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In Grade 2, I was one of the only Asian students in my class. I distinctly remember crying when a white girl made fun of my “flat nose” and told me to go back to China.

My teacher was kind and reassured me that my nose was beautiful, but I felt a deeply penetrating shame and a sense that I didn’t belong. To avoid experiencing that again, I started doing everything I could to be as close to white as possible.

My parents immigrated from China and Taiwan to North America for graduate school, eventually settling in Edmonton. I grew up as a classic Canadian-born Chinese kid: my parents spoke to me in Mandarin and I replied in English. I called myself a “banana”: yellow on the outside, white on the inside.

In Grade 4, there was a boy with the same last name as me, so other kids assumed we were related. I hated that people grouped us together, so I avoided being around him, or even talking to him. I was afraid that being linked to him would signal that I didn’t really belong.

In junior high, most of my friends were white or brown. My brown friends could empathize with being the child of immigrants, but they were safe to be around without making me seem too Chinese.

My high school, however, was more racially divided. There were specific areas of the school everybody knew were for the Black kids, the brown kids, the Asian kids.

My circle of friends became predominately Asian, most of them stereotypically nerdy and academically focused. But my goal of being more Canadian than Asian was still something to which I clung. So although I hung out with Asians, they were primarily Canadian-born. I didn’t associate with kids who were recent immigrants, because I thought doing so would contaminate my Canadian-ness.

When I was 24, I married a guy who is also a Canadian-born child of Chinese immigrants. But while my Mandarin is limited to greetings and a handful of dim sum dishes, he speaks fluent Cantonese. I told people he was “more Chinese” than me, and he joked that he “married a white girl,” which made me swell with pride.

When my daughter was born, he and I never discussed whether we would teach her Mandarin or Cantonese. I obviously couldn’t teach her Mandarin and my parents didn’t live in the same city as us. But she could learn Cantonese from her dad and my in-laws.

Around the age of three, she told me she didn’t want her grandmother to speak to her in Chinese anymore, only in English. Even though we watched some TV shows – Ni Hao Kai Lan and Little Pim – in Mandarin, I had unconsciously passed my values on to her.

When it came time to think about kindergarten, my husband and I explored a bilingual Mandarin program and a French Immersion program.

One of the reasons I was hesitant about the Mandarin program was the way it was taught – one week in a Mandarin classroom with a Chinese immigrant teacher, then one week in an English classroom. As a speech language pathologist, I didn’t think this was optimal for language learning.

But my resistance also went deeper. I considered a classroom of predominantly Chinese kids a “false” representation of a Canadian environment. And I thought my daughter would be surrounded by immigrant children who were already fluent in Mandarin, which would make her an outcast.

Although I didn’t admit it out loud, I also didn’t want my daughter to fraternize with too many immigrant Chinese children because I didn’t want to have to befriend their parents.

We ultimately decided on putting her in the French immersion program. I say “we,” but it was more me. My misgivings about interacting with other Chinese people and immersing my family in that environment ultimately made me choose not to provide my daughter with the opportunity to learn the language of her heritage.

As that realization set in, another one followed: That I am racist against my own race.

My entire existence in Canada has been tied to the values of white supremacy. All along, I felt that I must choose to be either Canadian or Chinese, and that I couldn’t be both.

This epiphany means I have a new journey ahead of me. I don’t know exactly how, but I know I need to uproot my internalized racism. The first step is acknowledging the racism and the implicit biases I have. And then educating myself about how to unlearn these ingrained patterns of thinking, and confront the racial trauma I’ve buried.

I’ve also started having conversations with my daughter about how I felt ashamed about being Chinese at her age. I make an effort to bring her to Chinese cultural celebrations so she can learn about the culture I denied. I want her to feel proud to be Chinese and not hide that part of herself. In doing so, I’m hopeful that she will fight for a just society where racialized kids don’t have to try to be white to fit in.

Ultimately, this is how we can all belong.

Judith Lam Tang lives in Edmonton

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