©2000 Zhan Huan Zhou
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The Zhan in the Mirror
©1999 Zhan Huan Zhou, Winter 1999, Issue 2
Most of the time when I get up in the morning, I see myself in the mirror and think nothing of it. After all, Iíve been seeing the same person for the past 21 years. One day that all changed. I looked into the mirror and saw someone different. It wasnít the same 21 year old Chinese male I had grown accustomed to seeing. That day I realized that I was no longer Chinese.
I donít mean that one day I found out that I was really a genetically engineered Italian to look a Chinese person. I mean that my Chinese culture and way of thinking had been almost completely Westernized. Despite the fact that I was born in China and my parents are strong cultural influences, I have managed to lose much of my heritage. South of the border, this may be seen as the way of life and something that every immigrant must cope with. In contrast, here in Canada, we pride ourselves in being a "mosaic of cultures" compared to the American "melting pot." The reality in Canada, however, is that Caucasian individuals donít have any of the cultural pressures that an immigrant has, such as conforming to the Western way of life. The cultural difference dramatically affects the upbringing of a young child new to the country. No child wants be different from his peers and will do virtually anything to be accepted, including abandoning his native heritage in favour of the "Canadian" lifestyle. I fell victim to this when I was in public school and deeply regret it now. I am sure that many of you have this experience or know someone who has.
Aside from having all the physical attributes to pass as "Chinese," I have very little else to identify myself as such. For example, my Chinese oral and written skills are comparable to a kindergarten level and are degrading every year. I donít even know when Chinese New Year is most of the time. And even something as simple as consuming rice regularly is becoming more infrequent. I eat Western foods more than 90% of the time. And to top it all off, I donít even have black hair any more!
There are times I try really hard to fool myself into thinking that I am indeed Chinese. I will attempt to speak to my parents in Chinese or try to read a Chinese newspaper. When I am really desperate, I even eat at Sunshine Express or Grand China to get a gross approximation of my ethnic food to convince myself that I am indeed Chinese. I have some Chinese calendars that I put up to fool people into thinking that I am in touch with my culture. There are times I feel like I am insulting my Chinese heritage by calling myself a Chinese person.
An example that many of you may be able to relate to is calling yourself a "Christian." When was the last time you went to church? When was the last time you said Grace before dinner? When was the last time you confessed your sins? When was the last time you prayed to God? When was the last time being a Christian had a major impact on any action you have committed? I donít mean to offend any Christians but although many people are technically Christians, most donít practice the beliefs enough to really be called a Christian. The same is true for calling me a Chinese. Chinese blood may flow through my arteries, but I am as Canadian as the rest of you.
To paraphrase a certain song, you could say that Iím "Pretty Chink for a White Guy."