I have studied abroad in three countries and I have, since starting university here, represented Canada in a few international business case competitions. Most contests ask the teams to share short videos on social media that introduce each team member and country. In ours, we jokingly play off Canadian stereotypes that none of us actually subscribe to, like loving maple syrup and hockey.
One day, I read, “Is this actually Team Canada, or Team Japan?” in the comments. My teammates and I laughed. We’re Chinese-Canadian, after all, not Japanese.
I don’t often get offended when people ask me about my heritage, because I love having the opportunity to share the cultures I’ve experienced and the lessons I’ve learned. But this comment stuck with me throughout the competition, lurking in the back of my mind. I found myself trying to overcompensate for my Asiatic appearance, trying to provide an “authentic view” of Canada to others.
There were many times when we’d sit at dinner, and the Italian team would talk about how they make Carbonara pasta with a raw egg, the Malaysians would mention Nasi Lemak, and then they’d ask: “What do people eat in Canada?”
“It depends,” I’d tell them. “We’re so multicultural. I have a mostly Chinese diet but I can’t speak for everyone.” Somehow, though, I felt like I was cheating them of a “genuine” cultural experience.
The rise in popularity of Asian storytellers like Wong Fu Productions, and Facebook groups like “Subtle Asian Traits” show that I’m not alone. All around the world, Asian immigrants struggle to legitimise themselves as Australians, Canadians, American, etc – and it can be very disorientating. Many consider themselves Canadians but hold values or have food preferences that reflect a different cultural identity, which makes them “less Canadian” in the eyes of outsiders.
But, what does being Canadian even mean anyway?
For a country so diverse, there’s unlikely to be a set of ingrained traditions that everyone follows. Is it just a question of time, then? But then, surely, Aboriginal Canadian culture should hold more weight?
I came home that week confused and uncomfortable, because I had tried to whittle the meaning of “being Canadian” down to mere traditions and routines that I didn’t subscribe to, when in reality the beauty of this country is that it is a melting pot of cultures.
You can be Canadian but have a totally different experience to another Canadian, and that’s completely okay. We may not all share the same food preferences, music tastes, or sense of humour, but I think that’s what makes our country so unique.