Part II of the Children of the Immigrant Experience series.
As a kid you read stories about children learning about their traditional cultures. These are usually the children of immigrants, whose parents want them educated about the traditions of the “old country,” to keep the old traditions alive in their generation, and to be proud of who they are.
In politics and society you often hear about groups rallying for the preservation of traditional cultures. In Canada, this is probably the biggest political debate (next to the legalization of marijuana, heh). These debates mainly centre around the First Nations people and the French Canadians. The former want their traditions and land preserved, the latter want their language. I’m of neither descent, so I cannot speak for them, but I do represent perhaps the third biggest visible minority: Asian-Canadians.
What I wanted to address today is losing cultures. It seems to me that many of those who advocate for young people to retain their cultures are either the young people’s parents or outside forces. I mean, it’s very PC for a white person to encourage a non-white immigrant or child of an immigrant to keep practising their culture. However, I notice that the immigrant or immigrant-child may have different views.
Truth is, many of my friends and myself with a similar background (born in Canada, or raised in Canada since a very young age) have very little interest in our traditional cultures. We’re not “ashamed” of ourselves or anything, we just don’t like that lifestyle as much as our North American one. We grew up North American, eat North American food, do North American recreational activities. We prefer hiking in the Canadian wilderness over singing karaoke. We’d rather expand our skills in English and French than study Chinese or Korean. I can already hear people lamenting the effects of assimilation. We’re not “assimilated.” We grew up in this culture, and we love it, and we’re proud of it, and frankly we can’t relate much to a country across the sea. It’s our choice.
I went to a high school where there were basically 2 “cliques”: “white-washed” Asian-Canadians and the FOBs (Fresh-off-the-boat). I always had the feeling that FOBs looked at us with disdain. FOBs, immigrants who arrive later on in life, adamantly hold onto their roots: they only speak their traditional languages in the halls with other FOBs, they karaoke on the weekends, and they complain about young people not being able to have “fun” in a “boring” place like Canada. And they probably look down on us as sell-outs to white culture. But us “white-washed” kids aren’t too fond of them either: we think they dress strangely, should speak more English, and go outdoors for a change.
I’m not sure what kind of “thesis” I’m advocating for in this post. Perhaps I just want to paint a picture of something below the surface that exists: that immigration isn’t that simple. That urging people to hold on to their roots is actually a complex idea. I’ll say again: I by no means am “ashamed” of being ethnically Chinese (although I’m sure some children of immigrants do, especially with China’s bad reputation in western media nowadays), but I do see my nationality as Canadian. I identify as a Canadian. Abroad, I say I am from Canada. This is backed up by my passport and birth certificate. And I bristle with pissed-off-ness whenever some hicktown ignoramus doesn’t believe I am “Canadian” and go “wait aren’t you Chinese or something”. (I was in an Austrian restaurant once with a waiter like this. My Chinese-Canadian compatriot aptly scoffed, “No, we’re ‘fake Canadians.'”).
In most parts of the world, many people still believe that nationality and ethnicity are the same thing. It’s not. Not for us children of immigrants.
Are you a child of immigration? Are you an advocate for preserving your traditional culture, or are you comfortable living the one shared by your compatriots? Please share your thoughts.
- Red lanterns (creative commons attribution license); Author: Formulax
- Vancouver Chinatown (creative commons attribution license); Author: Colocho
- Urban Dictionary “whitewashed” entry