Being a Local versus Belonging

One might think that if you are a local to a certain city or town then you are a person who “belongs” there. However in her article “When ‘Being a Local’ is Different to ‘Belonging’”, Sophia Slavich describes how these words can mean different things by looking at an example of the region of China known as Xinjiang. The author describes how there are two major ethnic nationalities in this region: the Turkic Uyghur and the Han Chinese. Slavich describes the Hans as “the stereotypical face of China” whereas the Uyghur “speak a guttural Turkic-Altaic language with an Arabic-based script” and some even have light skin and western features. In the Chinese nation the Uyghur are considered an ethnic minority but in Xinjiang they have been the largest ethnic group in the past and present. Over the past several decades however this region has been developing to incorporate more modern Chinese politics and economy. There has been a larger flow of Hans into the region and the Uyghur community “feels increasingly threatened and marginalized”. The author asks a Han taxi driver if he is both a local and a person from Xinjiang. At first the driver does not know how to respond but then he says that indeed he is a local but does not consider himself from Xinjiang. He says that people from Xinjiang are the ethnic minorities, the Uyghur. When Uyghur travel to other parts of China they are recognized as “Xinjiang ren” meaning from Xinjiang. The author says that no matter whether these labels represent harmless curiosity or derogatory attitudes that “these markers are indicative of otherness”. Slavich ends by saying that “in an environment where inter-ethnic relations are tense at best, common examples like these shed light on the extent to which ethnic rifts affect people’s sense of belonging”.