I went through daily security checks to enter the Beijing 2022 Olympic Village. It was a standard airport type check, with an x-ray of your luggage, a metal detector and a pat down. I greeted the volunteers who carried out the checks.
I would have looks. I was dressed head to toe in Team Canada gear — my mask showed only my eyes and hair. I was in Beijing with the Canadian Olympic Committee (COC), coordinating the Team Canada fleet of vehicles and guiding drivers and passengers.
Every day, volunteers asked me the same question.
您是中国人吗?/Are you Chinese?
I never knew what to answer. I would answer that I was Canadian, born to Chinese parents, but that didn’t seem quite right. Nor was it that I was just Canadian or just Chinese.
What did it mean to me to be a Chinese Canadian?
My parents immigrated to Canada eight years before I was born. My mother was from Beijing and my father from Fujian. They chose their life to move from one end of the world to the other in search of a different future for our family.
My grandparents joined them soon after and stayed with us in Canada until 2016. Apart from their love and care, the greatest gift my grandparents gave me was the Mandarin language. . They raised me to speak, write and even read a little.
I didn’t understand the importance of it then. I never had the opportunity to thank them.
I was seven years old during the Beijing Olympics in 2008. At the time, we had a Chinese cable network, and my grandparents locked it to the Olympics. It was the first time I remember seeing athletes who looked like me on TV. My grandparents encouraged me to encourage them, and I did. But I was curious to know why they wore red and gold. Weren’t the colors of Canada red and white?
Luckily, the women’s wrestling final was on TV when I walked into the living room one day. I saw Canada’s first gold medal of the Games, won by Carol Huynh. I couldn’t take my eyes off her – an Asian representing Canada, celebrating in front of a cheering crowd with our flag aloft.
Something about this image stuck with me. Sport has become more present in my life.
During the Vancouver 2010 Games, I was skipping recess outside to watch live streams of snowboard cross on Cypress Mountain. It sparked a love for the sport that would snowball into so much more.
I played basketball, hockey, volleyball, tennis, whatever I got my hands on. Playing sports was the purest moment, where I could forget everything and focus on the game.
The Canadian Game
As I grew, things started to fit less and less. Coming from a predominantly Asian suburb of Vancouver, sports were the first aspect of life where I felt like a minority. Why would a place where I found so much joy also be a place where I felt like a stranger?
I was pushed into sports that were perceived as Asian-dominated, like badminton and table tennis. When I told my parents I wanted to play hockey, they signed me up for taekwondo. “To build muscle,” they said.
My dream of playing hockey vanished before it could even begin.
On television and in training, I was surrounded by images that did not reflect my vision of sport. I had no role models. Those who looked like me represented a country on the other side of the world. At home, the majority of superstars were white.
It’s still something I struggle with to this day. In sports journalism, there are times when I feel like I’m not taken seriously at all. In a field where most journalists are white, I feel like my voice is not valid on the Canadian game.
It got to the point where I did my best to “whitewash” myself. I tried to separate the Chinese from the Canadians. In doing so, I thought I would be more like the people on television, the heroes I saw standing on the podium or lifting the Stanley Cup.
Instead, I just felt emptier. Stubbornly, I tried to make it work, to become someone I wasn’t. All because I equate sport with being as Canadian as possible and as less Chinese as possible.
Find representation at UBC
My inner struggle continued when I came to UBC. I chose to study kinesiology because it seemed like the perfect mix between my passion for sports and the stereotypical dream job for an Asian child, medicine. Yet I still didn’t know what it meant to me to be a Chinese Canadian.
Slowly, my first three years in college helped me solve some of these problems. With my time at The Ubyssian covering U SPORTS, I began to see student-athlete stories up close, ones that reflected my own experiences growing up in Canada.
That’s why I like to write about athletes.
BIPOC representation was also increasing in Canadian elite sports. Maggie McNeil. Damian Warner. Cynthia Appiah. Step by step, I could see more minorities representing Canada on the world stage and winning.
As I became Chinese while being Canadian, I applied to volunteer at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics in my freshman year. One of my goals has always been to work for Team Canada. I got the job and immediately booked my tickets. It would be my first time in Asia, and maybe I could visit China.
The pandemic has stopped all that. Due to the many restrictions in place for Tokyo 2020+1, they have removed my volunteer position. Heartbreaking, but certainly not the end of the world. Not when it felt like the world was already over.
When I was younger I read Romance of the Three Kingdoms, an old Chinese novel. A particular saying came back years later in my life.
万事具备, 只欠东风./ Everything is ready, except the occasion.
I was surprised by the email I received. I was more surprised that the COC chose me, a third-year kinesiology student, to go to the 2022 Beijing Olympics as a transport agent.
My experience at the Winter Olympics was the first time that being Chinese-Canadian kicked in. I found it was because I was a Chinese Canadian that I was as effective as I was. It was through my own experiences as a Chinese Canadian that allowed me to succeed at the Games like no one else. I contributed to the success of Team Canada because I was a Chinese Canadian.
I connected on a deeper level with the Beijing 2022 drivers, volunteers and workers. I spoke their language and knew the culture. I couldn’t have made the friends I made and met the people I met if I wasn’t who I was. It was the first time I celebrated Chinese New Year without my family. However, I celebrated it at home.
My entire extended family is in China. My grandparents, who had returned to Beijing, lived only 15 minutes from my house. I couldn’t leave the closed loop to visit them, but I knew they were there with me every step of the way. They were there in my words, my heart, my understanding.
Wearing the maple leaf in the land of my cultural heritage encapsulated who I was. Maybe I wasn’t like Carol Huynh, waving the flag after winning a gold medal. But my victory came from understanding what it meant to the Chinese-Canadian. I was someone who, in sport, was able to bridge a cultural barrier between two sides that apparently couldn’t coexist.
The head of Yanqing Village told me that everyone who works in sports is passionate. The long, exhausting days of the Olympics were something I got to do not for the money or the glory, but because I cared. I’ve come to realize that everyone I’ve had the honor of meeting through sport is passionate about their work.
This shared passion is something I hope to embody in the future. As representation in sports grows, I hope to be part of it. And now I know that being a Chinese Canadian is something I should be proud of as I continue down this path. It makes me unique, a perspective that I bring that can stand out.
So maybe when I replied to this volunteer, I should have said something like that.
对，我是中国人./Yes, I’m Chinese.
我也是加拿大人./I am also Canadian.