Alan Mak's story
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( ALAN MAK )

Alan was born in Yorkshire to parents who came to the UK from China via Hong Kong. He is a solicitor and volunteers his time working as a trustee for the school breakfast club charity Magic Breakfast.

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INTERVIEW AUDIO EXCERPTS

THE ABRIDGED INTERVIEW ( Full Interview )

THE FULL INTERVIEW ( Abridged Interview )

Hi, I’m Alan Mak and I’m 28. I’m originally from Yorkshire but now I live in London and work as a lawyer.

Alan, could you tell us a bit about your family and your heritage?

Both my parents are from Guangdong in Southern China. They are from small, rural villages and their families were involved in subsistence farming and fishing; pretty poor backgrounds. My dad came to England in the ‘60s after doing a stint at Hong Kong airport as an aircraft fitter, just as Mao’s cultural revolution was getting going. He came to Britain to work as a waiter in takeaways and restaurants, starting off in London, then Edinburgh, Scarborough, Leeds and finally settled in York where he eventually started his own takeaway – our small family business. My mum joined him a bit later on. She’s from a big family with lots of brothers and sisters. She came to join my dad and they started the shop and that was going for about twenty-five years before they retired in 2006. They worked very long hours; they made huge sacrifices for us and they are a great inspiration to me.

"My parents came to this country with very little; I think they probably smile at how different my life is now from their lives when they were my age, but I think that shows what can be achieved in just one generation."

I think they were coming for a better life, like lots of people of their generation. They left everything behind; they came to an unfamiliar country to make a new life for themselves. They were very keen that their children would grow up to have a better future and a better lifestyle than they did and they thought Britain was a great place to come – a real open country where they could make the best of themselves.

Can you tell us a bit about your own childhood and what that was like?

Well, my upbringing and childhood were heavily influenced by the life that I lived in our takeaway shop and actually working in it all the time. The shop was five minutes from the Minster, which is the big cathedral in the centre of York, and we served a largely working-class community. A lot of the people who came into the shop were people from local council housing estates, passing trade and also from the two pubs that were opposite the shop. I’d meet a whole range of people from all walks of life and society, but they did tend to be White-British rather than Chinese. Most of my childhood was spent working in the shop, from about seven or eight years old, and it gave me the experience of talking to people of all social backgrounds.

"I regard myself as Chinese in upbringing but British in my outlook and a global citizen. Certainly as I’ve got older I think I’ve had to adopt a much more international perspective where ethnicity is only one part of your identity."

Recently we’ve actually sold the family shop and my parents used the money to buy a residential house. For the first time in their lives they are living in a building that is a proper house rather than in two rooms above a takeaway shop.

When you were growing up, did you feel more British or Chinese?

I think we were too busy to actually think about it. We were either working really hard in the shop or really hard in school, so I don’t think I even dwelled on my ethnicity. As I’ve got older, I think I’m very proud to be British but with Chinese heritage and roots. If I were to sum up my identity today, I would say I would regard myself as Chinese in upbringing but British in my outlook and a global citizen. Certainly as I’ve got older I think I’ve had to adopt a much more international, global perspective where ethnicity is only one part of your identity and not the dominant part either. So now I’m very comfortable with who I am and where I’m going.

What do your parents think about the lives of you and your sister and how it compares to their upbringing in China?

I think they’re very proud of what my sister and I have gone on to achieve, but they are doing that in a very quiet, typically Chinese understated way. They came to this country with very little; they started their own business and worked really hard, they raised their children as best they could and they are really pleased that both of us have gone to university. I think they probably smile at how different my life is now from their lives when they were my age, but I think that shows what can be achieved in just one generation.

"America is a nation built on immigrants so while the American-Chinese had a tough time to begin with they quickly became very successful and established. I think that we can take some of the best points of the American-Chinese integration, use them in Britain and learn from their mistakes."

Can you tell us about your views on the British-born Chinese community and its place in British society?

