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Isabelle Khoo Headshot

I'm A Chinese-Canadian 'Banana' And Proud Of It

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born and raised

My mother calls me a banana. In her words, I'm white on the inside, but yellow on the outside.

She's not wrong. As a Chinese-Canadian, I often call myself the whitest Asian you'll ever meet. While this used to stem from a rejection of my Asian culture, being a banana has become my identity as a child of a Chinese immigrant.

isabelle khoo young
Me at age two.

My rejection of my Chinese heritage started at an early age. If you ask my mother, she'll tell you that at the age of two, I matter-of-factly told her to stop speaking Cantonese to me. "Mom, don't talk to me in Chinese," I told her. "I'm Canadian."

Growing up, I remember frequently telling her to speak English. This wasn't because I couldn't understand her -- I could pick up on words and phrases -- but because I had no desire to put in effort to learn the language. I just didn't care. My father (who is also Chinese, but born in Australia) never bothered to learn Cantonese, either. Plus, everyone else in Canada spoke English and I wanted to fit in.

I didn't want to be seen as different. I just wanted to fit in.

As a kid, I also hated Chinese food. I preferred hamburgers and pizza over dim sum and congee any day. I hated having school lunches that I had to explain to my friends and, even worse, not having the oh-so-coveted Lunchables that all the other Canadian kids had.

Then, as I entered my preteen years, I not only rejected my culture, but became completely embarrassed by it. For one, my mom, who was born in Hong Kong, had an accent. While I had become immune to it, a friend mentioned to me one day that she couldn't understand a word my mother was saying because her accent was so thick.

My mom's English is fine, I thought, feeling both offended and embarrassed.

age 5 isabelle khoo
Me at age five with my parents and sister.

From then on, I was careful about what I shared about my Chinese culture. After all, being Asian wasn't cool. It didn't help that all the heroes I saw in the media were white. The only real heroine I had to look up to was Mulan. While I couldn't have asked for a better hero, the kids' movie was the only one of its time to combat film stereotypes of Asians, who were (and are) often portrayed as anti-social, awkward nerds. One film wasn't going to change the world.

All of this added up to me rejecting everything Chinese and embracing everything "Canadian" -- hence the nickname "banana." I even went as far as hiding my Chinese name, which is one of my middle names, because I was ashamed. I thought Chinese names were something only foreign kids had, and I wasn't foreign. In my eyes, I was Canadian, born and raised. I didn't want to be seen as different. I just wanted to fit in.

Funnily enough, my mother never minded that I felt this way. In fact, she was (and still is) so accepting of my Canadian identity that she openly calls me a banana in front of other people and often tells little anecdotes about that fact, laughing to herself. Oh, that silly Canadian girl.

After recently speaking to my mother, I realized it was her Canadian mentality of being open to other cultures that really led me to accept my own.

I recently asked her why she was so open to letting me "Canadianize" myself, despite my otherwise strict Chinese upbringing. Her answer surprised me.

"I can't ask my kids to follow the way I was brought up in Asia, because it doesn't work that way," she said. "It's just too hard for you kids to be here and adapt to two different lifestyles."

While most parents would consider a child distancing themselves from their family's roots completely unacceptable, my mom saw no issue. She never pressured me to be "more Chinese." While my cousins were forced to go to Chinese school, speak Cantonese in the house and visit the motherland, I was never pushed. I did what I wanted.

It wasn't until I grew up and entered the dating world that I really began to celebrate my cultural differences with other Canadians. People were actually interested in my heritage and didn't make me feel like my Chinese roots were something to be ashamed of.

isabelle uk
My mom and I on our mother-daughter trip to London, U.K. this year.

By meeting new people who were also open to talk about their backgrounds, I was able to overcome my embarrassment for my Chinese culture and learn to be proud of it.

After recently speaking to my mother, I realized it was her Canadian mentality of being open to other cultures that really led me to accept my own. Her world views influenced my perspective, whether I realized it or not, and showed me that all cultures should be embraced equally. Canada is a mosaic after all.

While I regret not coming to terms with my culture earlier, I'm glad I've learned that being Chinese is something to be proud of, in addition to being Canadian. I love teaching people about the Chinese zodiac, our red packets and our lion dances. I love eating bolo bao, laksa and dim sum. I think cheongsams are beautiful and so are our Chinese symbols. I'm proud to rep my Chinese culture, but I'm also proud to be Canadian.

I'm a banana. Always have been and always will be.

Born And Raised is an ongoing series by The Huffington Post Canada that shares the experiences of second-generation Canadians. Part reflection, part storytelling, this series on the children of immigrants explores what it means to be born and raised in Canada. We want to hear your stories -- join the conversation on Twitter at #BornandRaised or send us an email at

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