Eric Lau's story
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( ERIC LAU )

Eric’s parents were economic migrants who arrived from Hong Kong in the 1960s, in one of the main waves of Chinese immigration to Britain. Eric is a London-based music producer and admits that a career in music was not the plan his restaurant-owning parents had for him, but this has recently brought him closer to them as he learns more about the life choices his parents had to make coming to the UK.

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INTERVIEW AUDIO EXCERPTS

THE ABRIDGED INTERVIEW ( Full Interview )

THE FULL INTERVIEW ( Abridged Interview )

My name's Eric Lau. I'm a music producer, I live in London, and I'm British Born Chinese.

Can you tell us a bit about your family history?

My parents are from Hong Kong; they moved to the UK in the 1960s to find work. There wasn't much hope of that in Hong Kong because of the civil unrest there during that era, so they made the decision to come to the UK. My uncle helped them out initially; he sent over my dad out first, and then my mother joined after. Immediately after arriving, they began work in the food industry, working in Chinatown first, which then led on to separate private takeaways and businesses that were run by cousins and uncles.

"Growing up in Cambridge I felt quite isolated. I didn't see British Born Chinese people in the media, or a community like the Asian and Black community have, and I feel that's lacking."

I've got an older sister and older brother, and I've got really good relationships with them, especially over recent years, now that everyone's a bit older. I think what’s changed is me growing up. I'm the youngest by far: my brother's 11 years older than me and was almost like a father to me. My parents were just so busy working that he had to take care of me a lot when I was growing up, and I guess to the same extent my sister, so I was the baby of the family. Now that I’ve grown up, we’re communicating on a similar level a lot more.

What was it like growing up in the UK?

I grew up mostly in a town called Ely; I was born in Hertford, then moved to Ely when I was three, and stayed there until I was 17-18, after which I moved to London. Growing up in Cambridgeshire wasn't very multicultural; I was one of a handful of Chinese people in the school. There were a few of us British Born Chinese, and the community businesses were either takeaways or restaurants so my parents used to know some of those people.

Whether I got treated differently or not is hard for me to say. Sometimes I felt maybe you get teased a little bit, or people may come across differently to you because you are Chinese, or some people haven't experienced being around Chinese people before - or even any other races before. So it’s a subtle thing - you can sense that when you're a child, but you try and not let it affect you in the way you are. Even now, I guess, on the exterior, you look at someone, and everyone sees a colour, or race, or has some sort of judgement of what they might be like. Unfortunately sight does that to people, but you try and give everyone the benefit of the doubt and just let them be - I've learnt to accept myself.

What have been your experiences in meeting other people in the British-Chinese community?

I think it's difficult to meet other British Born Chinese people – at least in my industry they're very few and far between. I know there are societies, like at universities and colleges, and it's nice to share your thoughts and experience with other British Born Chinese people, just so that you're not alone - I find that fascinating. I would like to say that I'm part of a British Born Chinese community but unfortunately I haven’t always been around that. For me, being brought up in Cambridge, and now in the scene and the industry that I am, I feel quite isolated. I don't see many British Born Chinese people in the media, I don't see a network or community like the Asian and Black community have, and I feel that's lacking.

Could you explain how relationship with your parents, your father in particular, has changed over the years?

Obviously everyone grows up and learns and matures; they have more wisdom and know how to communicate better, but I think it's changed because of him and his efforts. My father and I found it very hard to communicate when I was young, because there was a language barrier first - my Cantonese – and it was very hard for me to articulate things, and he would get the wrong end of the stick sometimes.

"I'm beginning to realise how lucky I am to have those Chinese values in me - I want to instil those within the next generation, in my children."

But because he sees now what I'm doing through my music and my teaching, he sees what I stand for as a human being. He has a lot of questions; he's interested in what I'm doing, and why people take an interest in what I'm doing. So he wants to know exactly what it is I'm doing and why, and it opens up a lot of conversations - not just on the tangible products or services that I provide, but also the philosophy and meaning behind certain things. And I have so many questions to ask him: about certain Chinese proverbs, or why a word is made up like that, or what is it like back home in Hong Kong, growing up there, what were they doing in that time. I'm beginning more and more to realise how lucky I am to have those Chinese values in me - I want to instil those within the next generation, in my children, so that's why I'm even more so embracing the fact that I am Chinese, the older I get.

My name's Eric Lau. I'm a music producer, I live in London, and I'm British Born Chinese.

Can you tell us a bit about your family history?

My parents are from Hong Kong; they moved to the UK in the 1960s to find work. There wasn't much hope of that in Hong Kong because of the civil unrest there during that era, so they made the decision to come to the UK. My uncle helped them out initially; he sent over my dad out first, and then my mother joined after. Immediately after arriving, they began work in the food industry, working in Chinatown first, which then led on to separate private takeaways and businesses that were run by cousins and uncles.

