I wanted to do something meaningful for Asian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. At first, it seemed like such a huge undertaking for just me, a very privileged and fortunate first-generation Filipino-Canadian person, to represent, or even tell the stories of every one of us.
But I think that’s the beauty of the Asian and Pacific Island identity – there are so many rich cultures, abundant traditions, and beautiful histories within that term alone. So, as one person, I wanted to acknowledge my privilege, and accept that all I can do as one person is share my experiences because I can’t speak for everyone.
In some ways, I’m grateful we have a month to reflect on our heritage, beyond the commercialization of it all. I feel a slight push to learn more and seek that celebration, connection, and community in small ways to further some kind of deeper understanding.
I know we are not all the same. Your experiences and mine are probably extremely different from each other. Yet, a similarity that we all seem to have is how central food and gathering are in many of our cultures. The act of sharing a meal with others is one of the greatest acts of love we have.
This might get a little personal, but when I was younger – around ages 12 to 14 – my parents owned a pizza stall in a community centre food court. My first job ever was being a simple cashier. I was so proud to be helping my parents, a value instilled in me from a young age.
After school, I’d keep learning and developing skills and a stronger work ethic. It was tough sometimes, but I think every job is that way.
One day, I was about 13 years old, and a white woman orders pizza from me. I think my dad was out, quickly grabbing inventory. My grandparents were in the back, making pizzas. The lady asks me, in nothing short of a whisper, “Are you being forced to work here?”
I was taken aback, and quite frankly, thought I misunderstood her, so I asked her to repeat herself.
“Are you being forced to work here? How old are you? I can call the authorities, so you don’t have to work here anymore.”
I usually like to assume the best in people, but that angered me; I felt absolutely crushed and so deeply offended. How could someone be so quick to minimize and reduce what I felt so much pride in? How could someone make such an ignorant accusation about my family? How could someone corrupt the nature of my work when it was an act of love?
I quickly gathered myself. Then, I recited the youth employment laws of Alberta that stated an adolescent of age 12 and above could work at a family-run business.
If I had a mic at that moment, UGH, what a great moment for a mic drop. And now that I’m older, I can see where she came from, and still acknowledge that she shouldn’t have said that to me.
That woman didn’t know me, my family, or our experiences. She didn’t know how fortunate I was to have dinner with my family every night. How we’d listen to our parents and grandparents share old stories of what life was like before me and my brother.
So, I’d like to tell you this: to my friends whose families sacrificed so much to give you new opportunities, and you don’t know what to do with all of it yet, give yourself grace.
To my friends that grew up far away from their culture, and are now searching for that connection, I wish you luck.
To my friends that have grown up surrounded by their culture their whole lives, and moved across the world by themselves, I applaud you.
To my friends that are settlers on the land we live on, let’s try to be the best stewards we can be.
To my friends that have grown up having to erase parts of your identity to be safe, I hope you feel safer now.
To my friends that have grown up feeling ignored by our community, I hope we do better now. I see you.
May I be able to share a meal with you one day and speak of our cultures and communities with love and grace, over some really flavourful curries and noodles, and whatever else you’d like to bring to the table.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mia Mendoza is a transfer student in her first year of the Media Studies program and loves telling stories. She really enjoys personality tests, anything to do with pop culture, and trying new foods! Her favourite thing to do in Kelowna is taking long walks on the beach and buying overpriced coffee <3