I was hesitant about posting this. It’s something that I never wrote or spoke openly about.
But, over the past few years, I realized how different my perception of my identity evolved, especially after living in the West and the East. And, now that I feel comfortable about it, I want to write it down and dare to share it on my online space.
Since I’ve never posted about anything personal on this blog, I thought this would be a good post for new and old readers to get to know me a little better.
So, I’m a Chinese-Canadian. I was born in Taiwan and grew up in Canada. Most of my childhood involved anime, manga, and embracing Japanese culture. Besides speaking Mandarin, I had little to no connection to my Chinese roots.
As a kid, I was never that interested in Western entertainment. Of course, there were songs and TV shows that I enjoyed, but there was nothing that I could relate to. It felt foreign.
When I discovered anime, manga, and Japanese shows, I was hooked. Maybe it was the art style, different storylines, or cultural differences from the West. Or, perhaps it was because I see people who look like me on the “big screen.”
At school, I only had Asian friends. As kids, we were all really into anime and manga. But, as we grew older, I noticed that many of them started to drift away from that. It began to make me feel that I should like the same things because I wanted to fit in.
Looking back, I think this made me more distant from my “roots.” Anime, manga, and Japanese shows were the only outside links and influences to my Asian ethnicity.
I consumed a lot of Japanese entertainment back then. I subconsciously romanticized the culture and reality. The protagonists from anime, manga, and Japanese shows shaped me as a child.
But, it was also extremely toxic. I had an unrealistic and twisted perception of how I was supposed to act and think. I’m not saying that that anime, manga, and Japanese shows are bad. I was just not aware that the things you watch could unconsciously affect your thoughts and actions, especially as a kid.
Growing up, I never really understood “Asian culture.” I put this in quotation marks because that term encompasses tons of different cultures already. The only “education” I got was the entertainment I consumed. Because I lacked this education, I could never fully understand other thoughts and perceptions of another culture.
I always saw myself as a wannabe when living in Canada. Looking back, it felt like I kept trying to “be white” or even “be Japanese.” I kept trying to be something else rather than understanding who I was. So, I was stuck in this toxic mindset.
It wasn’t until I went to China for graduate school that I developed a better sense of identity. And I really have to thank my dad for that.
For a place I never visited before, I felt strangely at home. Maybe it was because I was so eager to get out of Canada. Perhaps it was because I was hungry for adventure and excitement somewhere else. Regardless of what the reason was, I felt comfortable.
For once, I wasn’t “learning” through a screen. I was experiencing first-hand a different culture, a culture that I actually identify with.
And it was so different from what I saw on TV.
It was so different from what I read in the headlines.
It was so different from what movies and dramas portray Asian people to be.
I think that was when it hit me. For most of my childhood, I was living in a warped reality. I was so distant from my Chinese roots that I instantly clung to anything that looked remotely Asian because I was desperate for familiarity. But at the same time, I also wanted to push it away because I never fully understood it.
However, while living in China felt familiar, there were also instances where I felt like a foreigner. That’s when I cycled into another rut. I wasn’t Canadian enough. I wasn’t Chinese enough. I’m sure a lot of Asians who grew up overseas can relate to something like this.
I developed a better and realistic understanding of Chinese and Western culture throughout my experiences in grad school and internships. And, I think that’s what helped me cope with my cycle.
After graduating from grad school, I think this was when I entirely became comfortable with my dual identity and just as a person. Living in China really helped boost my confidence in who I am and helped me develop a strong sense of self.
Now, I live and work in Asia. And, I can proudly say that I’m happy to associate as a Chinese-Canadian, a term that I wouldn’t have been proud to associate with during childhood and my teenage years.
I’m not sure how many people can relate or identify with my experiences. But, if there’s one thing that I hope everyone can take from this is to always think twice about what you read and see, especially when it involves cultures different from your own.
We’re all living in some kind of distorted reality.