It’s Odd: Whenever I Listen to Chinese Music, I Get This Feeling of Nostalgia as if I Once Lived in China…

Where am I from? I don’t have a default answer necessarily.

Series: So Far So Close

I think as long as we take time to understand the impact of Chinese culture on who we are today and acknowledge that there was in fact some Chinese influence on us, that’s pretty insightful information that will help us live richer lives.” — — Cecilia

Meet Cecilia

Cecilia was born in Shanghai, China, so were her parents. She immigrated to Canada with her parents at a young age and they settled in Toronto. Now she lives in Atlanta in the U.S., studying law at Emory University.

Cecilia’s parents immigrated to Canada because they wanted to have another child and raise them with the values and experience of the west.

I immigrated to Canada at the age of 3 with my family and we settled in Toronto. While my parents were both civil engineers in Shanghai, their engineering degrees meant little to nothing in Canada — they would have to restart their engineering education again. This was during 1999, just when internet companies were starting to make it big, so both my parents decided to transition their careers to Information Technology. Through their grit, the help of others, and luck, they were able to rebuild their careers and give my younger brother and I a truly fantastic upbringing. Today, my father works in Shenzhen and my mother works in Toronto, and my brother is still in high school in Toronto. Everyone outside of my nuclear family lives in Shanghai.

Cecilia’s parents did not try to “whitewash” Cecilia at all. Instead, they infused her upbringing with Chinese culture.

My parents never emphasized Chinese culture to me directly — they instead more passively stressed being Chinese through sending me to Chinese school on the weekends, Chinese summer camps, and taking me to delicious Chinese restaurants. I think I may be in a different position than other Chinese-Americans because I grew up in Toronto, where there are literally huge malls or multiple entire sections of the city that are heavily Chinese. It was really easy to understand as a kid what being Chinese was like.

My parents definitely did not try to “whitewash” me at all. In fact, they would sometimes remind me: “You are Chinese, you are not white,” which more served as a warning to avoid feeling all entitled and provocative in living in a society where I’m clearly a minority.

Still, Cecilia’s thoughts and ideas are largely different from her parents’. Their most intense conflict is about marriage.

Our most intense conflict is about the importance of marriage. They really think to have a great marriage and a great family are the most important tasks of life, but this isn’t what I believe. I think this gap in understanding is largely cultural.

Born in China, grew up in Canada, lived in France for a while, and now studies in the U.S., “Where are you from?” is a “tricky” question for Cecilia, and her answer would be…

Whenever I get the question “where are you from,” I’ve grown to answer according to the person and the situation in which the question is asked. I don’t have a default answer necessarily — if I know the conversation is more casual and less intimate, I’ll usually respond I was raised in Toronto and have been living in the US for some time. This will be my typical answer to someone here in the US.

My answer was different when I lived in Paris. There, there isn’t as much recent immigration as there is in North America, and so people, to me at least, seemed to really care about where I was “really from.” There were some instances where I would say I was from Canada, and people would push me further and say, “but your parents are Chinese right?” So during my time in Paris, I would say I’m Chinese-Canadian or something along those lines. But frankly, I don’t exactly identify with one country more or less, as they’ve all had different influences on my identity.

Among all the different places Cecilia has lived in, Toronto is the home.

My home is without a doubt Toronto, Canada. Toronto is the place where I feel most comfortable with getting around, know the best Chinese restaurants, and where I feel most reflective. So much of my life happened there, so it’s hard to replace its impact on my identity and memories.

Cecilia sees Chinese culture as a huge part of her identity and she would love to live in China in the future.

I feel closely related to China. I love the feel of its cities, I love the food, and I love its sweet yet super hard-working culture. It’s odd: whenever I listen to Chinese music, I develop this feeling of nostalgia as if I once lived in China! Moreover, when people make insensitive comments about China, I absolutely speak up. Honestly, I love being Chinese. And so, yes — absolutely — Chinese culture is a huge part of my identity. In fact, I would love to live in China for a few years in the near future.

My last visit to China was in 2014. I interned in Beijing for 2 months and visited my family in Shanghai as well. Personally, I love Shanghai the most. I would absolutely live in Shanghai in the future. I also love hot pot and any kind of northern Chinese food with Bao Zi and any kind of scallion/veggie pancakes. My most recent favorite dish would be Jian Bing Guo Zi (I hope I got that right!)

Cecilia feels excited about China’s rise and she believes this is a chance for the world to question their stereotype.

Honestly, I love China’s progress. As a Chinese person growing up in North America, of course there were times where I felt stereotyped or discriminated against. More coverage about China’s advancements serves as an educational opportunity for society to realize that we’re not just a country with bad air pollution that serves cheap fast food. It’s exciting to see people who look like you have such a large impact in the world.

In other words, I think China’s progress will cause people to question their stereotypes and think twice about discriminating against people who are really, for lack of a better word, killing it in so many aspects of life: eradicating extreme poverty levels, advancing smartphone technologies, investing in developing countries who no other country would reasonably give loans to… I think there’s a lot to be excited about. So, I think China’s rise brings more equality to the world, showing everyone that it’s not just white people who are the leaders of our time.

Cecilia’s advice for those who share a similar experience with her, who may have doubts, hesitation, and confusion about their cultural identity.

I believe it’s a great time to be Chinese. We are such an awesome culture rich in history and values, producing highly valuable things for the world, and we’re finally getting some recognition! I believe one of the most important things you can do in life is to understand your parents — especially if you are a child of Chinese immigrants: our parents were likely the rebels and crazy ones to leave the comfort of their homes. I think you could talk to your parents more and figure them out, and supplement your conversations with some readings on Confucian principles.

I took an East Asian Philosophy class in undergrad and wow did it help me understand my upbringing and Chinese culture! I think as long as we take time to understand the impact of Chinese culture on who we are today (which I think usually will be conveyed through our parents) and acknowledge that there was in fact some Chinese influence on us, that’s pretty insightful information that will help us live richer lives.

Editor: Yinong | Translator: Yinong
Originally published on Jan. 28th, 2019
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