Canada is such a diverse country. There’s nothing like landing at Pearson Airport and just letting out a deep breath and feeling like I’m home.
This wasn’t the case in the 80’s. In elementary school, I was the token Asian kid. I suffered bullying and racist remarks. I didn’t realize I was different, until it was pointed out time and time again. White people would say: Fried rice for lunch? What are chopsticks? Speaking a different language? Small eyes? Chinese people would say: Why are you so dark? What kind of last name is that? Your Cantonese sounds so whitewashed. That’s so weird. At that young age, the last thing you want to do is stick out. You wanted to fit in and be accepted. I think at some point I felt a little sorry for myself because I didn’t understand where I belonged or if I even mattered. Any type of media I consumed, whether it was TV, music or magazines, depicted beautiful white people. People who didn’t look like me. And if there was a rare one, they’d be the quiet, nerdy friend. Never a main character. It’s no wonder where the obsession with being tall, having light hair, lighter skin, impossibly long eyelashes and the hourglass figure was brainwashed into my impressionable self. I am not naturally any of those things so what did that make me? Was I destined to be a geeky, submissive sidekick too?
As time went on, the people I met became more diverse. In high school there was a group of Asians that were all very close. I thought great, people who would understand me and take me in. Nope. I didn’t fit in with them. In my first year of university, I was trying to help an ESL student by speaking Cantonese to him and he ridiculed me for not using the right grammar. It was like I was too Asian for my white friends, and not Asian enough for Asian people. How confusing. Luckily I found a couple of good girlfriends that helped teach me that I was fine just the way I was.
When movies like Crazy Rich Asians and Always be my Maybe came out, I realized how important representation was to me. I wish I had seen people like me growing up. English speaking Asian people (from different countries) who were all individuals with relatable personalities and in lead roles. I listened to all the cast interviews about how these groundbreaking films had an impact on them and it was really moving. It resonated with me because I felt like this was missing my whole life but I couldn’t articulate the feeling I had.
Last week I was applying to be a contestant for a social media campaign for a well known brand. We were finalists. Ultimately it didn’t work out and my family wasn’t selected. No big deal. I was still excited to see what it was all about – until I saw the winners. They chose 9 families to represent Canada and guess what? They were all white. When something like that happens people tell me: maybe they didn’t do it on purpose, maybe they didn’t have the right candidates or maybe I’m being too sensitive. Maybe they’re right, but you know what, I emailed them my opinion anyway. Change doesn’t happen if you stand by and say nothing right? Plus, I think I was slightly fired up after writing this post and reflecting on my personal pain that I wasn’t going to be quiet about it. I respectfully asked their decision makers to do better next time. If there is a period of checking off a “Diversity” box, I want that to be a consideration when choosing people until it’s not an afterthought.
I’m hoping that minorities will be represented more equally (without the annoying stereotypes) going forward and that it’s not some marketing ploy because it’s trendy. I don’t want my kids to have the same identity issues that I had to overcome. I hope they can celebrate being themselves and open to delving into other cultures with an open mind.