As a first-generation Chinese Canadian, I have grown up living with two identities. In my 21 years, I’m still searching for that middle ground in a society I’ve grown to identify with but exist as a person of a different color.
In a society where, under law, I am still deemed as the “minority,” I have fought the likes of being typecast and discriminated. In a society where multiculturalism is celebrated, I have found it difficult to be part of a culture that I am so familiar with yet so far away from.
To the majority that I’ve grown to identify with:
1. Math is not my forte. I am Asian but I am no Albert Einstein. Not all Asians are mathematicians. Trust me, I wish I was. All those hours of tutoring classes and counting numbers would not have been such a pain if math came naturally.
2. Being Asian does not mean I have to study medicine, law, or engineering. No, I don’t study science and I don’t cite sections in the law book. Surprisingly, I study Communications for a living.
3. Yes, I speak English. As a matter of fact, I am quite fluent in the English language. I may look like a foreigner on the outside but, I assure you, English is my mother tongue.
4. I don’t go to an Ivy League school. Not all Asians go to Harvard or Columbia. I may not attend the “Top Ten” institutions in the world but in my heart, my university is an excellent institution.
5. Do not ask me “Where in China are you from?” I have never been to China. “I am Chinese” does not imply that “I’m from China”. Actually, I am very much Canadian. Born and raised, to be exact.
To the minority that I’m a part of yet so far away from:
6. I can speak Chinese Being fluent in English does not mean I can’t speak Chinese. So, don’t go talking about me like I don’t know anything. I may not be a native speaker, but Chinese is in my blood, after all.
7. Give me the Chinese menu, please.
I may have grown up reading English, but that doesn’t mean I did not learn to read Chinese growing up either. That is why Chinese schools exist.
8. Don’t assume I speak your language. Chinese comes in at least seven dialects. Not every Chinese person says “Ni Hao.”
9. I’m not in the Chinese-desired ‘Top Three’ tiers of work, but that doesn’t mean I’m unemployable. I may not be in Science, Law, or Engineering but that doesn’t mean I’ll graduate jobless. The world does not revolve around those three fields of work. Some of the most successful people study none of the three. Think Oprah.
The fact is, being a first-generation is not easy. We live in the middle of two worlds. We work our whole lives trying to be accepted into one of the two. When in truth, we are neither. We are not the “majority” nor are we the “minority.”
We are the overlooked, the assumed and dark horses of society. We are the hard-to-identifies, the different, the misunderstood. We are the first-generations and we hold a culture of our own.