My Immigrant Parents Taught Me To Stay Silent, But I Want My Kids To Be Vocal

Apr 21, 2021

It’s a cold and wet day in the early 2000s.

I wake up to get ready for school. Math is my first block and I promised a friend I’d help her with homework before class. I trudge out of the house and start walking when I notice our fence has been damaged. I walk around to look at it from the outside and realize there are 5 black letters spray-painted on each picket. I’m shocked but I hurry along. I need to meet my friend.

When I come home that afternoon, I see my dad getting a bucket, a brush and some paint thinner. I watch him walk outside and start cleaning the fence. As my dad removes each letter, from the C to the K, I could feel my blood boil, anger and confusion rolling into frustrating thoughts.

How could this happen? Who would do such a thing? We live in a safe neighbourhood. Canada is known to be this accepting, multicultural nation that preaches inclusion and diversity. Canadians are known to apologize more than offend.

Charline Grant's family has had a hard time in the Ontario education system, one that she recounts is plagued by systemic racism. Read that here.

My parents don’t say anything. No discussion. No explanation. No validation of our emotions. They acted like it never happened, suggesting that it’s safer to not make a fuss or cause more trouble. Just stay silent. Don’t tell anyone. Be grateful no one got hurt.

This memory fades as quickly as the fence was fixed. Other important high school drama takes precedence in my mind.

Many years later, I became a mom and memories like these begin to unravel. My husband and I are both Chinese Canadians and much has changed since we were in high school.

My parents did the best they could in raising me and my sisters. I love them dearly and I’m grateful they provided me opportunities they didn’t have by immigrating to Canada. Now that I’m in their position, I want to teach my kids everything I wasn’t taught as a child, better equipped to deal with adversity, empowering them to have a voice in an effort to change the social landscape.

Here’s how I’m doing this:

We talk about the difficult things

Whether it’s about the COVID-19 pandemic, the current acts of racism against Asians, the protests in Hong Kong, our neighbour’s death, this fence story or why I bleed once a month, I strive to have open and honest conversations with my kids.

My kids are under five, but it doesn’t mean I need to pretend the world is made of rainbows and cotton candy. It’s a fine balance to share the realities I have faced and am facing as an Asian Canadian without becoming a fear-mongering, paranoid parent.

I use simple language and words to explain the issue but I let my kids decide how they feel about it. I focus on asking questions, listening and observing whenever I bring up a difficult topic. Then depending on how they react and respond, I’ll decide what to say and do next; sometimes, it means dropping the conversation until a better time comes up.

The bottom line is that if I build trust with my kids, then if/when they are to experience something that makes them feel unsafe, they will feel safe talking to me about it.

We learn together

With over a decade of working in healthcare, I’d like to consider myself relatively educated about social issues; however, it wasn’t until recently that I learned the difference between stereotypes, colour-blindness, racial biases, microaggression and marginalization.

Understanding these differences made me aware of my own experiences — in addition, it made me recognize the language I use to talk about different cultures.

I realized I have my own biases and prejudice about certain ethnicities. I’ve learned and am still learning to be more culturally sensitive. I know my kids watch how I behave, what I say and don’t say, what I do and don’t do — therefore, I hope that sharing what I’ve learned with them will help them celebrate diversity, be more inclusive and better prepared for situations where they feel unsafe, targeted or discriminated against due to their ethnicity.

Want to know how to raise anti-racist kids? This mother believes that it's important to look at yourself in the mirror first. Read about that here.

I lead by example

When I experienced racism, I didn’t just feel anger and frustration.

I felt like I was to blame and it made me hate the colour of my skin.

However, over the years, I’ve learned to love who I am, and this has allowed me to embrace my culture and appreciate my roots so that I can stand proud as a Chinese Canadian.

As a writer and content creator, I use my skills and talent to talk about the things that never got talked about when I was a kid. It’s my way of reflecting on the past, documenting the present and visualizing the future. When my kids get a bit older and start navigating the Internet, I will share with them what I’ve written.

I hope to lead by example for my kids, instilling a sense of confidence and self-assurance so that they feel empowered to speak up, stand up and be vocal instead of staying quiet behind the fence.

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