Me in Media | Cultural Milkshake

Posted by Claire Ping & filed under But Where are You Really From?, Identity, Me in Media.

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(Writing group left to right: Beth Hong, Lisa Odland, Claire Ping, Maggie Wang, Mauree Matsusaka).

The following piece was written by our writing workshop participant Claire Ping, a Grade 11 student at Sir Winston Churchill Secondary in Vancouver.

Cultural Milkshake

When new friends ask me where I’m from, this is how I’d like to respond:

I would roll my eyes and point at a strawberry milkshake, “that’s me.”

The same idea struck when one of my Grade ten teachers asked each one of us to make for her a collage representing ourselves. With a pair of child scissors I cut out little pieces of pictures, Taylor Swift, S.H.E., Hello Kitty, pizza, stir-fried tomato and eggs, Vancouver, China, maple leaf, and a staircase of books flowing right across the middle. Anne of Green Gables is one step, XueWei the next.

My teacher called it a cultural collage, but I think it’s more than that. Pictures representing my Chinese culture face down and pictures representing my Canadian culture face up. Together, it’s a snapshot of my identity.

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I still remember the warm spring morning when I stood with terrified eyes in front of the one-story, blue-and-white schoolhouse. I was ten years old, and had just moved from a bustling Chinese city to quiet Vancouver. My first Canadian teacher led me down a hallway and asked with a curious smile on her foreign face, “Where are you from?”

“China.” I answered without hesitation. Yet, three years later, when I repeated this word for the twentieth time to a European tourist at Horseshoe Bay, it was not the one hundred percent right answer.

 

Pictures representing my Chinese culture face down and pictures representing my Canadian culture face up.

“Oh” The middle-aged tourist exclaimed, amazed. “So you are travelling here from China?”

“No, no,” I hurried to explain, surprised at his interpretation. “My family is from China, but we live in Vancouver.”

“So you are not from China? You are from Vancouver!” The man said, confused.

I shook my head and explained to him once more that I am Chinese, but at the same time from Vancouver.

“Okay…so you are Canadian,” the man concluded. His face lightened, as if he understood.

That was the first time I asked myself where I was really from. I was surprised at how the man thought of identity as black and white. But could this be how most people think of cultural identity?

What happens if I travelled to a foreign country and people ask me where I’m from? What if I go to college in another country? Then, would I identify myself as a Chinese or a Canadian? These thoughts bubbled in my head, leaving me frightened and confused.

I was surprised at how the man thought of identity as black and white.

All of a sudden, I lost my answer to what used to be one of most straightforward questions. From reading Anne of Green Gables to working at McDonald’s, Canada is an inseparable part of my experience of growing up. But with half of my closet full of t-shirts from China and my bookshelf half-full of Chinese novels, I can’t say I’m just from Vancouver.

So when one of my Grade-ten teachers asked every student in the class to make for her a culture collage, I grimaced. What is my culture? Chinese? Canadian? Or both? Then, the idea struck. When I come back to the question of where I’m really from, I think my collage explains it all. Part Chinese, part Canadian: a perfect blend of both cultures–just like a strawberry milkshake.

***

About Claire:

I’m a Grade 11 student who relocated to Vancouver from China. I’m especially fond of books, teddy bears, and Chinese culture. I love reading and writing in both English and Chinese. Anne of Green Gables is one of my all-time favourite books. My dream is to travel to different cities and gather stories of people from all corners of the world.

Related Links

The other two written pieces, by Lisa Odland and Maggie Wang.

More Than Our Stereotypes by Lisa Odland

Forgotten by Maggie Wang

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