The racism we faced as Chinese-Canadians, and how it made us stronger
Watch Russell Chan and his mother Su Zhang share their experiences living in Ottawa
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.
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.
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?"
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.