During my part-time job as a receptionist at an ECE center, I talked to a family who recently immigrated to Canada from Hong Kong. I had spoken to them prior over the phone and gave them instructions in Cantonese on how to transit to the center, but they still completely missed their free trial class. This was the weekend during the BC storm, so there were still many transit delays and other issues. I rescheduled them for another day and offered to help them find directions on how to transit back.
This leads to a flurry of questions and confusion. They have no idea where the bus station is, what to search for in Google, and which app to even use to find directions or transit schedules. They also told me the unfortunate situation a few days ago where they got on the wrong bus (bus driver also misguided them) and ended up near SFU, drenched in rain, trying to find a way back home, only to find their house had no power upon return at night. I tried my best to give them clear directions and when the father told the son that it was time to go home, my heart wrenched a little inside.
You see, the kid was so damn obliviously happy.
He excitedly told me that he was going to go ride the sky train with his mom and dad, and how he’ll look through the window during the ride. Evidently, he was happy and felt safe with his parents, not knowing that his parents were stressed about how to get home, wondering if there is even power when they return.
My family also immigrated to Canada from Hong Kong when I was little. I never noticed it that much growing up, but I know it might be one of the hardest things my parents have had to pull through. Parents who immigrate, they all have this vision that another country will give their child a better life – and in most cases, it does. This better life, however, costs the lives of the parents. They have to rebuild, reconnect, and relearn everything. Again, I cannot even fathom how they could leave everything behind for that vision.
Needless to say, I had deep empathy for these parents (“Let me take you home!”) and it was actually a strange experience for me as a first generation Asian Canadian. If anything, I am caught between these parents and their son, standing in a gray area that understands both perspectives in a very personal way.
I am now old enough to understand the parents – to hear the small fear in their voice when they ask me if I only work on weekends, to feel the love when they use a gentle tone to talk to their son, and to see the bravery when they walked out the doors and into unfamiliar streets.
But fifteen years ago, I was that kid who was excited about riding the sky train home – the kid who knew nothing about the world except that now I had a bigger house with a real lawn and classmates with different coloured hair and skin tones and oh, my parents? They’re probably going to work and cleaning the house like normal parents do – nothing special, nothing brave.
I didn’t think my parents were brave and how very wrong I was. The older I get, the more I see them as the bravest people in my world.
I really wonder if we will ever fully understand the sacrifices our parents make for us. I wonder if we can ever repay them for all the love they invest in us, or if the only way we can really do that is to invest the same love and bravery into our own future children.
The family I met doesn’t live in my area, but I hope they return to the center. Even if they do not, I hope they are able to join a community that can better support them during this difficult transition. Coming to a new country isn’t easy and I really wish this family all the best.
An ocean could not explain the distance we have traveled.
― Jonathan Safran Foer, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
P.S. A great book on being an Asian American is The Joy Luck Club.