By Jessie Yang
When I set foot on the Chung Hom Kok beach, sounds of chanting and singing already filled the place with joy and excitement. In front of me was a group of domestic workers dressed in hand-made outfits from recycled material. They were practicing their cheerleading routine for the competition today, which they have been preparing for a month.
Domestic Worker Empowerment Program (DWEP) organized this sports fest which involved around 300 domestic workers in Hong Kong. The event lasted for a whole day, from “muses” competition, cheerleading performances to track and field. “It’s not about competition, but about unity, being friends with each other and supporting each other.” Mike, the founder of DWEP said in the opening.
I came here by myself, hoping to document this event, but it was something more than I expected. Once the participants began singing the Philippine national anthem and saying their oath, I realized it was true that the event was more than just a competition. It was a demonstration of strength that arises from their happiness of participation
“It is interesting to see how this small island is filled with different values; different people can give you entirely distinctive perspectives of success and life.” Guillaume, an exchange student from France, told me. It took him almost two hours to get here from his university. The eagerness to explore the heart of Hong Kong brought him to this sports festival, and to understand more about domestic workers, who take up nearly 5% of the Hong Kong population but without receiving the recognition they deserve.
Guillaume and I were assigned as the judges for “muses” and cheerleading competitions. “I felt a little uncomfortable about what we are doing,” he said. I told him I felt the same way as well. As the six contestants introducing themselves, showcasing talents, and giving a speech about sustainability and women empowerment, it became clear where my discomfort came from: my privilege to be a part of their sports festival.
I mean, what gave me the right to intrude into an event, even judge the people who prepared so hard to be the representative of their community; practiced so long to bond with each other and achieved glory?
They greeted me with warm smiles and accepted me as a friend, even though I was an outsider. The uncomfortable feeling I had is the fear of ruining this event, even being in the center of attention just because I was the guest. The attention should be theirs.
From time to time, I felt like an outsider as a Taiwanese in Hong Kong, and even when I went back to my hometown it was hard for me to readapt to its values. All these years of experience as an outsider and being with people of different cultures gave me the eagerness to search for a sense of belonging. However, now I realized how privileged I am to be present and witness the things happening around me. I am thankful for being an outsider in this sports festival because I had the opportunity to see how domestic workers in Hong Kong became the protagonists in this special event and live out their self-worth.
Their commitment in the cheerleading competitions and track and field touched me. The sun was burning hot, and I imagine how hard it was to walk on the beach where eyes could barely open wide and their clothes full of sweat. The bumpy sand tripped some participants over, but they stood up anyway. Nothing could stop them because there was something bigger than achieving the definition of success the society imposed on the people.
I saw their true happiness on this only holiday of the week. Surrounded by friends who would catch you when you fell, and cheered for you even you lost, the whole experience transcended the boundaries of individuals. More importantly, I realized this game is just like the precious life, there’s no such thing as winning or losing. It’s about perseverance, and defying all the impossibilities you once convinced yourself of.
“We came here as one,” Kay, one of the contestants told me, “We unite and no matter if we win or lose, we are one community.” No matter where people come from, they are all looking for the same thing-a sense of belonging. It was never just a sports events. “It’s teamwork. It’s about working with and respecting each other.” Joan, one of the participants, said.
In contrast, from what I see, Hong Kong is a divided society in terms of inclusion, where people of different ethnicities and nationalities don’t interact with each other. As I saw on Chung Hom Kok beach, the expats in Hong Kong were enjoying their family time; local students were having their orientation activities, whereas domestic workers were having their race. Everyone was in the same space, but their lives were completely different, and no interaction was needed to make this place a part of Hong Kong.
If we can break the bubbles that confine us to homogenous perspectives on life, I think we can start to make a difference in our society. In this case, what I saw today is unity and happiness
The champions are truly these women, who are hundreds of miles away from home, striving to support their families, and swallow down all the bitterness because they believe there’s a silver lining as long as they refuse to give up. The public knows them as domestic workers, but they are something more, they are individuals with aspirations, and I am honored to be a witness of them- the women that build a strong community to support each other against all the difficulties ahead.