Friday, 8 May 2015

Weaving of Identities

Like many other "visible minorities", I often get asked where I'm from. I don't get peeved or annoyed when people do that, because then I can ask them. I have a line for them now, "I was born in Canada but my parents are from Hong Kong." All that passive-aggressiveness that comes from "Where are you from?" has been analyzed, the notion of citizenship, belonging and inclusion. I'm luckier: "visible minorities" whose families have been in the country for generations are more pissed off, whereas I guess I can still say that I'm 'from' somewhere else that is 'not here'.

I'm currently reading Susan Ossman's Moving Matters in which she talks about what she calls 'serial migrants'. The thing that links all serial migrants together is that their migration starts out of immigration. And, although I have not immigrated in the way that the migrants in her book have, I would say that, as a child of migrants having long looked to other cultures for freedom from the binding, suffocating bi-cultures she grew up with, I see myself in these serial migrants' situations.

In Iceland, I found like I could breathe. At the same time as I was tied down to my Canadian nationality and my Chinese/Hong Kong ethnicity, it also gave me access - to language, to people, to sharing of experiences. I felt like I had a sort of power that neither the Europeans nor the Asians had.

I am both of those, yet I am not really fully any one of those. I speak English, but I still make non-native mistakes. I speak Cantonese and look the part, but after a few sentences I usually stop. I have Chinese mannerisms, but a Western individualism. So I'm those, and yet for the past few years I really admired and wanted to become Quebecois, which did not work out for economic reasons. I found this third culture freeing.

I think I've already said this before, but during my European tour, I spoke French in Italy, Spanish in Austria to an Italian, and when I got to Budapest my mind was already in Hong Kong, so when I heard some phrases that I understood, I looked to them and exclaimed, "Hey! Cantonese-speaking people!"

There's a lot of observation/criticism of people who go to a different place and then gravitate towards those who are more familiar. Theories say that these people are reluctant to get out of their comfort zone and there's a whole superiority factor in breaking out of that zone.

If someone had observed my joy in meeting Cantonese-speaking people in Budapest, they would have (probably correctly) surmised that I was looking for a familiar voice or face removed so far away from 'home'. I had spent the last 3 months in Europe, and so it was cool to hear Cantonese again, but I just said hi and went on my way. It was because I was in neither North America nor Asia that I so reveled in that aspect of myself.

So ultimately, will I move to that crucial third space, towards which immigration propels me? Or do I stand my ground and fully incorporate more of myself as being both Chinese and Canadian? Guilt holds me back; so does shame. I think by immigrating elsewhere, I would be escaping. Not everyone has that freedom to do so.

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