“Hey, Nick do you speak Chinese?”
“Of course!” I say defensively for no reason. “I’ll have you know that I was born in China and I went to one of the top primary schools in my city.”
“Okay chill dude. What does this thing say then?”
“Oh. Um, yeah it’s like that thing. Like that one famous Chinese thing, you know?” I stammer, trying to buy time.
Being in Vancouver often means I’m told, either directly or indirectly, that I don’t belong as a Canadian. To give myself some peace, it becomes easier to identify as “only” Chinese, which means my ability to speak Chinese has become quite a fragile point of pride.
However, after being in Vancouver for so long, I find myself struggling to tell my mother about my day in Chinese, bogged down by English jargon and unable to explain my studies to my grandmother and giving up on reading Chinese altogether. As time goes on, I grow more and more frustrated as I helplessly watch my Chinese slowly slip away.
To me, speaking Chinese is my way of finding community, expressing myself to my family and exploring my culture unfiltered by Western lenses. Speaking Chinese meant that I was at least worthy of something, even if the city would never accept me.
Recently, I’ve become incredibly grateful to the emergence in popularity of Western media featuring Chinese people, local and online groups where Chinese diaspora can find community using English as a common language, and those around me who embrace Chinese people, cuisine and culture.
Although I’m becoming byelingual, I hope that one day I can feel Canadian despite being Chinese, and I can feel Chinese despite having to Google Translate phrases behind my family’s back.