The day before last I finally completed the 2011 Census and I think it was the short form for all of those who remember the hoopla of the long versus short form.
Anyway it’s really easy and you can do it online. Right after I was asked to participate in another voluntary household survey and like the eager-to-be dutiful citizen I am, I completed that one too.
Interestingly but not surprisingly many of the questions related to the respondents’ ethnic origins and the background of their parents. It dawned on me that my daughter and the one to come are both second generation Canadian and on my husband’s side even third or fourth generation.
I’ve always taken for granted that all of my friend’s parents were immigrants to Canada and it’s second nature to ask someone “What’s your background?” and to expect them to respond with “Greek/Japanese/Portuguese/Chinese/Ethiopian/Filipino/West Indian/Chinese/insert ethnicity here” even if they are born here. “Well golly gee, I’m Canadian” never seems to pop out as someone’s answer (even without the “golly gee” part).
Canadians have a unique perspective with our heritages, we hold onto the language and traditions fiercely yet love to poke fun at our folks and grandparents for their backwards ways (think about how successful comedian Russell Peters is!)
We also (at least us middle-class natural citizens) have a tendency to romanticize the immigrant experience. My parents are both immigrants and both had relatively good experiences (including a wonderful Canadian-born daughter) but it’s not that way for everyone.
There are challenges, cultural shocks, language issues and emotional baggage no matter where they come from and what part of Canada they end up settling in.
In Learning to Fly (ISBN: 9781551439532, Orca Soundings/Orca Books, 2008) author Paul Yee skilfully manages to bring the teenage immigrant experience in small-town Canada to an accessible and interesting format.
Jason is a recent arrival from China with his mother and much-younger brother and can’t quite fit in. He doesn’ t speak the language with enough proficiency, faces small-town racism and has to help his mom in their mall deli and smokes a heck of a lot of pot.
He is unhappy, lonely and just wants to go back to China but his mother is determined to make a success of Canada especially after his father ran off with a new wife and left them to fend for themselves.
So when Chief, a First Nations classmate and leader of the potheads, decides to befriend him Jason finally thinks he’s found a way to fit in. Instead he may be finding himself more and more on the fringe.
This is a fantastic book for so many reasons:
One is that it deals with subjects that we well-meaning, one-love-every-get-along people like to forget, such as racism and our treatment of First Nations people and those from lower socio-economic groups. Racism does exist in Canada, heck I’ve experienced it first-hand and I do not look like a visible minority. It also addresses some of the realities of being an outsider and foreigner outside the diversity of the larger cities.
Secondly, Learning to Fly, isn’t afraid to deal with some complicated and heady subjects like drugs, racism, the treatment of First Nations people in this country, the Asian immigrant experience, messed up family dynamics and suicide.
Lastly, it is written from the poignant perspective of a young man trying to navigate a very different culture than one he came from and as an older young person this can be more challenging than when you are younger. It is written this way as well, the language is uncomplicated and although there is a lot of meat to the subjects, the tone and words are perfect for English-as-a-second-language readers.
As an Governor-General award-winning author of adult fiction, history books, short stories and novels for young people, Yee writes about the Chinese experience mainly because that`s what he knows, those are the people he cares about and of whom he is most interested in.
As a fellow Saskatchewan-born Canadian who was raised in Vancouver’s Chinatown, I also love that he notes that when he was growing up in the 1960′s there were no books about “his world of immigrants, racial minorities, and different histories” and I can make the assumption that he writes of those experiences for that reason.
I look forward to reading his upcoming young adult novel, Money Boy, later this year from Groundwood books, which is set in Toronto and deals with some tough issues like homosexuality in a traditional culture and prostitution.
Parents who love historical fiction may also want to check out Yee`s newest novel, The Secret Keepers, a mysterious tale set in San Francisco’s Chinatown before and after 1906.
To learn more about this amazing Canadian author and his work, visit his website and make sure to read his bio, then you won’t have to ask him where he’s from.