Even though I’m a Saskatchewan-born Regina resident now, whenever I visit Vancouver, I feel right at home – probably because I spent five and a half years living there. I didn’t leave because I wanted to, but because of employment opportunities. I’ve now settled back into the prairie life, which was a bit of a reverse-culture shock.
Growing up in a smaller city like Regina, I was not exposed to many cultures mostly Canadians of European background with a smattering of Chinese, South East Indian and some Indigenous classmates. Sometimes when my mother would pack me Chinese meals, like wonton soup in a thermos, it would stink, and I would feel so embarrassed about. It was only as an adult that I realized that I was fortunate to have a delicious, hot and tasty meal over a cold-cut sandwich. Often being the only Chinese girl in my class (until high school), I was shy and found it hard to make many friends. I was teased for being different and, at times, bullied because of the colour of my skin or the shape of my eyes. I desperately wanted to be white and fit in.
The one place I felt more comfortable was at Chinese School. There I met other Chinese Canadian children who faced similar challenges. Some of them became good friends of mine, as we bonded over our struggle with our identity as children of immigrant Chinese parents. Our direct Western approach would often clash with the indirect Asian way of doing things. We also commiserated over our tests, homework and piano teachers. Yes, as an immigrant child, most of us had to take a musical instrument or two and Chinese school.
In high school I went to a church conference that was held in Banff. Youth from British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan who were Chinese-born attended. I met some people who were raised in Vancouver. There were so many of them. They all seemed so cool and confident in their skin. They liked being Chinese Canadian. I wistfully wished I could have grown up in Vancouver. Some of the girls from Vancouver said they went to schools that were mostly Asian –
a totally foreign concept to me. But when I finally did get to live in Vancouver as an adult, I did learn what it was like to be in a community with more Asians and other cultures. It felt like I was less special, in a way, because I was now in the majority. No longer could I speak Cantonese in public and not be understood. I couldn’t say to friends to look for the Chinese girl in the crowd. But, on the other hand, I felt a camaraderie with fellow Canadian-born Chinese and Asians in Vancouver. There was more variety of not just Asian food, but international flavours that I had never tried before. There was such a diversity in Vancouver and even mixed races, which I thought was so cool. People had such a range of life experiences and had such engaging and interesting stories to tell.
In contrast to this was the vanilla scene, in terms of culture, back in the day on the prairies. The only real exposure to multiculturalism was at an annual festival featuring food, cultural displays and dances. I think the growing multiculturalism will continue to expand as more and more immigrants continue to come to Canada in all centres. Vancouver was already diverse, but it can serve as a model for smaller communities learning to accommodate and embrace new cultures. With globalization, the world is being represented in even the smallest towns.