“It’s not immigrants, it’s those immigrants.”
These were the words that came out of my Vietnamese aunt one summer day. Our family was all outside enjoying the warm Canada breeze, beers in our hand, a fire pit blazing, and marshmallows for her children that couldn’t stop running around the pool.
I looked at her in astonishment from that one statement. We, our family, are Vietnamese immigrants. My aunt , my uncles, and my parents were FOB. Fresh off the boat. They weren’t born in Canada like my cousins and I, we were the first generation Canadians in our family.
“What do you mean those immigrants?” I remember asking. My fingers were digging into my palm, I didn’t want to lash out — all the teachings of respecting your elders and familial treatment was drilled into my head from the day I popped out more yellow than any baby my small town doctor had ever seen.
“You know, the ones that can’t speak English, they take our jobs, they become a nuisance.”
“You mean, like you?” I meant it. I’d said those words and I knew my mom would be pissed for having said it but how could I not say it? I wasn’t going to let my aunt become the Uncle Jim that makes weird passes and comments that people ignore. That’s bullshit. If she’s going to act stupid she’s going to act stupid. In that singular moment she’d betrayed her own history and I’d betrayed mine.
“No, not like me. They’re differe-”
“How so? Did you speak English when you came here? I’m pretty sure Ba (that’s Vietnamese for grandma) didn’t even have a hundred dollars when she escaped Vietnam and you weren’t a Noble Prize winner. I don’t see why you think the Canadians celebrated you coming here.”
I could hear her spluttering behind me but at that point I’d already moved to go inside. I was being rude, I knew it, but I could’ve been much ruder. I could’ve mentioned how she hadn’t finished post secondary, how she’d married someone who makes much more than her and how she doesn’t make any financial decisions so really had no idea how anything was run in the real world. I didn’t care about hurting her though, that wasn’t what made me angry. What made me angry is that she’d opened up a can of worms that would define how I saw her and her decisions.
With the current situation in the States many people have claimed there isn’t a huge impact on Canada — because it’s the States. Those people have their heads in the sand. In the recent months Canada’s history with racism has come to light in major publications. It’s not that it didn’t exist, it’s just that no one talked about it.
National inquiry calls murders and disappearances of Indigenous women a 'Canadian genocide' | CBC…
The thousands of Indigenous women and girls who were murdered or disappeared across the country in recent decades are…
This isn’t the first time this has happened. If you’re Canadian you may or may not have heard of the Saskatoon Freezing Deaths.
New light on Saskatoon's 'starlight tours' - Macleans.ca
On Jan. 28, 2000, two police officers drove Darrell Night five kilometres outside of Saskatoon and abandoned him in…
This sort of attitude that Canadians are above racism — that because it is a melting pot that people could ignore the racism that has permeated the very existence of Canada’s history. In those two examples I’ve only needed to mention the First Nations people of Canada, the first people of Canada. Like my aunt we can start from the beginning and see how ridiculous our claims are.
My aunt portrayed a very classic Canadian behaviour. We ignore. We pretend these problems don’t exist so we can seem like we aren’t a part of the problem. If everyone is blind no one can say they saw what happened. What my aunt had told me wasn’t just a racist comment it was that she believed she’d evolved. She was no longer a FOB she was now a working class, English speaking citizen that contributed to society. Anyone else was wrong.
This type of behaviour spawned from her sense of self worth. In all other aspects of her life she wasn’t the one in control. Her kids were raised to be Millennials but the kinds that Time Magazine likes to pretend is the majority. She told them freedom was the answer and freedom is what they ate in spades. Her husband made all the financial decisions because she didn’t make as much money. She could pretend her value was there because she kept cash on hand when they went out to eat. But she once told me I was stupid for spending more than $100 on a smart phone.
I didn’t begrudge her for her insecurities. I hated that she couldn’t keep it to herself. I don’t know if she thought it was a safe space for her rhetoric. I know she thinks she’s better for it though. Many of my arguments with her are because she can’t stop saying she’s better. I don’t know if she’s trying to convince me or herself. My grandma is an island girl. She was raised speaking French and spoke Vietnamese later in her life. Canada has two official languages: English and French. My aunt has often called my grandma, her mother, stupid for not being able to speak English fluently — even though my grandma has worked in Canada with passable English. My aunt can’t speak a lick of French.
I’m angry at my aunt because her misguided “wisdom” is what she passes on to her children. If she doesn’t want to change her mind I can’t force her to do so. And there are enough people who think she’s right or tolerate her opinion enough to let her believe it’s right. She still stands by what she says, she thinks I’m childish and stupid and falls back on the tradition of Vietnamese elderly having more wisdom. She’s Canadian she says but Vietnamese when it suits her. At my most recent interaction with her she told her children we should strive to be better, that white people knew what they were doing since they made more money than her, and those are her words, not mine.
She can pretend all she wants. She can yell and scream about her history but her parents, my grandparents, are stronger than she thinks. They came here with no English, no money, and only the skills to learn. She thinks they’re stupid for not adapting but their will to give her freedom speaks more about hard working and intelligence than anyone I know. I know I couldn’t move a family across the planet without a plan. She thinks they disservice her for embarrassing her. But at the end of the day she is like all of us. Her census still states she’s a visible minority.