“You are not a welcome people!” were the words emphatically stated by an immigration official to my father. He was just graduating from his post-secondary studies as an international student when he was hoping to start a new life and had applied for Canadian residency status.
It was well into my 30’s that when my father finally told me that story. I don’t know if he even intended to tell it, but I remember curiously wanting to know more about his life (yes I know, why did it take me until me 30’s to ask more about his life and journey!?!?!). I often wonder how profoundly those types of comments influenced my father. His long desire to buy a home in a specific neighbourhood, sending my brothers and I to “Canadian” private schools, his persistent loyalty to “Joe” the barber – all efforts at perhaps assimilating into a nation that would see him as a perpetual newcomer more than 60 years later.
And yet, I know by name the people who were also generous to him and my family. “Canadians” like Ms. Hebb, the Sunday School teacher who advocated for him, leading to a job which helped him get his Permanent Residency status. Co-workers from his first job in Toronto who befriended him and made him feel like he belonged. The minister who discipled and loved international students and newcomers in Toronto, whom my father insisted officiate his wedding to my mother even-though the former missionary was not officially credentialed. My dad not only mentions their names randomly in conversation but continues to be adamant concerning about extending grace to the children and grandchildren of all of those very “Canadians” to this very day.
As a highly collective culture, I am only now seeing the effects of all of these experiences on my own children. These are just some of the stories that are crucial to Asian Canadian experience. Layers of denial and grace, hate and love, all woven into what I know we are and are becoming: Canadian.