Introducing Born and Raised. A Huffington Post Canada series that will delve into culture and language, growing up in Canadian cities and the responsibility some of us feel when we think about our parents' future. The stories are told by our editors, writers and by Canadians from coast to coast. We explore the effect of parents who never told us they were proud of us, what it means to be mixed-race in blogs, features, and through video and Facebook Live segments with our editors. These are daily conversations second-generations have with each other, but this time, on a larger platform.
"I spent most of my existence in school trying to shun my heritage..."
Photograph by Justin Bonaparte via Getty Images
Five simple words some kids — and parents — don't hear often enough.
When it comes to black people, our hair, just like our skin tones, aren't a one type fits all kind of deal. And for far too long, in both our homes and in our communities, we've allowed hair discrimination to affect ourselves, and our future generations in more harmful ways than we think.
I grew up surrounded by friends and family members who looked like all of these races, but all I knew at three was that they were all Jamaican. When I'd visit from Canada and arrived at the airport in Kingston, Jamaica, we'd be picked up by my uncle who looked Chinese, go home to his kids who were mixed Chinese and black, get a visit from my cousin who was mostly white and then take a trip to see my dads side of the family who was pretty much all black.
Most East Asians yearn to be pale, my Hong Kong-born sisters included. (Ironically, they're more naturally tan, while I'm the palest of the bunch). I remember seeing whitening creams on their bathroom vanity, and being scared because my mom had once told me Michael Jackson used bleaching creams to turn himself white.
Brian Vinh Tien Trinh
No one knows what my family is, or how exactly we all relate to each other at first sight, but it's always been a question of where we come from, and implicitly, a question of what we're doing here at all. I have never met someone who shares my ethnic mix (outside of my brother) in my entire life. My grandma divorced her husband. My mom ran off and married a black dude. They've never said it to my face, but I've figured that a lot of the amazing and independent choices my parents made as women didn't totally click with a lot of what India was telling women to be back in the day.
By the time I hit middle school, I was bringing home more As than a family-sized box of Alphabet cereal. I was clueless when it came to drugs. I made curfew like my life depended on it. I respected my elders. By society's standards, I was a well-behaved kid. So how come I've never heard my parents say, "Son, we're proud of you"?
In seventh grade, I took a family trip to India and my weight was the hot topic. Family members I hadn't seen in years commented on how "fat" I had become; and when I walked into stores to buy sarees or lenghas, store owners told my mom it wouldn't look good on me or fit. It was blunt, but it was normal.
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My cultural identity isn't defined by where my parents were born. My father was born in Pakistan, his siblings and parents were born in Goa, India, and all of his great-grandparents were born in Portugal. What does that make him? My mother was born in the Philippines, and my sister and I were born in Toronto. What does that make us?
When I was younger (and even now) I craved the approval of my parents. I wanted so badly to make them proud. But not hearing the actual words on a regular basis lead to me believe that I wasn't good enough. I wasn't smart enough or creative enough, and I needed to overcompensate to finally feel like I was making them proud, so I would feel good about myself.
The question I've been asked consistently throughout my life is, "which side do you identify more with?" I hate this question. You are forcing me to choose between my Italian culture and my Filipino culture. It feels like you're asking me to decide between pasta and puncit. Between gelato and halo-halo. Between my mom and my dad.
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I knew it was something parents said to their kids, a thing friends said to each other, and I wanted someone to say it to me.
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I'm Chinese, but I strongly identify as a Canadian, because I was born and raised here. So when people start questioning if I truly am from Canada or not, I automatically get defensive... Here's a news flash: Canada is a multicultural country. Sure, it has a large number of immigrants, but that doesn't mean every person of colour or person of a certain ethnic background wasn't born and raised here. Just because I'm Asian doesn't mean I'm less Canadian than you are. Asking "Where are you from?" automatically labels the person being questioned as "other," and nobody appreciates that. So just stop.
This Canada Day we are reminded that our country is a nation of immigrants, many of whom took risks similar to yours to create a better life for themselves and their children. And, like you, they came to the right place. I am proud to be Canadian. I am proud to be Polish. And I am proud to live in a country where those two things are actually one and the same.
It's not an innocent question.
While these days I can easily tell you which Indian designer I am wearing on my wedding day, who my favourite Bollywood style inspirations are, and which lengha I need to buy next, it took a lot of self-hate before I could fully embrace my identity.
It could be one of the most fulfilling conversations you'll have.
Our arrival in Canada started in earnest after the 1983 anti-Tamil riot in Sri Lanka. The mass exodus accelerated in the last decade of the last century, resulting in largest Sri Lankan Tamil population outside of Sri Lanka. Since then, collectively the lives of Tamils were "rewired".
It was almost 30 years ago. War has began. The sounds of chirping birds were replaced with blasting bombs. My husband had come back from town to get me and my daughter. We are leaving tomorrow morning. It was the beginning of our journey. A journey to a new place, a new beginning.
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At 21 years old, I realize that I have done myself a disservice. I can barely form a coherent sentence in my language, letters are foreign squiggles to me, and I find myself performing exaggerated gestures to communicate with my non-English speaking grandma. This is certainly not due to a lack of exposure to Tamil, but more as a result of a conscious distancing.
My Canadian-born son isn't proficient in Tamil. I have not been successful in teaching him. I feel that my ineffectiveness comes off as un-Tamil to some. We're used to the idea of the cultural mosaic and pride in our heritage by proudly declaring that our kids are proud Tamils.