I am a Chinese Canadian. That would classify me 50% white and 50% Chinese, and I’m totally fine with that. I normally speak with a Canadian accent and behave like a westerner, but also flip gears constantly. Blending in with a Chinese crowd is natural for me. It happens all over the place – work, the supermarket, church, home, even the local DMV! I eat-take out at Wendy’s for lunch while I order fried rice for dinner. I read the Toronto Star daily, but watch Fair-child (Chinese news) at nightly. I speak English with most, but switch to Cantonese/Mandarin as much as I can. I complain to my co-workers in English, but I complain to my computer in Chinese. Most importantly, I embrace both worlds whole-heartedly, balancing both the “western” and “eastern” side of me. But I also live in both worlds with tension.
The term “second-generation” refers to children of “first-generation” immigrants. That is, children of parents who were born in one country and migrated to another. If you’re second generation Canadian (or American) like me, then you can probably relate to what I’m saying. It’s not easy looking Chinese (or any other race) on the outside but feeling “white” on the inside. People judge based on looks, and immediately categorize you as one or the other. Being of an ethnic minority also subjects you to stereotypes, discrimination, and even racism.
Once I sat down with a 2nd gen. Chinese-Canadian woman who was stressing about the very same issue. She was feeling the stress of submitting to the whims of her parents despite not agreeing with doing things “the Chinese way”. Although in a stable career, one thing in particular was the demands to buy a house and get married, emphasizing the priority of family especially having (male) children. Not doing so as her parents claimed would leave her cursed and shameful not only her parents, but also relatives and friends. But her Canadian/western upbringing would say that it is independence and individuality that are to be emphasized. What was more important to her was to be able to choose and decide for herself, and marriage/children just wasn’t on the menu at the time. How would she be able to “honor her parents” (Ephesians 6:2) while being true to herself? The answer isn’t easy.
The question I want to talk about is how should we find our identity as 2nd generation immigrants? Is there a biblical answer to this?
From what I have seen there are three answers to the former question:
- Live as though you are a westerner and abandon most/all of your immigrant roots – This is the most common path I have seen. Here, the 2nd generation barely speaks the language of their homeland and takes little interest in the lifestyles of their parents. After all, most of their friends are not of their homeland but a homogeneity of other culture. If not the 2nd generation, this usually applies toward 3rd and 4th generations (children of 2nd gens).
- Live the life of both as a westerner and an immigrant – The hybrid approach. Does not forget their roots and practices the cultural traditions + language of their homeland. Likely intends to pass them onto their children although not demanding they be kept.
- Live the life of an immigrant and abandon all western roots – The most rare form, more associated with 1.5 Generation immigrants (those who immigrated over as a teenager). Usually they cannot cope with the western lifestyle and choose to protect themselves by living in a bubble. Their friends, lifestyle, and traditions all look the same as their parents.
To tell you the truth, I think all 3 of these are valid answers given the proper context. The main reason is because we all need to be given the freedom of choice to live the life, just like God has given us the freedom to choose what we wear, eat, and who to hang out with. When those freedoms are taken away, we are left with empty rules and unnecessary shame. For those living in 1., I have no qualms with those who have no attachment to the land of their parents because its not who they are. They didn’t live in the world of their parents. They lived in Canada, an English/French world with a diversity of cultures of equal respect. the same applies for church too, I firmly actually believe that 2nd generations need not attend the church of their parents (aka chinese/indian/korean/viet church) out of obligation and should find a church that best suites the world that they live in (a multi-cultural one).
A book I recently finished reading that describes the “silent exodus” of 2nd generation Chinese leaving the church of their parents. It proposed that Chinese parents should be supportive of their children who leave (85% attrition rate) and go to multi-ethnic churches. I highly recommend buying this on kindle for $10 if you’re in the same boat.
Personally I live like 2. because I believe there’s enough scriptural evidence to point out the hybrid model is the most optimal model. After all, Paul said in 1 Corinthians 9:22 – “…I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some” which attributes toward his versatility in handling different cultures. Also, while in Christ our spiritual identities are the same (Galatians 3:28), this does not mean our personalities or physical traits are now identical. For example, in Heaven we will exist as both spiritual and physical beings, and our physical identities with both limbs and body will remain. so then, in heaven there’s no reason that I would even lose the Chinese side of me – after all standing before the throne of God is every tribe and tongue worshipping the lamb (Revelations 7:9). There’s much more to say here, such as appreciating where I came for, the sacrifices my parents (and grand parents) had to make, seeing some of my behaviors coming from my parents, and how its much easier to just go with the flow/stereotypes rather than imposing what I want people to perceive me as.
Anyways, the real problem lies when we don’t know “who” or even “what” we are. If you’re a CBC – are you a Chinese-Canadian? Or just good ol “Canadian”? Or just plain Chinese?