Cristina Baz graduated from McGill University with a B.Ed. and M.A. in Second Language Education. She currently works in translation, language teaching and administration, sometimes escaping with her co-author to work on their new books.
I am the Other. Being the Other is always done to you. It comes as a result of racializing discourses that form part of the West’s colonial legacy, sorting “some people, things, places, and practices into social categories marked as inherently dangerous and Other” (Dick and Wirtz, 2011, p. E2). As such, being an immigrant, especially a visible minority, in a Eurocentric world means that you will always be seen through racialized lenses. In reality, there was nothing fishy about the period and place of my birth or the schools I attended, but the mix and match of random circumstances have yielded quite an interesting “identity crisis starter pack”. So imagine your Taiwanese parents choosing to move to a country during its Dirty War (Argentina’s Dirty War was a period of state terrorism from around 1974 to 1983 against left-wing guerrillas and political dissidents) rather than stay on their peaceful island (Taiwan, even today, is constantly under the threat of communist China’s attacks, but has otherwise been a very peaceful and prosperous country). Imagine being a child of the 80’s (yep, I even sported its iconic bad perm!) in the beautiful city of Buenos Aires, except that people made fun of you at school for being a chink. Imagine then, being plucked from those stupid kids and replanted in Quebec, the land of dreams and promises in my parents’ eyes – and mine, before winter ambushed us.
The South Shore of Montreal was a safe haven for me, especially because I was Asian. I’m not saying that outspoken racist attitudes disappeared altogether, but I was more often exposed to it in a more camouflaged form. I remember walking home with a classmate through a shortcut one afternoon in 5th grade. It was my first year in a regular class (I spent the previous school year in “classe d’accueil”). Panic twisted my insides when I saw three boys from our class standing at the end of the little fenced path. They were waiting for us, blocking our way. These bullies started picking on my friend – they would not let her pass. However, they told me to leave. Why did they let me go? There was something about me being the only Asian kid at school, us being the only Asian family in the neighbourhood. They let me go because “God forbid someone found out they picked on the Chintok!”, Chintok being a derogatory term for any Asian-looking person. Now thinking back on this, I realized how everyone in my classroom treated me like they were handling glass, being extra nice and careful not to be or do or say something racist. I suspect my surname-less teacher, the lovely Madame Carmen, to have lectured them about tolerance and respect. Although I consider myself über lucky to have been spared from bullying, it is interesting to see how it was the opposite that actually happened to me, and I was nevertheless and indelibly stamped as the Other.
Because of my experience as a “double immigrant”, that is, being born in a country other than my parents’ native land, then moving to another foreign country, Canada, I keep trying to understand why being the Other feels so weird and unsettling. It’s because not only do you feel uprooted and dissociated from your family’s native country and culture, but also not fully fitting in the culture and among the people of your host country. As the Other, you’re always in-between. I have always liked Foucault’s intellectual inquiry, the archaeology of knowledge, which looks at the internal consistency of each culture:
…the thing we apprehend in one great leap, the thing that, by means of the fable, is demonstrated as the exotic charm of another system of thought, is the limitation of our own, the stark impossibility of thinking that. (p. xv)
This excerpt expresses perhaps the essence of marginalization – how our own limitations do not allow us to understand the Other, thus creating a greater distance between foreign cultures and our own. Despite (or rather, because of) our limitations, having power allows us to impose our culture on the Other. We see this enactment of power everyday, in the way that Western hegemony is continually perpetuated by colonialism’s cultural legacy: notice the discourses imbued with cultural imperialism, the insinuation that Western cultures are superior to other cultures in the world. These racializing discourses brainwashed me into believing in the superiority of Western cultures, even making me ashamed of my own heritage during my teens. It is only when I left Quebec to live in Taiwan for a few years that I realized, with amazement, that the world does not need Western culture to be happy and civilized. It took me a while to come to terms with being the Other. Looking back, the feeling of not belonging anywhere was necessary to spur me into the quest of defining myself. One of the most amazing things in this journey to self-discovery was the meeting of another Other, my old friend Hanna Bur. I never would have guessed, when we met at 15 years old, that we would one day become co-authors. Admittedly, our identity struggles were similar, but hers included discrimination towards her faith and culture whereas mine tended to be racial. As adults, we drifted for a long time as we could not fully reconcile the fact that as immigrants, we will always be in-between cultures. We have lived in other countries for many years, trying to find a place called home, but somehow, we both ended back in Montreal’s South Shore.
Hanna called me when I was living abroad to propose that we write a children’s book together. I accepted, but the project took 6 years to complete. Between us, Hanna and I speak 7 languages. English having become our predominant language after we left high school, we could have easily decided to write our first book in English. However, we just naturally chose to write it in French. Growing up in Quebec as children of Bill 101, French became a significant component of our linguistic identity. When we wrote our book, Je ne veux pas grandir, we even wondered how we would be accepted as visible minority authors – we were the Others, after all! However, we worried for nothing. Quebec celebrates differences such as ours. We never expected to receive such a warm welcome from schools, which we visit to do storytelling/writing workshops. With this, we created our Facebook page for people to reach us, but also to stay in touch with a growing community of readers, parents and teachers. For us, actively choosing to stay in the province of Quebec and publishing a book in French is our statement, the definition of our newfound identity. It is also why we only publish with our chosen pen names, Bur and Baz, since they are not as culturally defining.
Contributing to the community as emerging québécoises authors, participating in library projects and visiting schools have given us a sense of belonging. Even then, I must confess that I still have little blitzes of the perpetual foreigner syndrome, a term that Wu (2002) used to describe U.S.-born Asian Americans with flawless American accents who were persistently viewed as not “real” Americans. In the same vein, if I tell people that I’m Canadian, another question will follow, “Yeah, but where do you really come from?” While my identity may be complex and fluid, becoming a québecoise author has given me a sense of belonging here in Montreal.
Dick, H. P., & Wirtz, K. (2011). Racializing discourses. Journal of Linguistic Anthropology, 21(1), pp. E2-E10.
Foucault, M. (1970). The Order of Thing: An Archaeology of Human Sciences. New York: Pantheon.
Wu, F. (2002). Yellow: Race in America beyond black and white. New York: Basic Books.