Maybe it was in third grade when everyone stared at the lunch box my mom so carefully packed. Was it curiosity? Was it disgust? I don’t remember.
Maybe it was in seventh grade when my classmates scanned for the closest Asian kid. They wanted a translator for some Chinese characters. I turned the little pictographs upside down, sideways and again. But nothing came to my mind. Was it disappointment? Was it embarrassment? I don’t know.
Or maybe it was yesterday when we were talking about the festivities of Thanksgiving, Easter, or Christmas. Turkey, gravy, and pie. The staples to every holiday meal. Except I’ve never had a dinner like that before.
People would ask me, “Where are you from?” and in my mind I thought about that small town where I was born. It was surrounded by fields of wheat, canola, oats and every other grain you can imagine. Middle of nowhere: a sleepy farmer town in Saskatchewan. But that’s not the answer they were looking for. It never is.
“No, where are you really from?”
Yes, I’m Chinese, but I’m not from China. I’m from here. The confusion struck them next. I don’t say that anymore.
Those are my labels. They were given to me and they are mine to keep. But what do they really mean? What does it mean to be Chinese Canadian? You and I might throw some stereotypes around. Good at math, good at studying, tiger parents, blah blah blah. The jokes aren’t funny anymore. We all know stereotypes are merely words used to mock, to generalize, to pick at our very own existence . But if we were to tear down those stereotypes, those misconceptions and those empty jabs, what would we find?
At this point in life, I thought I’d be able to figure it out. But there’s still no answer. It’s constantly changing and its different for every single person. Sometimes, it feels as if I’m switching mask after mask after mask, desperately searching for the right one. In the end, none of them fit.
Other times, it feels like I’m some sort of ambassador. Fancy name for a not so fancy person. I like the idea though. A representative.
Among the Canadians, I represent the Chinese. Among the Chinese, I represent the Canadians. I am the coin that never stops flipping. Always looking for the right identity, right time, and at the right place. I am all of them and none of them all at the same time.
I remember sitting among my relatives, quietly, carefully listening. Contaminated with boredom and desperate to catch some words, I was hungry to be included. But when it was my turn to be questioned, I struggled and stumbled through a language that is supposedly mine. Disappointment immediately snapped at my reddened face. My chance was lost, the spotlight was passed to the next contestant. I’ve lived my life in Canada. I can’t speak Chinese without using a few English words here and there.
I remember those Saturday mornings spent in the high school learning Chinese taught by someone’s mom. We all obediently repeated the teacher’s words then copied and pasted the white board’s contents. A small dictatorship in each class. The moment the bell rang, not a whisper of Chinese was heard again.
It’s a Tuesday night. I’m scrolling through my feed. Flooded with trash, I continue to keep my eyes glued to the screen. It takes a while before I hit gold. A real chuckle. It’s a meme, a terrible one too. In its simplest stupidity, it was a Chinese pun created by someone like me. Broken Chinese within mainstream media. Perfect. Tagged.
Time to cook dinner. My comfort food is the same old bowl of rice accompanied with my favourite stir-fry that mom always made. Today, I’m craving the familiar aromas of a home cooked meal. I call home asking for the recipe but the ingredients are as puzzling as my last midterm. I guess it’ll have to wait.
It’s funny though, who am I kidding? A representative? A bridge between two cultures? More like a broken bridge. Comfort in neither side. But that’s okay. To me, that’s the definition of me being Chinese Canadian.
Never quite Canadian enough, never quite Chinese enough.