My family and I immigrated from China in 1995 when I was 20 years old. I made new friends in my English classes who were older and wiser: they introduced me to the Canadian lifestyle. They helped me adjust and were welcoming of newcomers because most of them were once new to Canada themselves. It was helpful and comforting to have this mutual understanding of such a strange life transition.
One of the most difficult adjustments I had to make upon coming to Canada was learning English, especially cooking ingredients. I pursued my interest in cooking, so it was important that I understood what the recipes called for. It is safe to say that there were some accidents, but nonetheless, I knew I had to learn as I went. Once I began my job as a chef, I felt recognized and appreciated because everyone loved the food I made. In other words, I felt at home.
My life changed when the pandemic hit. Living through the COVID-19 pandemic as a Chinese person was frightening, frustrating, and traumatic. I still remember one day I was shopping for groceries and essentially everyone would back away from me, point fingers, and whisper that I probably had COVID. It got so bad that whenever I did have to go out, I would only use self-checkout because the cashiers treated me the same way as the customers did. People would intentionally ignore me because of what I looked like.
The racism that I experienced has somewhat changed my perception of the people in Canada. There will always be one person who is racist in one form or another, but it felt like the whole community was against me. Just because the virus was discovered in China does not insinuate that the virus is in our genetics. To me, it felt like people assumed the virus existed within us and we spread it across the world as if it was a targeted scheme. All of these attitudes toward Chinese people truly took a toll on my happiness and well-being. How was I supposed to live my life when I was afraid to walk outside because I knew I would be harassed? This is what my life was like for almost two years.
Receiving my Canadian citizenship was fulfilling and gratifying because it felt like it was an accomplishment to become a Canadian. I was grateful that I had the opportunity to create a new life in such a prosperous and hospitable country. But looking back, I feel naive and disappointed. I could have never imagined how I would be treated in the years to come and how my outlook on being Canadian would change. It is truly upsetting how Chinese people, including myself, were treated during that time. Not everyone will understand my experiences, nor will they experience the same thing, but it is important to share how life as an immigrant can change instantly.
Please note that certain facts have been altered for anonymity
This story is a collaborative effort between Raelynn Tkachuk and Linda Zhou