"Growing up in Cambridge I felt quite isolated. I didn't see British Born Chinese people in the media, or a community like the Asian and Black community have, and I feel that's lacking."

I've got an older sister and older brother, and I've got really good relationships with them, especially over recent years, now that everyone's a bit older. I think what’s changed is me growing up. I'm the youngest by far: my brother's 11 years older than me and was almost like a father to me. My parents were just so busy working that he had to take care of me a lot when I was growing up, and I guess to the same extent my sister, so I was the baby of the family. Now that I’ve grown up, we’re communicating on a similar level a lot more.

What was it like growing up in the UK?

I grew up mostly in a town called Ely; I was born in Hertford, then moved to Ely when I was three, and stayed there until I was 17-18, after which I moved to London. Growing up in Cambridgeshire wasn't very multicultural; I was one of a handful of Chinese people in the school. There were a few of us British Born Chinese, and the community businesses were either takeaways or restaurants so my parents used to know some of those people.

Whether I got treated differently or not is hard for me to say. Sometimes I felt maybe you get teased a little bit, or people may come across differently to you because you are Chinese, or some people haven't experienced being around Chinese people before - or even any other races before. So it’s a subtle thing - you can sense that when you're a child, but you try and not let it affect you in the way you are. Even now, I guess, on the exterior, you look at someone, and everyone sees a colour, or race, or has some sort of judgement of what they might be like. Unfortunately sight does that to people, but you try and give everyone the benefit of the doubt and just let them be - I've learnt to accept myself.

What have been your experiences in meeting other people in the British-Chinese community?

I think it's difficult to meet other British Born Chinese people – at least in my industry they're very few and far between. I know there are societies, like at universities and colleges, and it's nice to share your thoughts and experience with other British Born Chinese people, just so that you're not alone - I find that fascinating. I would like to say that I'm part of a British Born Chinese community but unfortunately I haven’t always been around that. For me, being brought up in Cambridge, and now in the scene and the industry that I am, I feel quite isolated. I don't see many British Born Chinese people in the media, I don't see a network or community like the Asian and Black community have, and I feel that's lacking.

Can we talk a bit about your career in music?

Well I've always loved and been a fan of music. I never thought I could make it, but my friend lent me some software one day, and I kind of learnt it – I’m good with computers and I knew music, so when it came to it, it was just natural, and people seemed to give a good response. I got a good response whenever I shared it with people, and then it just stemmed on from there: the word spread, and I started working with people, and I’ve never looked back since.

How was the reaction from your family, when you decided to move into music?

It was quite a shock! It was hard for them to even understand what it was I was doing. It was difficult for them at the very start, but they see the influence that I have on people and the communities that I'm in, so they can see me and how I've grown as a person because of it, of doing it, and they're fully behind me now.

Obviously, them coming from Hong Kong, and then being in the food industry here, they've been in survival mode since day one. That's all they know - family first, make the money, save money - anything else is secondary, so for me to do something like music, it’s not a career path that anyone would envisage or even comprehend how you would make a living from it. So it was understandably very difficult for them to get a grasp of, because no-one else had ever really done that before.

Could you explain how relationship with your parents, your father in particular, has changed over the years?

Obviously everyone grows up and learns and matures; they have more wisdom and know how to communicate better, but I think it's changed because of him and his efforts. My father and I found it very hard to communicate when I was young, because there was a language barrier first - my Cantonese – and it was very hard for me to articulate things, and he would get the wrong end of the stick sometimes.

"I'm beginning to realise how lucky I am to have those Chinese values in me - I want to instil those within the next generation, in my children."

But because he sees now what I'm doing through my music and my teaching, he sees what I stand for as a human being. He has a lot of questions; he's interested in what I'm doing, and why people take an interest in what I'm doing. So he wants to know exactly what it is I'm doing and why, and it opens up a lot of conversations - not just on the tangible products or services that I provide, but also the philosophy and meaning behind certain things. And I have so many questions to ask him: about certain Chinese proverbs, or why a word is made up like that, or what is it like back home in Hong Kong, growing up there, what were they doing in that time. I'm beginning more and more to realise how lucky I am to have those Chinese values in me - I want to instil those within the next generation, in my children, so that's why I'm even more so embracing the fact that I am Chinese, the older I get.

So there are two sides of it - it's him seeing me as a person, and there's me embracing and not denying the fact that I am Chinese. Because I grew up in a very non-multicultural community, so I thought I had to fit in with that all the time. Moving to London, growing up, meeting all these other people and travelling the world made me realise how lucky I am to be balanced on those sides.