Ottawa·The Things I Wish I Said

The racism we faced as Chinese-Canadians, and how it made us stronger

Russell Chan and Su Zhang share why they're not ashamed of their Chinese identities, even amid racist incidents they've experienced living in the nation's capital.

Watch Russell Chan and his mother Su Zhang share their experiences living in Ottawa

Su Zhang and her son Russell Chan share why they're not ashamed to be Chinese-Canadian

1 year ago
Duration 11:57
Watch this Chinese-Canadian family's full conversation in the first in our series, "The Things I Wish I Said." 请在上面的视频中观看这个加拿大华裔家庭的完整对话。

The Things I Wish I Said is a series that captures intimate conversations among three Ottawa families of Asian descent, as parents and children open up about racism and their identities.

Watch the Chinese-Canadian family's full conversation in the video above. Read a part of their conversation below, which has been condensed and edited for style and clarity.

My name is Russell Chan and I think racism definitely still exists in Canada.

I mean growing up in Ottawa (where I was born), it wasn't always easy for me to identify with my Asian roots. I just didn't feel comfortable in my own skin.

Russell Chan graduated from high school at Lisgar Collegiate Institute in Ottawa in June 2014. (Submitted by Russell Chan)

There were a lot of kids that came up to me that did a lot of racist things toward me — such as the slanted eyes that are associated to Asian people, and even poking fun at the lunch you, mom, would pack me. They would say nonsense — words that sounded Asian but had absolutely no meaning. 

I'm 26 years old today, and even now during the pandemic, there were a lot of racist comments and attitudes carried out toward me. I remember walking down the street with a friend of mine and a person yelled at us and said, "Hey you guys get sick a lot" — hinting that we were the cause of the pandemic, that we were the cause of viruses being spread around the world.

Looking back now, it does upset me, because I think the reason why — and you've told me this in the past, mom — you chose to come to Canada was because Canada is a multicultural place that is supposed to be inviting.

A young Russell Chan leans on his mom Su Zhang at the CHEO Teddy Bear Picnic at the Governor General’s residence on July 7, 2001. (Submitted by Russell Chan)

My name is Su Zhang, and I've been here in Canada for 30 years.

When I came here, I was only 26.

One of my first memories of Canada is when my airplane touched down. I said, "Oh that's a lot of snow, [the most] I have ever seen in my life." It was a literal culture shock. I couldn't speak proper English, and I got lost, and I had to go everywhere with relatives around. Suddenly I felt like a child. I felt lost.

This is my country.- Su Zhang

There was one time, when you were little, do you remember? We were living in the condominium. I brought you to the swimming pool and a lady would make a comment about you. They said, "Oh your child's making too much noise. Where did you come from? Does your family have a restaurant? How can you live here?"

Su Zhang is seen in a large pile of snow at Winterlude at Jacques-Cartier Park in Gatineau, Que. (Submitted by Russell Chan)

I said, "No. We don't have a restaurant." So they asked me, "Are you a diplomat's wife?" I said I wasn't and that my husband just works here. They looked at me and said your child's making too much noise and we should not be here.

Today, I am a school teacher and the only Asian one at my school. I am proud of my heritage. 

I teach my kindergarten class Chinese crafts and about the dragon festival. I even teach them a Chinese birthday song, every time a birthday comes along. The kids and parents give me good comments about that.

I spent half my life already in Canada and I think this is my country. This is my second home and motherland.