Hello, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome back to the #Chronicle150, where we strive to find 150 Canadian stories to commemorate this nation’s 150th birthday!
The series took a break for a while—you wouldn’t believe how much is going on here behind the scenes—but it’s high time this project got back on track, and I’m doing that with a piece from Nikki Yeh.
Nikki’s a journalist who was a year above me in high school—I remember seeing her name in print early on in publications like The Mississauga News. Nikki’s #Chronicle150 entry touches on a few themes I’ve returned to time and time again while crafting this series: struggling to develop an identity beyond your race. The multigenerational grind to develop a better future for those who follow. And—of course—some of the reasons why we stay in Canada, like the value we place on family life.
Nikki’s answers hold things many of us can relate to—perhaps they’ll give you pause to reflect on your life and what needed to happen to make you who you are today.
Enjoy the read and until the next,
Who are you and what are you all about?
I tell it like it is – many would say I’m honest, humble, a good listener and a huge pop culture fan (Riverdale, anyone?). I wear many hats as a writer, editor, dance and gymnastics instructor, proud wife and Mom. My time’s currently divided between freelance projects, managing my Facebook group Adventures in Baby Savings, playing trucks with my two-year-old son and helping my 6-year-old daughter count nickels and dimes.
What makes you so Canadian?
Here’s something many don’t know about me: I seldom cared about being Canadian until a few years ago. I used to roll my eyes at the thought of Canadian history, deeming July 1st as “Barbeque and Booze Day.” But after digging into the history of both my maternal and paternal families, it’s hard to deny my Canadian roots.
Hailing from rural China, my paternal great-grandfather – my grandmother’s father, Gee Sing – was a Chinese labour worker in the 1880s for the Canadian Pacific Railway, surviving in poor conditions to improve the future of his family. My dad’s father, Tin Yeh, was one of the first group of students from China to study at the University of Toronto after World War II. Then there’s my Mom’s family – the Yuens, consisting of my Mom’s parents, two sisters and herself – as the first Chinese family to reside in Brampton, Ontario, in the ’60s. (They were even interviewed for their local newspaper!)
Sure, I’m physically Chinese. But for me, being born in Canada isn’t what makes me Canadian. It’s how my family made sacrifices and overcame hardships so that their future generations could thrive in this country.
If you could distill your world to one story or moment that truly defines what being Canadian means to you, what would it be?
I had my moment when I read a blog post from the charity, Mustard Seed International. Until now, I had no clue that teacher absenteeism is a problem for schools in poverty-stricken developing countries; kids – who have this amazing drive to learn – will make the long trek from their villages to school and discover there isn’t a teacher to lead the class. As a Canadian, could you ever imagine that happening to you? For me, being Canadian truly means everyone has the opportunity to lead educated, successful lives.
This is Canada today after 150 years. Where would you like to see it go from here on out?
I have to start answering this with a personal anecdote: Growing up, I struggled with my cultural identity, constantly being asked by others, “Why can’t you speak Chinese?” and “How come you act more White than Chinese?” It wasn’t until I reached my twenties I finally felt comfortable in my skin; I can now express myself through my Canadian and Chinese cultures and beliefs.
I grew up in a multicultural community, but racial stereotypes were prominent then – and are still present. The other day, my daughter said a kid told her, “you’re not Canadian because you’re Chinese!” So it’s baffling how thirty-something years later, kids are still grouping people into racial stereotypes.
With that, I’d love to see Canadian media campaigns and educational institutions encourage others to see Canadians for who they are, not by the colour of their skin. This may sound like a huge mission, but Canada is supposedly a cultural mosaic, am I right? In my point of view, Canada is physically a mosaic, but the mindsets of many need to change; hopefully this will happen down the road.
Finally, what’s the one thing you think the rest of the world needs to know about Canada?
Maybe I believe this because I’m a parent, but the world needs to know how much Canadians value family life. Unlike the United State’s 12 weeks of unpaid parental leave, Canadians may take up to 18 months of paid leave (a recent change in the Federal Budget that has hiked parental leave from 12 months). And if you’re self-employed, you have the opportunity to apply for special benefits, which include maternity and parental leave. To have that extra time to get to know your little one – without work meddling in the way – makes a difference in the lives of Canadian families.
Nikki Yeh’s journalistic endeavours have led her to interview some of Canada’s top celebrities and broadcasters to the most successful entrepreneurs in New York. She’s a former reporter for The Mississauga News and Inc. Magazine’s Business Owners Council and has edited and written for numerous trade and consumer magazines, including Viva, Oxygen, AMÖI and GoodLife Magazine. In her spare time, Nikki manages her Facebook group, Adventures in Baby Savings, which helps Canadian families save money.