Commentary: Being Asian in a sea of whiteness

Jasmine Gidney is proud of her Chinese heritage and Canadian upbringing. (Young Joo Jun/AQ)

Being one the of the only Asian kids in Digby, Nova Scotia had its perks.

For example, if I didn’t want to talk to someone, I could break out my fake Chinese and confuse the hell out of them, or pretend I didn’t know English.

But most of the time, being Asian sucked.

I’m not going to lie and say anything terrible happened. Compared to my other adopted friends, I’m the lucky one. No one called me a Chink or created a petition to ship me back to China, but there was still the typical blatant racism. Kids would pull the side of their eyes and say, “Ching chong, I’m Chinese!” and a high school teacher once told me Chinese people’s eyes were squinty because they stared at the sun too long. Yeah, really.

The blatant racism didn’t bother me. At least then I could brush those people off as assholes, but the subtle racism wasn’t as clean-cut and easy.

My high school participated in an international student program, meaning kids from East Asia would come to Digby to study. While everyone in my elementary school knew I was Canadian, students and teachers in high school often assumed I was part of the program.

I understand why people think I’m an international student. There’s not a lot of Asian kids in Nova Scotia. I’m the odd one out, but it’s annoying to answer the same questions over and over again. At this point, I should carry around my citizenship or wear a T-shirt to answer all the basic questions:

“Hi, my name is Jasmine.

Yes, I am from Digby.

No, that’s not where my house parents live.

Yes, I’m Canadian.

No, I’m not fresh off the boat, I’ve lived here my whole life.

Yes, I’m adopted. I’m a Gidney.

No, my birth parents didn’t throw me in the dumpster or try to eat me.

No, I don’t speak Chinese and, no, I’m not good at math or karate.”

Sometimes, people don’t even ask me questions. They just assume I’m straight out of China, and try to sound as non-racist as possible. One of the most common things I’d hear is, “Oh, you’re Chinese. You have really good English.”

Sometimes, I just want to slap them. But instead, I say, “Thanks, I hope so. It’s the only language I know.”

The worst are the jokes gone wrong. Some people try to relate through racist humour. I’m a pretty easy-going person. As long as you don’t call me a Chink, you’ll be fine. But when the jokes don’t land, it can be rough.

One of the first things a friend told me when they found out I was high school valedictorian was, “Of course the Asian got it.”

He laughed, and I knew he was joking, but I was still a little hurt.

Now, I’m not trying to put all the blame on white people. Asians are just as bad. I mean, if I saw three Chinese kids following around a white lady in the mall, I’d probably think she’s a tour guide too. But even when I’m not with my mom, some Asians come up to me and start speaking their language. When they realize I have no idea what they’re saying, some will give me a dirty look, like, “How dare you not know how to speak Chinese!”

Rejected by the Asian community and questioned by Canadians, I feel like I’m being torn in two. In order to fit in, I have to be totally Chinese or totally Canadian.

Sometimes, I want to be white. Sometimes, I still consider double-eyelid surgery to change the shape of my eyes. I also think I look better in Snapchat filters that lighten my skin and turn my eyes blue.

Other times, I want to fully embrace my Chinese roots. I actively seek out movies and shows starring my badass Asian bros, like Crazy Rich Asians and Marco Polo. I also taught myself how to eat with chopsticks. As stereotypical as it is, there’s something about eating a nice bowl of rice or noodles with chopsticks that makes me feel closer to my Chinese heritage.

The only time I felt like I belonged was when I was with other adopted Asian kids.

Every Chinese New Year, my family would travel to Port Hawkesbury so we could celebrate with other families who adopted Chinese children. Dressed in our traditional Chinese clothing, we kids would perform our dragon dance — which meant carrying a cardboard dragon over our heads as we walked around the recreation centre. Afterward, we’d eat Chinese food from a Canadian-Chinese restaurant and open lucky envelopes filled with chocolate coins from the Dollar Store. When I’m with them, I don’t feel like I had to prove I was Canadian or Chinese, I just was.

I’m a banana — yellow on the outside, white on the inside. I proudly accept my Chinese heritage and my Canadian upbringing, no matter what people say. If the only people who accept me are my adopted Asian friends, I’m cool with that we can be bananas together.

Forget about the cool Asians and the Asians nerds, I’m going to hang with my bananas.