Walking down the hustle and bustle of Toronto’s China Town I never felt more at home. The grimy streets littered with trash and open fruit stalls buzzing with flies called to my heart. The loud noises of honking and people passing by brought me back to the few times I was ever able to return to China. I felt alive in the ongoing chaos as if I was going back to my roots.
It was not always like this. A childhood of shame of being different and wanting to fit in had led me to forgo a side of me that had always existed whether I wanted to accept it or not. I was ashamed of the food my mother packed for me, ashamed that their english was coated with a thick accent and ashamed that they didn’t know western etiquette. I wanted to lose my Chinese identity by forgoing not only the language but the culture.
Being an immigrant and a minority in society traps you in the middle of two cultures. You want to fully consider that country as your home, but you are seen as an outsider. When you go back to where your ancestry lies, you can’t seem to identify with their culture either. It’s a place where you no longer know where you identity lies. It often feels like you are confronted and asked to choose sides. I would like to chose neither but both at the same time.
There were so many values that my family had that I never fully cherished. The person that I have grew up into is defined by my cultural background wether I liked it or not. It taught me to have very close family ties and to have deep respect for my elders. It taught me to think for the future and not just look at the now. It taught me to fly as high as I could possibly go, but if I ever fell down they would be there to catch me.
Those winter nights, surrounded by your loved ones crowded around a hot pot laughing and enjoy the moment. Or being able to go back to China on Chinese New Years in second grade, the first time i’ve been able to go back since immigrating to Canada in 2000. Being showered with red envelopes full of money from elders and playing with fireworks defined that winter. I still remember clearly the night when we celebrated at my Grandma’s house. The concrete walls of small dining room were cramped with family in winter coats while the harsh winds blew outside. Hot water or tea at hand to warm up from the lack of heater at home. So many things I took for granted gave me a new perspective on life in Canada.
These happy days soon were shattered by the news of my Grandfather’s passing. We had just returned to Canada not too long and for financial reasons we weren’t able to attend his funeral. When my mom told me that he had passed in tears, all I could think of were the few precious moments I had with him just a few months before. I knew he was sick back then, but as a child you never thought too much of it. A few years later, I returned and visited his grave with family at side to weep. Now, every time I return to China, I always make sure to see him. I was only able to see him briefly, and all I know of him are stories told by others. These hard moments brought me closer to my family than ever and brought back the culture I tried so hard to forget.
Now more than ever, I want to connect back to my culture that I have neglected for so long. Family has never took such an important place in my life then now. I want to finally take the time to properly learn Chinese and the history of it’s people. To learn what my parents have gone through during the cultural revolution and the hardship of the people today. To understand the thoughts that have shaped this country so dear to me. It is high time I go back to my roots and immerse myself in my home.
You will always be close to my heart.
In loving memory of,
Kong Fan Ming