“Miss, where are you from?”
Blank stare. Puzzled look.
Their eyes scream “Liar. Where are you really from?” Other times, they just use their mouths.
My response, if I don’t curtly tell them I’m from Malaysia to cut the conversation short, is something like this:
“I was born and raised in Canada. My family is from Hong Kong but my parents left in 1992 since Hong Kong was going back to China.”
For the two and a half months I’ve been in Sri Lanka, I found it mildly annoying that I had to justify my nationality because I don’t look “Canadian”. Granted, I get that it’s normal to wonder where people are from but it’s another thing when they don’t believe me.
Recently, however, I had an epiphany that changed the way I framed the question about where I’m from:
I am proud to be Canadian and proud to be a daughter of Hong Kong immigrants who packed their life in boxes and suitcases for a country that was anything but home. Reciting that blurb does not justify my nationality or my parent’s journey so this post is to pay homage to my #1 homies (my Mami and Baba).
Corinna and Kenny. Mom and Dad. Mami and Baba. Mommy and Daddy.
They didn’t just “leave Hong Kong”. They put their lives on hold for their kids, left their loved ones, the comfort of their own language, and the familiar streets they call home for a cold, new country. But I guess that’s the definition of compassion and my parents radiate compassion like the Sri Lanakan sun does heat.
I can’t imagine what life must have been for them but I assume there was a mix of fear, excitement and anxiety for a few years.
But somehow they persevered.
Baba worked in a factory before landing a job in Mt. Sinai Hospital in Toronto then transferred to Trillium Health Centre in Mississauga as the Pain Management Coordinator. Mami stayed at home to take care of us until I, the baby of the family, was old enough. Even then, she worked night shifts at the nursing home so she could spend more time with us during the day and work while we slept. Now I’m proud to say she’s risen the ranks to become the assistant director of the nursing home.
Because they worked hard for everything, nothing was ever wasted (they’re also hoarders – sorry I had to expose you guys). Since there were 4 little Tams, we were each only allowed to have 3 birthday parties growing up. Christmas presents were never lavish. Celebrations were always humble. I never understood why we couldn’t buy what we wanted, even if it was something small. Little did I know, they were saving that money to invest in our education.
Josh is moving to Australia in January for medical school, Ben recently got married to the beautiful Louisa and is building his career as a doctor and Anna, who got married last year to the ever-so-patient Dave, is a teacher, role model, and mentor to her students and friends (including me). Mami and Baba navigated across the country and fought against the tide to give us the life we have today.
In my mind, my parents are incomparable beyond belief and they should be celebrated. Yes I am proud to be Canadian but I am also grateful to have parents who sacrificed so much for their family.
Though oceans away, the next time someone asks me where I’m from, I’ll be thinking of you, Mami and Baba.