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A changing identity for Chinese immigrants

The Story

"Canada really is a country of hybrids," says Chinese-Canadian writer Judy Fong-Bates, participating in this 2004 panel discussion hosted by Metro Morning. They're debating the changing cultural identity of Canadian-born Chinese people. Businessman Kit Wong, who immigrated to Canada a number of years ago, laments the fact that the Canadian-born Chinese are losing their ethnic culture. But writer Terry Woo argues that this evolution is inevitable, and that cultural identity isn't a static thing anyway: "It's not a problem, it's just the way it is." 

Medium: Radio
Program: Metro Morning
Broadcast Date: May 18, 2004
Guests: Diana Dai, Judy Fong-Bates, Danny Mui, Andy Shi, Kit Wong, Terry Woo
Reporter: Ing Wong-Ward, Lu Zhou
Duration: 6:53

Did You know?

• The issue of changing cultural identity among Canadian-born Chinese is nothing new -- it has been widely discussed within the Canadian-Chinese community for several decades.  Among the older generations, some worries have included the fact that younger generations no longer have a solid grasp of the Chinese language, and that certain cultural values -- especially those having to do with family traditions -- are dying out among the younger generations as they increasingly marry people from other cultures.

• In the 1990s, RicePaper magazine was launched by a group of Asian-Canadian writers to explore the issue of identity. As the RicePaper website explains, it is "committed to providing diverse perspectives on Canadian identity and culture through the experiences and expressions of Asian-Canadians." And according to a 2001 Globe and Mail article, "RicePaper seeks to expand the frontiers by exploring artistic endeavours beyond the mainstream and creating a forum for young Asian hipsters... who are caught in the middle of the culture clash."

• The issue of "hybrid identity" among Chinese-Canadians has also frequently made it into fiction during the past 20 years or so. As historian Peter S. Li wrote in the 1999 Encyclopedia of Canada's Peoples, "it has been with the growth of a Canadian-born generation of Chinese-Canadians that a distinctive body of literature written in English language has emerged... A common theme is the question of identity, both personal and collective, explored through the past."

• One recently successful novel on this theme was Banana Boys, written in 2000 by Chinese-Canadian author Terry Woo. The publisher's notes on this book sum it up: "Not quite Canadian, and certainly not Chinese, the Banana Boys stumble through the incidents of everyday life -- their interactions with family, girlfriends, objects of desire, co-workers, and each other -- always conscious of the divide between their Chinese roots and the mainstream of Canadian society."

• "Canadianization" aside, there is no one homogeneous Chinese identity either. Over the years, Chinese immigrants have come from Mainland China, Hong Kong or Taiwan, all of which have their own cultural identities within the Chinese ethnicity.
• As of 2001, Chinese was the third most commonly spoken language in Canada, next to English and French. In the 2001 Canadian census, 853,745 people reported that Chinese was their mother tongue.


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