In 2018, I traveled for the first time to Asia and it awoken a certain curiosity within me about my own cultural heritage that I haven’t felt since I was a child. Being born in Quebec, it wasn’t until elementary school that I met an Asian who wasn’t related to me. I was very curious about the Korean girl in my third grade class. I haven’t even heard of Korea before, I just assumed all other Asians were like me: Chinese.
That year, she invited classmates and I to her home for her birthday party. I was intrigued by her Korean traditions and beliefs; “no writing names with the red crayon”, she would warn us. I listened to her speak Korean with her parents, with envy. I never spoke Chinese with my parents and felt somehow un-Asian in contrast to her.
The following year, I changed schools and there were now two Vietnamese girls in my new class. While I felt compelled to become friends with them, they mostly kept to themselves and I didn’t have another Asian friend until half way through high school.
It felt strangely alone to not have any friends that physically resembled me or someone else who had rice for lunch instead of a sandwich. Now, when I talk about this experience with Canadian friends, most can’t relate or imagine how different I felt. I often compare it to watching TV and seeing every actor be another ethnic group than you. Then my friends would go “ahhhhh”, for a split second, they had just imagined a world that I have actually been living in for the first twenty years of my life.
Eventually, as an adult, I made more and more Asian friends but I was jealous that they all could speak their parents’ native language. I was finally with peers that resembled me but now that I was among them, I felt my inadequacy as an Asian.
It wasn’t until earlier this year, I met a Vietnamese girl who had been adopted by a Quebec family, living in a predominantly white community, that my curiosity arose again. “Do you ever wonder about where you come from? Do you want to go visit there one day? Do you like Vietnamese food?” were all questions that instantly came out of my mouth. But as soon as I asked her those questions, I wondered those things about myself. Why haven’t I traveled to see China? Why haven’t I learned Chinese?
And so I decided to go.
Last November, as I travelled through Japan, China, Taiwan and Hong Kong, I finally had the feeling of being completely invisible in a sea of Asians. My curiosity for culture and language was at its peak and as soon as I returned to Canada, I was on a mission to rediscover my roots. I am now applying to university, after almost ten years out of school, to pursue a PhD in East Asian Studies.
As the year comes to an end, I already have big hopes and many dreams for 2019 – of course to be accepted into university, travel far and discover more about my culture and who I am.