I think that the British-born Chinese community has been very successful; we are achieving at school – we achieve the highest results of any ethnic group – we are very wide-spread and dispersed so we don’t only stay in small groups. I think some of the challenges that we face are we are a small community, we have traditionally been quite quiet and we have been reluctant to be assertive and to take roles in public life. I would really like to help change that; I want us to go from being integrated to being in a position of influence.

I sometimes travel to America for work, and have noticed the American-Chinese have been very successful in becoming much more influential in American society over time. There have been American-Chinese cabinet members. The American-Chinese are a lot more established in their country than we as British-Chinese are. Most arrived in America at the end of the 18th Century with The Gold Rush, so they have been there a lot longer, whereas in Britain the biggest waves of Chinese migration to Britain came in the early 20th Century and also in the ‘60s and ‘70s.

Are there any specific examples that you can think of in the US that might be useful?

I think mentoring and a willingness to become engaged in public life are the best examples. I think mentoring is very important for a small community like the British-Chinese community: we need successful established British-Chinese people to help generations that are coming through. So, people who are established in public life, in media, in other fields - they need to look at the next generation and say ‘how can I help?’.

Do you think that happens at the moment?

I don’t think it does actually, not through a lack of willingness but probably through a lack of coordination. I think being a small, dispersed community means that sometimes the people that need help are not in touch with the people that can help, and I think that’s one of the things that we need to overcome in the coming years.

Follow Alan on Twitter: @AlanMakUK

Hi, I’m Alan Mak and I’m 28. I’m originally from Yorkshire but now I live in London and work as a lawyer.

Alan, could you tell us a bit about your family and your heritage?

Both my parents are from Guangdong in Southern China. They are from small, rural villages and their families were involved in subsistence farming and fishing; pretty poor backgrounds. My dad came to England in the ‘60s after doing a stint at Hong Kong airport as an aircraft fitter, just as Mao’s cultural revolution was getting going. He came to Britain to work as a waiter in takeaways and restaurants, starting off in London, then Edinburgh, Scarborough, Leeds and finally settled in York where he eventually started his own takeaway – our small family business. My mum joined him a bit later on. She’s from a big family with lots of brothers and sisters. She came to join my dad and they started the shop and that was going for about twenty-five years before they retired in 2006. They worked very long hours; they made huge sacrifices for us and they are a great inspiration to me.

"My parents came to this country with very little; I think they probably smile at how different my life is now from their lives when they were my age, but I think that shows what can be achieved in just one generation."

I think they were coming for a better life, like lots of people of their generation. They left everything behind; they came to an unfamiliar country to make a new life for themselves. They were very keen that their children would grow up to have a better future and a better lifestyle than they did and they thought Britain was a great place to come – a real open country where they could make the best of themselves.

Can you tell us a bit about your own childhood and what that was like?

Well, my upbringing and childhood were heavily influenced by the life that I lived in our takeaway shop and actually working in it all the time. The shop was five minutes from the Minster, which is the big cathedral in the centre of York, and we served a largely working-class community. A lot of the people who came into the shop were people from local council housing estates, passing trade and also from the two pubs that were opposite the shop. I’d meet a whole range of people from all walks of life and society, but they did tend to be White-British rather than Chinese. Most of my childhood was spent working in the shop, from about seven or eight years old, and it gave me the experience of talking to people of all social backgrounds.

"I regard myself as Chinese in upbringing but British in my outlook and a global citizen. Certainly as I’ve got older I think I’ve had to adopt a much more international perspective where ethnicity is only one part of your identity."

Recently we’ve actually sold the family shop and my parents used the money to buy a residential house. For the first time in their lives they are living in a building that is a proper house rather than in two rooms above a takeaway shop.

When you were growing up, did you feel more British or Chinese?

I think we were too busy to actually think about it. We were either working really hard in the shop or really hard in school, so I don’t think I even dwelled on my ethnicity. As I’ve got older, I think I’m very proud to be British but with Chinese heritage and roots. If I were to sum up my identity today, I would say I would regard myself as Chinese in upbringing but British in my outlook and a global citizen. Certainly as I’ve got older I think I’ve had to adopt a much more international, global perspective where ethnicity is only one part of your identity and not the dominant part either. So now I’m very comfortable with who I am and where I’m going.

