mid Autumn Festival in Chinatown continued on to Shaftesbury Avenue in Central London. Though London holds more than 15 million people, the population and distribution of the East Asian community is miniscule compared to that of (west) Asian immigrants. Chinatown holds less than 4% of the total East Asian population in London. Wesley Law/Alexia Foundation
After the sun goes down, street performers and palm readers such as Mr. Quan appear on Gerrard Street, the central street in Chinatown. Phillip Hewell, from North London, is getting his palm read while his friend, Mrs. Ng, originally from China, watches from behind. Wesley Law/Alexia Foundation
The Chinese Fiddle is one traditional art taught at the Chinese Community Centre in Chinatown. Music, language and art are offered by a few organizations in Chinatown and Soho in order to preserve and maintain Chinese culture in London. Wesley Law/Alexia Foundation
Karaoke and dancing lasted late into the night at the Vietnamese Community Centre in Southwark, South London. This party was held for the annual NGO meeting that reviewed the performance and status of the Community Centre in its involvement with the community. The meeting lasted for 30 minutes. Wesley Law/Alexia Foundation
Sang Tu (left) drinks while wearing a traditional gown worn by the bachelor the night before his wedding, as his long-time friend, John Fielding (center) drinks with him. According to tradition, Sang is supposed to wear the gown throughout the night but he removed it soon after this photograph was taken. This and many other traditions are slowly losing themselves as East Asian immigrants integrate into Western/European society. Wesley Law/Alexia Foundation
Maggie waits in the car while Sang rounds up everyone to proceed to his parent's flat in Peckham for the tea ceremony. The homes in the background are part of the Develo Mingh district in Barking, just east of London. Maggie and Sang purchased their Barking home four months before the wedding and have been living there since. Maggie works as a waitress in a Chinese restaurant in the Docklands and Sang works as a mechanical engineer. Wesley Law/Alexia Foundation
Fried crab legs was one of the many exotic dishes served during the wedding banquet of over 200 guests. The over abundance of food and the number of guests serve to show prosperity and wealth in Chinese culture. Wesley Law/Alexia Foundation
In between orders and cooking at the take-away, Jackie, Jr. sits and chats with his girlfriend, Marrion while his father prepares for future dishes. Sang and Mingh were the only brothers in the Tu family to get university degrees. For Sang and Mingh to go to university, Jackie, Jr. and Hui did not. They made sacrifices in order for the family to afford the fees and tuition. Wesley Law/Alexia Foundation
The games still go on after the badminton match has been played. Hua, nicknamed Gandhi, flirts with his girlfriend, Katherine. Wesley Law/Alexia Foundation
Chinese New Years appeared in February as a girl practices a flower dance for the Vietnamese Community Centre's celebrations. Wesley Law/Alexia Foundation