Voice: Growing Up First Gen

Red envelopes and moon cakes, steamed buns, and slanted eyes – my childhood was different compared to most of the people I know. My parents immigrated to Canada from Taiwan and the Philipines before I was born, but brought our culture and heritage here with them. That meant growing up speaking Mandarin, eating rice and noodles, and going to pray at the Buddhist temple with my mom. It wasn’t all happy days and bowls of rice though – we did have our fair share of hardships. I was baptized because “Catholic school gave a better education,” laughed at because “my food smelled bad,” and mocked because my skin colour and eye shape were different. 

Because of that, I didn’t want to eat my mom’s dumplings or speak Mandarin in public, I just wanted to fit in. My culture no longer mattered, the type of school I went to was more important. So my mom and I bought Lunchables and spoke English to each other when around my classmates, and we even went to church at Christmas and Easter. But no matter what we did, I was still that kid with the smelly lunches and weird parents. I was never going to be considered normal to the other kids. 

My mom finally had enough of me hiding my culture and took us back to Taiwan when I was a fifth-grader to remind me of who I was. We went to temples to pray and spent time with my grandparents. It was there that eleven-year-old me finally took pride in my culture and, for the first time, I wanted to be Chinese. It made me proud. We spent two weeks there before meeting up with my dad in the Philippines, and by then I was ready to pick up Mandarin again and bring my “smelly” lunches back to school. My culture is beautiful and nothing that anyone said could change that anymore.  

Being a first-generation immigrant means that I am surrounded by a blend of different cultures. I’ve learned that the culture I grew up in is not something to be ashamed of. Remember to take pride in your culture and in your race, especially now with all this racial discrimination towards people of colour being brought to light. We are the products of the choices our parents made, and the Canadian Dream can handle a mooncake or two. 

1 Comment

  1. I loved this read. I could definitely relate to wanting to hide my smelly lunches and fit in. I’m so happy to hear that you eventually embraced your culture and found the beauty in it!!

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