My parents moved to Canada from China when they were both 16 and attended Toronto high school and 15 years later, I was born in Brampton General Hospital. I’m a Canadian Born Chinese, and when you ask me “what I am” I will answer without hesitation and rather proudly that I am a Canadian. My Chinese identity has always played second fiddle to my Canadian one.
Don’t get me wrong, being Chinese is something I’m proud of but it has never been a major factor in my life. I enjoy Chinese food and I speak Cantonese. However, I have also never ever been to any part of Asia until this summer. More specifically, I spent a several weeks in China on a comprehensive cross country trip.
In preparation to this lengthy adventure, I did a bit of light research (googling “china vacation” and reading the first 3 results) where I was warned of homesickness and culture shock. Fast forward some last-minute packing and a 15 hour flight later, I was in Beijing. Immediately, I noticed that I felt weirdly at home in this country on the other side of the world. Everything from the smells, the foods, the sounds, and the sights felt oddly familiar…
Being a second generation Chinese Born Canadian, my childhood had a sprinkling of Chinese culture. I speak Cantonese well enough enough to converse with my grandparents. I go for dim sum every other week with the tiny teacups, tiny bowls and tiny plates to stuff my face with siu mai (steamed pork dumplings) and char siu bao (bbq pork bun). I even have one red qípáo, a traditional chinese dress, buried somewhere in the back of my closet. We would go for big dinners at chinese restaurants for birthdays and holidays, sharing our non-pasta dishes on a big lazy susan family style.
All these experiences are part of my Chinese identity. One which is intricately woven within my Canadian one. I always knew my school lunch of rice, bok choy, and egg set me apart from the ham sandwiches and tomato soups but I never understood what that meant. Spending a single day in China showed me that there is a place of 1.3 billion people where I’m not the odd one out.
Everything that made me feel different in Canada made me feel at home in this foreign country. Your history and culture is something to be embraced and celebrated and it took a journey to the other side of the world for me to finally learn that. I’ve always been proudly Canadian but now when you ask me “what I am”, I’ll tell you that I’m a Canadian Born Chinese.