We as a diaspora, watched the curtain fall on a decades-long conflict we could never fully understand. And although the impact of the war varies drastically between us, what remains consistent is the recognition of a profound loss and the silent mourning of a forgotten identity.
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To be honest, it's a mix of all kinds of emotions.
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During the 80s, there were few memorable Asian female characters in the mainstream media and certainly any Asian male characters on TV were always reduced to the geeky nerd with the thick accent who made a fool of himself. The protagonists from the movies I saw were the opposite of Asian. TV heroes were almost always tall and blond white boys.
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A couple of insignificant words shouldn't matter much, but to me, it meant a lot. Forgetting a few words meant having awkward, half-formed conversations with my parents. It meant feeling alienated from an ethnic community that was strongly bound by a common language. Most importantly, it meant losing an inherent part of my Vietnamese identity. Each time I forgot another word, it was like I was a little less Vietnamese.
“My children are getting the benefit of what me and my wife have worked toward.”
Although I've lived essentially my whole life here and received my Canadian citizenship in kindergarten, not having a Canadian birth certificate separates me from second-gen Canadians. At the same time, I don't have vivid memories of growing up anywhere else, like my parents and other first-gen Canadians. Sometimes, I feel like generation 1.5.
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This leads to confusion, exclusion and sometimes, not feeling attractive.
Award-winning philosopher Charles Taylor on Trump, Brexit and how to convince your parents that diversity is good for Canada.
"You don't say this white show and this white show..."
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My older sister and I moved to Canada from Sri Lanka in the early 90s when I was nine, after both of our parents had passed away. We were fortunate enough to have family members who had been living here since the 70s with the means to sponsor us through a formal process.
When I was ten years old, my babysitter offered to give my friend Jimmy a ride home. As I sat in the back beside my friend, he turned to me and said, "Michelle, can you close your eyes for a second? They're different! You don't have a crease in your eye. I've never noticed this before. They are so cool!" This was my first introduction to the concept of having double eyelids.
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Food is how I think of my cultural identity. It's like a table of food. It has plates of cozido and chow mein, but it also holds the new dishes that my parents have picked up in Canada. Just because there are new plates on the table doesn't mean I have to take any of them away. It just means I need a bigger table.
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This past December, I was finally home for the holidays, after missing two years of the holiday season with my family and friends in Toronto. In fact, in the past two years, I have only been home for a total of three times and each of those three times, there's been an emerging trend: "When did my parents get so cool?"
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In 1997 I went to the West Bank to study Arabic. Once there, I found that many of the students in the program were, like me, half Palestinian, and were there as part of an attempt to discover their roots. Before I left, I hadn't thought much about how language defines who we are, or what happens when the languages we use to build our identities are rendered useless.
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So that’s why Koreans love dreaming about poop.
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Learning my grandmother's life stories helped me to reconnect with my own Indian-American and Indian-Canadian identity in a way that Bollywood movies never could. If you're the first-generation child of immigrant parents, you owe it to yourself to learn the language of your grandparents. Spend some time with them and ask them about their life. Go deeper than the mere sequence of events you might've never ventured beneath because of language barriers. It could just be the key to unlocking dimensions of who you are. And if history is cyclical, perhaps who you might become.
So there was this CBC-Angus Reid poll. You may have heard about it, or at least seen it while scrolling through your social media feeds this week. It was called the "Canadian Values" poll and it found, according to the original CBC headline, that Canadians want minorities to do more to 'fit in.' This poll made news because it revealed 68 per cent of Canadians thinking minorities should be "doing more to fit in" with mainstream society instead of keeping their own customs and languages. But what I found out after contacting Angus Reid was that 87 per cent of those respondents were white.
Throughout my life, I have found myself having to assert my cultural identity. From a single look, you'd probably have me pegged for a white male, and all the privilege that comes with it. The latter part is true. As someone who half-identifies as white, I never have to worry about being asked where I'm from; being targeted by police; or having Long Duk Dong represent me in pop culture. But "White" is nevertheless a small part of who I am. My full name is Jesse Ramon Ferreras... My family has never kept my heritage a secret. But maintaining it in a place like Vancouver has been difficult.
I made a choice to abandon learning Vietnamese as a kid. Part of it was me being lazy. I didn't want to spend Saturdays inside another school. Three hours learning about the Vietnamese alphabet can seem like prison when you're six or if you're 12. But another part of it was me wanting to fit in. To stay at home. To watch weekend morning cartoons. To have stuff to talk about during recess come Monday. I made a choice to turn my back on part of my identity. In return, I got to fit in within a multi-ethnic schoolyard in a suburban Ontario neighbourhood circa 1995. Today, that decision would make a majority of Canadians pretty happy.
Any child, regardless of their gender can rise to the occasion to fulfill any dream and aspiration their parents may have; they can be your legacy, your shoulder and your support system. That includes daughters. While we can't erase how our parents were brought up, we should not give them a free pass for any bigotry, biases and prejudices they may hold.
'"Which side are you, really?"
"It's a totally brand new city. I don't recognize anything," my mom says, gazing wide-eyed out of the decades-old tram and into the chaotic streets of Hong Kong. It's been 33 years since she moved from Hong Kong to Toronto and four months since I did the opposite. This is how I became my mother's tour guide in her own hometown.
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.
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My mom grew up in the 1970s in Pakistan, at a time when women -- if they studied past high school -- were expected to get married right after college. What my mother did was very different. And the story's best told with this photo of my 25-year-old mom working as a chemist in Pakistan. The only woman among men.
"We have a long way to go," Alan Yang told the audience. Yup.
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Keeping relationships within a culture can be convenient, comfortable and maybe even somewhat expected of you -- but it also makes it easy to keep one's culture alive. Our parents had a clear blueprint for passing on their traditions, something the growing number of culturally mixed couples like us simply don't have.
There are only a couple things that are typically Argentinean that my dad taught me about: their love for dulce de leche (a delicious treat I use in baking), their obsession with soccer (although my dad was more of a basketball fan) and their love for meat -- specifically, steak. That's it. That's all I know. A huge chunk of me is missing and I don't know if I'll ever find it.
Emile knows that he's Jewish, but it's an esoteric concept at his age. He loves eating gefilte fish and searching for the afikomen, hates how long Passover seders take and boasts to his buddies about getting two holidays instead of one in December. I used to do the same. But because we're an invisible minority, it can easily disappear. Maintaining it requires effort. So my role as a father is to help him see the value in making Jewish history, culture and traditions a part of him -- he can decide on the religious part on his own -- so that he might one day pass it all on to his own child.
A few months ago I was given the chance to reconnect with my roots, roots I was hardly holding on to. I was going to Africa for the first time since I was a child. With barely any memories of my home country, Somalia, I travelled carrying the western stereotypes of my home continent.