Am I Forgetting My Roots? — Part 1

I was mindlessly scrolling down on the list of top trending videos on YouTube and picked a Chinese reality TV show/singing competition. It is the Chinese version of the international phenomenon The Voice. I love singing and I’ve been a fan of all kinds of singing competition TV shows ever since I can remember. But I’ve not been following those shows for years now so I was a bit surprised to find out that I was still interested enough to watch it.

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Turned out that I not only finished watching that video, I also couldn’t stop but to search for more. I was shocked by how talented young singers are in China and impressed by the quality of the show. One new thing that I noticed is the strong influence of Western music styles this season. Of course the influence is always there and there used to be other memorable contestants in the past seasons who tried Jazz, Blues, R&B, and Rap on the stage. But it is clear that now both the singers and the audience are getting more and more comfortable with this influence and presentation.

Needless to say, I am really happy to see the change. I’ve been singing English songs when the majority of my friends in China didn’t even know these singers whose songs I was listening to. So naturally, for me it was a good sign to see that now there is a much better acceptance of international influence into the mainstream culture in China.

At the same time, I am conflicted deep inside for a very important reason. To put it in a simple way, I think it is an identity crisis that I am experiencing. But it is more complicated than it sounds. Let me try to explain to you and also break it down for myself.


 

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Photo by Hermes Rivera on Unsplash

Five years ago, I landed in Canada as an international student from China. I was of course very excited, but above all, I felt free. It was not like I was having a hard time in school back in China or anything. But for some reason, I felt that life was very limiting, especially when I already knew that there was so much more out there in the world.

I grew a curious mind and became very fond of Western culture when I was just a kid. It all started when my dad one day brought back home a cassette of “The Most Popular English Love Songs” when I was about 8 years old. It included such songs like “My Heart Will Go On”, “Yesterday Once More”, and “Unchained Melody”. I had never heard anything like that before and I didn’t start learning English until a few years after so I certainly knew nothing about what those people in the tape were singing about. But I was totally mesmerized by the foreign melodies and the mysterious language. I would play the tape with the now old-fashioned but then high-tech cassette player every single night as the background music no matter what I was doing (Now I know why I always took so long to finish my homework!).

You can imagine how excited I was when I finally started to learn English. It was not just a tool like many people said. I really believed that this language was a window to a whole new world so I treated it like one. My love for English gradually became my obsession with the culture and the people behind it.

I got into the best local high school that specializes in language learning, with English, French, and German as its focus. Due to their special policy, I was recommended to one of the best universities in China without having to take the College Entrance Examination. The tradeoff was that we were only given the choices of languages as our major. For this reason, other qualified students hesitated to take advantage of this opportunity. I, on the other hand, was delighted, thinking “This couldn’t be more perfect for me!”

One thing led to another, I went to California for 3 months for work and travel. I was confirmed, with my superficial understanding back then, that the U.S. is a “free-spirited” country and that the Western world is what I’ve been looking for. So I tried my best to apply for master programs in North America and was eventually accepted by the University of British Colombia in Canada.

Taking the story back to when I landed in Canada five years ago. We had more than 50 students in the program and half of us were from outside Canada. So the professors were keen to know where we came from. All of us international students were very happy to introduce ourselves and repeat our stories again and again, but there was a group of students who were clearly having trouble explaining their roots – the second generation of immigrants to Canada. They all came with their parents to Canada many years ago and were somehow “westernized” but not completely. I noticed that for many of them, even after many rounds of “practice”, they still did not know if they should just say that they are Canadians or if they should also mention where they originally came from.

I was puzzled when I saw them struggling. “It is such a simple question!” I thought. I did not understand what I understand now. It was not their nationality that they were confused about. It was their “identity”.

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Photo by Ali Marel on Unsplash

The concept of my identity never seemed to be a concern to me like it was for my classmates. Now as I think back, it seems like they did not quite understand it and thus did not know how to articulate it either. I think the reason why the answer to “where are you from” was easy for me back then was because I only had one identity – Chinese. I had a Chinese passport, a Chinese face, and Chinese accent. Everything was consistent… until now.

Fast track to today, five years after I’ve been immersed myself in this Western culture like I always dreamed of, I’ve earned my Permanent Residency and together with it, a new identity. I know that I am just like any other Canadian residents here, but at the same time, I know it well in my heart that I am very different from them.

 

To be continued…

 

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