Out in the Open

Feeling like a stranger in Canada as a second generation Chinese-Canadian

For Andrea Yu, being away from her homeland helped her feel more a part of it when she returned
Andrea Yu (Courtesy of Andrea Yu)

"My vision of what was Canadian at the time was definitely, you know, a white kid, a white family, with very stereotypically white habits and backgrounds." 
Andrea Yu was born in Canada and grew up in Aurora. She says that, at the time, she was one of three Chinese kids in her school of hundreds in Aurora.

"Everyone thought we were brother and sister," she says.

Andrea says there weren't really role models or images of Chinese-Canadians then that she could  point to. 

"I knew that I looked different and that I didn't have the same background as everyone else...but I kind of tried to bury that away. I was convinced that I can be a white Canadian kid like everyone else."

So, when Andrea went to university, she registered without her Chinese middle name, and similarly left it off of her passport.

"It was literally like I was dropping the most Chinese part of my identity that I had control over…"

Andrea eventually found herself in Hong Kong for the first time, teaching English. Hong Kong is where her mom emigrated from to Canada.

"I knew a lot of the culture and the habits because of my parents and my relatives, but I still expected it to feel like I was an outsider or foreigner."

But, Andrea says, that wasn't really the case. 

"Growing up in Aurora, I was always the person who stood out as being different, and suddenly, for the first time, in Hong Kong I was the person who blended in...I could walk around in the streets and, [it was] almost like a game I played with myself of how long I can go without be outed as a foreigner," she says.

"Because I worked so hard at shutting my Chinese self and my Chinese identity growing up, going to Hong Kong really helped to remedy that and made me appreciate and be proud of that part of me. Yet, being in Hong Kong, I knew that I wasn't from there...I did have a Western upbringing…

"So, when I came back and moved [to] downtown Toronto, it was kind of like the resolution of those two parts of me."