As it turns out, I’m not Chinese-Canadian. Looking at me, one may have jumped to the conclusion that I’m of Asian descent, and I wouldn’t say you were wrong. It’s just that the term “Chinese-Canadian” to me carries the weight of duality that I don’t feel fit to carry.
My recent conclusion that I am simply Canadian is not based on any hard or fast rule. I’m technically a first-generation immigrant, by which I mean that I moved to Canada with my family during elementary school. Here, it’s fascinating to note that there’s a term called the “1.5 generation“, which apparently refers to people who immigrated to a country before or during early teens (i.e., raised in a combination of cultures from the new and old countries, depending on the specific age of the move). Technically, I belong in this latter group, but my entire point is that these are just technical guidelines that don’t necessarily apply to how any individual identifies.
I am bilingual (I can speak Cantonese), I can inhale Cantonese music and tv shows like nobody’s business, and there are definitely family dynamics and peculiarities to being raised as a “1.5 generation” in a Chinese home in Vancouver that only my peers/colleagues/friends who have been through similar experiences can truly understand. And certainly, growing up in that environment has given me at least two very different ways of looking at my core values, beliefs, desires, ambitions, so that I have the benefit of being able to question any tradition or belief that comes along and decide for myself what makes the most sense for me.
I want to be clear that my parents have been and continue to be the greatest influences in my life, and I cannot articulate how grateful I am for how amazing they are. And their beliefs and values have certainly been influenced by their upbringing in Hong Kong. However, they are, first and foremost, individuals who think for themselves and who I believe are extremely unique even within the Chinese community, so yes, they are the greatest influences in my life, and they just happen to also be Chinese, but it doesn’t make their influence on me Chinese in origin. Does that make sense? The values that I learned from them cannot be, in my opinion, labeled “Chinese”.
But what about Chinese traditions? Well, regarding traditions like celebrating Chinese New Year, eating moon cake, and watching TVB dramas, I love all of those things, but I feel like I celebrate those activities as a part of the natural multiculturalism that exists beautifully in Canada. For sure, Chinese New Year means more to me than Robbie Burns Day, but that’s because it’s important to my parents and my parents are there to explain the significance and traditions of Chinese New Year, but not so much with Robbie Burns Day.
Again, I think identity is an extremely personal and individualized issue, and it should be that way. I simply wanted to write out and share my own personal journey and reasons for why I feel the way that I do.
I realized that one of the major reasons why I had to have this conversation with myself is because I look like a visible minority. It’s possible that if I came to Canada at the age that I did, but I happened to be a Caucasian from, say, Scotland, and I identified as purely Canadian, there would be less of an internal struggle, because I wouldn’t get asked about my heritage as often and I wouldn’t look as obviously different than what is still considered the “majority”.
At the end of the day, I feel that I am Canadian because my core values, beliefs, passions, and interests all stem from my journey here in Canada (ever since I arrived here as a five-year-old). I don’t feel that I qualify as being Chinese-Canadian just because I look Asian. My parents helped shape all of my values, but the tools they used to do their work were uniquely theirs, and not necessarily Chinese. Yes, I do participate in Chinese culture, but I think my motivations are very Canadian. I celebrate Chinese New Year not because of tradition but because I love my parents so much and I want them to be happy. I watch Asian dramas and listen to Chinese music because I use that to keep connected with my parents (and they’re also quite fun!). And I eat moon cake because it’s delicious. These values are not necessarily exclusively Canadian, but certainly to me, I associate learning them with growing up in Vancouver.
At first, I thought maybe my mother would frown upon this blog post, but after some pondering, I think that she would be proud that she raised a son who is confident in who he is and grew up to embody the values that they moved to Vancouver for in the first place. I hope they know that despite everything that I’ve written here, I have always and will always continue to embrace my Chinese heritage and plan to pass that on to my own children in the future.
It’s just that if you ask me what my nationality is, I would have to say that I major in Canadian with a minor in Chinese. If that metaphor just made my position confusing again, I apologize – please feel free to ask for clarification in the comments section. I assure you that it makes some obscure sense in my head, but that probably is no source of comfort for you.
For now, I shall end by saying that I’m quite pleased with myself for only needing 18 years to figure out that I am indeed Canadian.
Merry Christmas to me!