From shame to pride: Why I lost my Cantonese and want to get it back
|Toronto Star 16 Feb 2020 at 12:57|
“You are in Canada now, speak English,” she said to us.
It was recess, and I was playing hopscotch.
Why my teacher told us to speak English that day, when we had already been speaking English, baffled my young mind. But even as a six-year-old, I guessed it had something to do with the fact that my friends and I were all ethnically Chinese.
By that time, English was already the language in which I was most proficient. Cantonese, the Chinese dialect my parents, grandparents and more than half a million people in Canada speak — and the first language I learned — was already fading in me.
But that experience pushed me to distance myself from anything that might lead people to believe I was different. I could speak Cantonese. That made me different.
New friends would sometimes ask me, “Do you speak Chinese?” And I would immediately tell them no, of course not. I speak English. And only English.
It was a lie.
My parents, who moved to Vancouver from Hong Kong at the ages of 13 and 14, switched between Cantonese and English at home. I understood Cantonese. I ate Cantonese food. I am Cantonese.