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Meet an Immigrant.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

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  • "Red Pockets" of money given for good fortune. Sometime's it's only $5.

    "Red Pockets" of money given for good fortune. Sometime's it's only $5.

Written by Alice Lin

Happy Chinese New Year, Gung Hay Fat Choi, Gong Shi Fa Chai.

My family immigrated to Canada from Taiwan when I was eight years old. I had never taken any English lessons before and the only things I knew how to say were ‘yes’, ‘no’, and ‘apple’. I was put into ESL class immediately once I started grade school and was taken out after a year or so. I really can’t remember how I learned English so quickly but I guess what they say is true: young minds are like a sponge.

I quickly noticed that some of the other kids that started ESL class at the same time as me were still in the program. There was this one person that was born in Canada and was still in ESL class. Five years went by and I was sure they’d be done with ESL but that wasn’t the case. Why was that?

I get a lot of “Alice, you’re a pretty white-washed Asian”. Perhaps, but I have a lot of non-white friends too. Growing up in Markham, the community was flooding with new immigrants. My school had pretty much a 9:1 ratio of non-Caucasian to Caucasian kids. Minorities were the majorities in my community.

I suppose that’s why those kids never really learned to speak English fluently because they always spoke their own language at home. I speak my own language at home too, but it’s the other way around for me. Over the years though, I am speaking English at home more frequently than Mandarin and there are a lot of things that I definitely cannot and do not know how to say to my family. This is pretty frustrating because I feel kind of envious of others that can go hang out with their cousins, tell them things and be really close; this is a barrier for me.

There are also a lot of stereotypical things associated with Asians and I felt like growing up in the West, it was something that I didn’t want to always be associated with. Things like Asians are loud, bad drivers, scammers, cheap, rude…etc. There was a scene in the movie ‘Toy Story’ where Buzz looked under his laser compartment and it said ‘Made in Taiwan’ and he sighed…maybe the scene wasn’t intended to mean that he was a cheap plastic toy made in a cheap country that’s why he couldn’t fly, but that was what I thought of when I was watching that scene. I also remember I had written in my journal once that I had wished I was white.

It was frustrating and confusing that people have these stereotypes because I didn’t see any of that in my own family or friends. But when I started High School, others started to fall into their groups and I felt stranded. I had Asian friends, ‘white-washed’ Asian friends, and white friends. Where do I belong?

I often find myself stereotyping and discriminating against other Asians, so I’m not any better myself. I stereotype myself sometimes and make jokes about not wanting to tip the pizza delivery guy because I’m a cheap Asian student. I often feel uncertain about my own culture and I really don’t know as much about my history as I am expected to. There is a constant battle that I have with myself…why am I not as proud of where I am from as I should be? What can I do to win this battle, and what does winning look like?

I haven’t done a new year’s resolution this year, but perhaps this is time to start. Chinese New Year was January 31st and perhaps this is a good and appropriate time for this. I want to continue sharing about some of my experiences as an immigrant, so I hope that’s something you can look forward to every week.

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