Grade One: A Chinese Canadian Schoolgirl in Montreal

 

In my Montreal Canadian girlhood, sounds of ridicule emanate from schoolmates. “Chink, chink, chink” is chanted in indignant rhythm. Images behind the blitz of emotions show little girls and boys spitting on the sidewalk at my feet as they chase and kick me. I can’t recall my feelings in those moments, nor my reactions. I must have felt powerless, confused, and helpless, like a child falling down after being tripped. But as to the exact feelings and how much the scrape hurt, I can’t be certain.

 

I like to imagine that I wasn’t affected by their insults, that I ignored them and skipped the rest of the way home, oblivious and indifferent to their name-calling and cruelty, that I looked forward to a sweet Chinese sticky bun as my afterschool snack. Yet this was probably not the case.

 

Through even blurred memories, saps of intense emotions, and amidst uncertainty of immediate feelings, one message sank in loud and clear, “I am different.” But, not only am I different, I’m lesser-than these white-skinned, fair-haired children.

 

A snapshot captures life lived in moments and bites; it does not, however, preserve the underlying emotions. I search my memory bank, but can’t recall my feelings about the ridicule or remember a salient moment when I felt a certain way about myself or about those other children. Like a pot of water on a low flame stove, the heat slowly penetrates into the viscera of my soul. Their bitter words, their fingers pulling at the sides of their faces to imitate my Chinese eyes, flavor the pot and simmers it, stewing passively over the years in ways that I can only recognize in retrospect.

 

I recall praying and wishing deep within myself that I could be different from the lesser-than, inferior Chinese people. The greatest complement anyone could have paid me during my early teen years was that I did not look or act Chinese. I strove hard for this, and it was not difficult since I was immersed in the dominant culture and spoke English without an accent. I spoke no Chinese at all and denied any comprehension of the language. I spent immeasurable amounts of time trying to alter my appearance all because I believed the natural me was worthless.

 

I struggled not wanting to be that Chinese girl with scraped knees.

 


 

As one of the stories of racism I endured growing up, these experiences, coupled with my recent opportunity to speak to the media, sparked a deep passion in me to do more. The Asian Gold Ribbon Campaign is about Asian Canadians being noticed, being seen, and for others to join in solidarity to celebrate Asian heritage and culture.

Published in:

 

Wong, G. (2019) A Chinese mother’s journey to self: 冇用 Moh-Yoong. In S. Collins (Ed.), Embracing cultural responsivity and social justice: Re-shaping professional identity in counselling psychology [EPub version]. Retrieved from https://www.vitalsource.com/en-ca/

 

and

 

Wong-Wylie, G. (2006). Images and echoes in matroreform: A feminist cultural perspective. Journal of the Association for Research on Mothering, Mothering and Feminism, 8(1,2), 135-146. Retrieved from https://jarm.journals.yorku.ca/index.php/jarm/index.

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