Face it, I am just as Canadian as the next person. I am an immigrant from southeast Asia, raised by hardworking, tax-paying parents, and having been a citizen for the last 43 years. But, you know, I had to teach myself English and achieved relative success. Yet, I still hide from society. Why? Nobody wants to hire an immigrant to Canada in the publishing world. Oh yes, it’s true. Think there isn’t discrimination in the workforce against the non-native speaker of English? Think again. Think real hard. In fact, explode…erm…indulge your brain a bit in my world.
I am a product of proper parents and a wild spirit of a colourful country, with colourful and harmless metaphors. However, I am seen as foreign, despite my almost impeccable English, because of the colour of my hair, the tinge of my skin, and the almond shape of my eyes – all dead giveaways that I am, well, NOT WHITE!! If you think, in your white-bread, middle-class, so-called open-minded Canadian-ness that appearance and language don’t designate worth in Canada, oh boy, are you in for a nice intro into “Canadiana 101”. (I don’t promise to be nice except that I will use the ‘eh?’ after every, ahem, colourful metaphor.)
First of all, we Asians bring “the worst” accents to the spoken English language. Only Russell Peters can make us laugh at that. (Thank you, Mr. Peters.) The rest of you suck hairy goat balls at bringing that to our attention, eh? Sayings like, “You stutter like a [insert nationality here] mongook,” still persist online against someone can’t speak or type in grammatically-correct English. With the past decades of political correctness, the insult has become more “civilized”, but nonetheless bold. They simply ask, “What’s with all this wing-wing-wong-wong?” Even if the person they’re asking is white-bred through and through. Kinda shitty, eh?
Secondly, there is the whole issue of incompatibility between East-Asian languages and English. Many of us can transition seamlessly between our family’s native tongue and our pared-down English replies (as any good immigrant kid can). Yet, we are forever stuck in a tense-less netherworld where our teachers love to pick at our lack of subject-verb agreement, and discrepancies with our dangling modifiers.
Also, we don’t DEBATE with our betters, (unless it’s with our parents), not even politely. To debate is Canadian, to challenge our teachers is insanity. To challenge any authority at school is unheard of in our generation. For instance, at home, we’re not even taught to think for ourselves in order to solve problems. We were simply told to follow a set way of doing things that have been passed down through the generations. All we had to “get” was the rationale behind our culture’s decorum. If it was good enough for our ancestors, there must be a reason. Or, at least, such is what our deep thinking comes to embrace by the time we’re twenty. Debate is insanity. Do you want to get whipped? Smacked across the face? Get yelled at and embarrassed in public? Do you want to dishonor your elders? Forbidden! (Yes, like any Western country, beatings were part of the Asian childhood experience back in the 1970s.)
So we make poor Arts Majors here in the land of the Great Debaters. After all, Canada was, and continues to be, established by debating issues, politely, of course. Though our sons and daughters, or at least yours, stood on guard for the country, so that we can have freedom of speech, freedom of association, freedom of movement, and all the blah blah Charter of Rights that nary a PM might dare to destroy – our youths, ours, not yours, find themselves unable to 1. understand the essay structure (based on a controversial thesis and subsequent arguments); 2. be motivated to learn anything Canadiana (the precious literature of our vast and varied population, most of all); 3. play professional ice hockey (though we love to take lessons, we just can’t get ourselves to impolitely body-check, so we take kung fu/tai chi instead); 4. become editors. Full stop.
You can’t blame anyone for that really. As I’ve said, it starts in childhood when we’re ingrained into believing we don’t and can’t know anything for ourselves until we follow what our elders tell us to do. Canadians hate that. Who can blame Canadians? After all, as Canadians ourselves, we were half-brought up to think for ourselves. Hence, the awful truth: too many of us Asian-Canadians are schizophrenic. Like, we’re screwed, eh?
When you are supposed to “switch gears” to challenge others when taught to quietly acquiesce at home; or to learn for yourselves to know where you “stand” while being told repeatedly you’re wrong if you don’t think like all the elders in your family…something’s gotta give. Hence, not many of us make it past the cultural starting gate. And, those who do, end up as assistants – helpers, not leaders.
After all, when an ad on LinkedIn says, “Only native-English speakers need apply”, and you KNOW you’re not a Canadian-Born-Anything, that is, a true banana – you then know something is amiss with the state of your essential being. ~V
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