I think in the modern international world, I think understanding more than one culture, being able to talk and work with different people, is a huge advantage; in fact it’s actually a necessity. So having British and Chinese identity and roots has actually been very helpful, both personally and professionally. For example, I’m involved in a project called One Young World, which is a global forum for young leaders from over 170 countries. Being able to talk about the challenges that face Western economies, the growth of China and the need for all countries and people to work together is very important, and actually growing up with a dual identity and having to reconcile different perspectives has proved very useful.

What do your parents think about the lives of you and your sister and how it compares to their upbringing in China?

I think they’re very proud of what my sister and I have gone on to achieve, but they are doing that in a very quiet, typically Chinese understated way. They came to this country with very little; they started their own business and worked really hard, they raised their children as best they could and they are really pleased that both of us have gone to university, we are making a success of our lives here and we are very much a part of society here. I think they probably smile at how different my life is now from their lives when they were my age, but I think that shows what can be achieved in just one generation.

"America is a nation built on immigrants so while the American-Chinese had a tough time to begin with they quickly became very successful and established. I think that we can take some of the best points of the American-Chinese integration, use them in Britain and learn from their mistakes."

I went back to China when I was very young and my memories are that it was a very poor upbringing - very rural, very subsistence, very primitive - but I haven’t been back recently and I imagine now, with the economic growth that China has experienced, things are very much different. I hear that from my parents – lots of new developments, new transportation and a general sense of greater prosperity. I think my parents would look back and say they made a great success of their life here. I will always be the son of British-Chinese immigrants from Yorkshire and that’s a very important part of my identity.

Can you tell us about your views on the British-born Chinese community and its place in British society?

I think that the British-born Chinese community has been very successful; we are achieving at school – we achieve the highest results of any ethnic group – we are very wide-spread and dispersed so we don’t only stay in small groups. There’s a new generation of young British-Chinese professionals who are succeeding at every level, in every field - from business and the arts to popular culture - so I think we are doing really well. I think some of the challenges that we face are we are a small community, we have traditionally been quite quiet and we have been reluctant to be assertive and to take roles in public life. I would really like to help change that; I want us to go from being integrated to being in a position of influence.

I sometimes travel to America for work, and have noticed the American-Chinese have been very successful in becoming much more influential in American society over time. There have been American-Chinese cabinet members, chief executives of Fortune 500 companies and senior federal judges. The American-Chinese are a lot more established in their country than we as British-Chinese are. Most arrived in America at the end of the 18th Century with The Gold Rush, so they have been there a lot longer, whereas in Britain the biggest waves of Chinese migration to Britain came in the early 20th Century and also in the ‘60s and ‘70s.

There is a cultural difference which I think is very important, which is that America is a nation built on immigrants so while the American-Chinese had a tough time to begin with they quickly became very successful and established. I think that we can take some of the best points of the American-Chinese integration, use them in Britain and learn from their mistakes.

Are there any specific examples that you can think of in the US that might be useful?

I think mentoring and a willingness to become engaged in public life are the best examples. I think mentoring is very important for a small community like the British-Chinese community: we need successful established British-Chinese people to help generations that are coming through. So, people who are established in public life, in media, in other fields - they need to look at the next generation and say ‘how can I help?’ and try and bring those people on.

Do you think that happens at the moment?

I don’t think it does actually, not through a lack of willingness but probably through a lack of coordination. I think being a small, dispersed community means that sometimes the people that need help are not in touch with the people that can help, and I think that’s one of the things that we need to overcome in the coming years.

I think for example the Jewish community has done extremely well; I support a few Jewish community groups and charities and I think they’ve been a great example of how you can come to a country and actually make a positive contribution. They have helped each other, they have mentored each other, they have been willing to take positions in public life, they’ve also had good organisations that showcase the best of the Jewish community and I think that we can replicate that.

Follow Alan on Twitter: @AlanMakUK