An (sort of) identity issue
It has been a month since I arrived in Nanjing. During this one month, one of the most common questions I get from people is, “So, exactly where are you from?”
Let me first offer a brief self-introduction. I was born and raised in Qingdao, China. Then, in 2004, I moved to Toronto, Canada with my family. In 2011, I passed my citizenship exam and became a naturalized Canadian citizen. So, in technical and legal terms, I am a “Chinese-Canadian”.
I am also what some sociologists may call a “third culture kid”. My developmental years were influenced by the Chinese and Canadian cultures equally, and I have created my own unique cultural identity as a result.
But, the point of this blog is not to discuss some grand yet vague terms. I am here to tell you how my mixed identity dictates my life in Nanjing.
Now, because I look very Chinese, and speak perfect Mandarin (with a Qingdao accent, I might add), no one ever thinks I am a citizen of another country if I do not tell them. And there are very few occasions outside my work where I need to disclose that information. So, to most people, I am “one of their own”.
However, once I start speaking English, things get a little complicated. First, people are stunned by my fluency. Then they ask me, “Wow, your English is very good! Which language school do you go to?” So I tell them I actually live in Canada. They give me a confused stare, “Oh… Ok. So, exactly where are you from?” After hearing my background story, they let out a long “I see”.
My mixed identity has never caused me any trouble. However, there are occasions in which it is more beneficial to be just “Chinese”; or just “Canadian”; or both. Here are some examples.
When I go take a taxi, or rent a hotel room, it is better if I say I am Chinese. That way, I will not be charged extra money. When I go shopping, I tell people I am Chinese so they think I know the market and do not overcharge me.
When I deal with the authority, it is better if I say I am Canadian. For instance, every time I am stopped by an officer for a “surprise inspection”, he always lets me go when I produce my Canadian passport.
When I go to a party or other social events, being a Chinese-Canadian makes it very easy for me to make friends. Usually, people are naturally curious about somebody of a mixed identity. So they want to approach and get to know me. I have made numerous friends this way already.
So, back to the big question of this article: who am I? It is really hard to say. Depends on the situation, I use the identity that can bring me the most advantages. But, at the end of the day, I don’t think it’s who I am that makes me successful. Rather, it’s how I treat and interact with people. If I can always show respect, no matter who people think I am, they will certainly respect me back.