Book Review: A haunting look at what it means to be Eurasian

Kirsten Zimmern is a photographer of Chinese and Scottish descent who has taken what she called "a fleeting glimpse into the lives and faces of a number of Eurasians," and ended up fascinated by what she discovered. She has produced a lovely and evocative book to tell their stories.

"Despite my different approaches (to different subjects), she writes, "I found that many held similar views and beliefs, especially with regards to having 'Chinese' morals and 'Western' social habits, most subjects were keen to enforce the idea that they felt equal amounts of each and it was also striking that many subjects employed the same terms, such as 'best of both worlds' – despite not having conferred with each other. There was an overwhelming desire to portray being Eurasian as a positive and enviable state of being."

Each of the 70-odd people in this book, photographed full-face, has a story to tell. For some, like retired schoolteacher Jean Consigliere, early life was difficult. The child of an English father and a Ceylonese mother, she was raised in Kuala Lumpur. "When I was a child, we were often called 'mixed devils' and the like," she told Zimmern. Into the early 1960s, she said, foreign private companies stipulated in their contracts that their employees were not allowed to marry locally.

That has changed dramatically over the years. Although some, like Sarra Jayne Lau, the daughter of a Scottish mother and a Chinese father, have had bad experiences "with some ignorant people who make comments about the 'purity' of my race...I don't feel discriminated against at all."

That is in Asia. Lisa Rosentreter grew up in a hamlet in the northern prairies of Manitoba, where virtually everyone shared a German migratory history. Being half German and half Chinese, "I couldn't evade feelings of embarrassment that my mother was Chinese and that our staple starch was rice." Going to school every day, she told Zimmern, she "was taunted by the singsong, 'me Chinese, me so dumb, me stick chopsticks up my bum,' (which) never failed to put knots in my belly. "

As Asia Sentinel has noted in several stories -- the most recent about Maria Venus Raj, the reigning Miss Philippines and runner-up for Miss Universe 2010 -- mixed parentage has resulted in people, women in particular, of uncommon beauty. They have peopled many of the beauty contest stages of Asia and the world.

That is not the point of Zimmern's book. It is to allow each of the people to tell his or her story about what it means to be of mixed parentage.

"There is a feeling of sisterhood between Eurasians," Jeanine Hsu told Zimmern. "I instantly feel some sort of silent connection with other Eurasians and can usually tell who they are. I feel so luck to be accepted into different cultures and likewise, to understand different cultures."

For the swelling ranks of the Eurasians across the world, Zimmern's book ought to be welcome because it should be able to tell they are hardly alone in their feelings.