Losing and Finding My Identity

My parents immigrated from Hong Kong in the 70s.

I was born in Sturgeon Falls, Ontario, Canada. And moved to Port Elgin, another small community about 3 hours from Toronto.

At that time, our family was one of few families of colour. In elementary school, I remember maybe 2 other people of colour (POC) in my class.

I was friends with both of them but I can’t say that it was our differences that brought us together because I didn’t identify as being different.

I identified as being Canadian.

Okay, let me be more clear about that. Of course, I knew I was Chinese and different from 90% of the people surrounding me. But I didn’t feel different from them. I considered myself to be human just like them.

I only remember one very obvious racist remark made against me. However, I do remember my sisters experiencing it.

And maybe it was happening to me but in more subtle ways.

In 2003, during the SARS outbreak, our distance from Toronto meant little direct impact on my life. I had heard about it in the news but didn’t experience any effects from it. Or potentially was oblivious to it.

I’m going to be real and honest here.

I tended to feel like I fit in. My race didn’t come up very much except as the subject of stereotypes that, at the time, didn’t really bother me much. Things like “you should be good at math, you’re Asian” or “do you know how to drive?”

I experienced racism in subtle ways through comments, unfair treatment, but it was usually hidden under other agendas.

But here we are. In 2020. A global pandemic that allegedly originated in China but that has yet to be 100% proven. But I digress.

When my parents first told me about this virus, I brushed them off in a way but I hunkered down knowing this will be yet another thing to hold against China and the Chinese community.

Shortly afterwards, my sisters mentioned that while they were together on a shopping trip that I wasn’t able to attend, they experienced intense stares and tension everywhere they went.

As covid19 evolved and spread worldwide, my parents kept me up to date, but it wasn’t until my province’s school board announced a 2-week shut down following spring break that I realized the severity.

While this isn’t a post to address covid19, I can say that my heart goes out to those affected.

Soon, news started to break of the violent and random attacks on Asians, and those mistaken as Asian.

And that is when sh*t got real for me.

Here we are, once again defending ourselves.

I can’t speak for what’s happening in China or the Chinese government because I don’t have a full understanding myself.

There is a lot of unrest in Hong Kong happening between the government of China and Hong Kongers that is absolutely devastating.

This leaves me confused and conflicted.

Now, even more racism is coming to light. There have been a number of news headlines surrounding the black community.

My heart is broken for the black lives lost, their families, the black community.

And as I navigate all of this, I have discovered that I have always identified as Canadian. Entrenched in my own ignorance of what has been happening around me. Of the things that BIPOC face on a daily basis.

This is my journey of losing and finding my identity.

As I dig deeper into the history of Canada and the Chinese community, what I learned in school failed to mention the incredibly horrific treatment of the Chinese.

Chinese people were brought here to build the railroad. They built the infrastructure through blood, sweat, and tears and then discarded. A head tax was introduced specifically targeting the Chinese. They were denied voting rights and even when the war broke out, many Chinese Canadians volunteered for war but returned to discrimination and unemployment.

Again, I’m not blaming anyone for not having taught me this. I definitely could have gone through history books to learn this all but now as I do, I realize that it’s important to bring it all to light.

I am new at all of this. I, as a POC, specifically a Chinese woman, can do better.

There is so much for me to learn.

But as I sit here, I realize that the person I had been identifying as my whole life hadn’t really acknowledged my roots, except to engage in a few celebrations and practices.

I feel lost in who I am.

But I’m going to do better. I have a child of mixed race and I will not allow her to make these same mistakes. I will teach her the rich history and what diversity and inclusion looks like. I will teach her what it means to be an ally and how she can take a stand.

I have reached out to people I know are willing to stand with me. To have difficult conversations. To acknowledge their privilege. To be an ally.