Today I woke up looked out the window and screamed ‘oh sh*t!’ My brother hearing me also proceeded to look out the window and screamed the same thing; this was a typical day in my new life for my first winter living in Canada. The first words out of my mouth, although crude, reflected my mixture of surprise and anger at realizing it had snowed the night before without warning (I never paid attention to the weather report on the news). This means that today, it would be too dangerous to ride to school on our bicycles since it’s really hard to see black ice when it’s covered by a few inches of snow, so we would probably have to walk to school and end up being 20 minutes late for class because we didn’t anticipate having to wake up 20 earlier than usual to get there.
Luckily, our teacher was also a “Third Culture Kid” (a person who spent much of their childhood in a culture other than that of their parents) who grew up in British Hong Kong. She understood the transition my brother and I were going through, and gave us a lot of slake and support, while most other teachers would have just reprimanded us for not preparing for the unpredictable weather. When most Canadians observe me, they hear no accent and see no difference in physical appearance that could mark me as a recently arrived immigrant or as a member of a minority group; they just see me as a typical Canadian. They don’t realize I’m from a country where the weather tends to be unchangeable from one day to the next, and therefore, I am not used to paying attention to the weather forecast.
After arriving I decide to find a seat in my classroom, for some reason it seems that gravity pulls me away from the table with all the Canada born students, and I end up sitting at the table along with the minorities and the students who only immigrated to Canada a few years ago from the Czech Republic.
At my new work place, I always find myself preferring to chat with the recent arrivals and taking my lunch break with other immigrants. Gradually I got tired of having to work on the sales floor and being exposed to so many mono-cultural customers and sales associates so I asked to be transferred to the truck unloading and receiving department, where almost all the workers had only lived in Canada for less than two years. We quickly overcame the languages barriers by coming up with a Creole mixed with English, Brazilian Portuguese, and some Kiswahili slang. We quickly got used to each others’ different accents and I became the de facto lead un-loader since I was the only person who both the management and the un-loaders could understand.
After living in Canada for a year this is where I felt most comfortable and built my strongest friendships. I did make a few “Canadian friends” but our friendship were based mostly on comradeship from being suppressed by the evils in upper management, and therefore our friendships were formed more out of necessity than out of actually having anything in common or being able to relate to one another.
While eating spaghetti with chopsticks in the staffroom, a few Canadian born coworkers politely came up to me and marvelled at my chopstick dexterity. They were polite and asked me why I choose to use chopsticks while eating spaghetti (a clearly western dish). I stated that I often choose to use chopsticks especially when eating noodle based foods and that for me chopsticks were the most practical set of utensils for the majority of foods. A coworkers who recently emigrated from China sits down and greets me with “Ni hao (hello)!”, and I greet her back with “Hen hao (I’m very good)! Ni chi bao le mei (Have you eaten yet?-the Chinese equivalent to How’s the weather?)? At this the Canadians who I was just chatting with, are hit with a wave of shock and ask, “Where are you from?” To that my reply is “Taiwan”. This really throws them off since I’m Caucasian and don’t look at all like an Asian.
This is a really strange phenomenon for me. After spending my whole life as a foreigner in my home country, I now have to live as a native in a foreign country. I don’t think I really understand this new culture I’m in and many times I wish I looked physically different than the majority and that I had a foreign accent, that way my ignorance would be excusable, and people would forgive my lack of knowledge instead of thinking I’m some strange loner.
Many of my new Canadian friends think I’m shy. What they don’t realize is that in my home country I’m usually the life of the party, and that the only reason I’m shy in Canada is because I’m observing and studying the people around me, as to make sure I don’t do or say anything stupid.
It has been about four years since I first arrived in Canada. I still feel like a foreigner, but I feel a little less naïve. I have learned much of the slang from my generation, although I’m still trying to catch up, and I’ve completely given up on trying to know how a Canadian is supposed to dress. I guess it just depends on how cool you are so that you can pull something off. I no longer work where I used to work, and most of my friends have moved back to their home countries (since they where migrant workers). So in many ways it seems like I have to start all over again. Perhaps I’m ready to make friends with the locals? Maybe I can hide my true identity long enough in order for people to get to know me as a person and not as some curious cultural mutt.
I really don’t know what I am nor what I’m supposed to be, but in truth I don’t really care anymore, I no longer feel the need to always have to identify or categorize myself. Whatever I am, I know what it feels like being a Hidden Immigrant.