How do you self identify? Issues around language

Jean: I identify as Japanese Canadian

Janice: I would say the same. I think for me growing up in Winnipeg, I identified more as Japanese and I was different from my friends and classmates.

Jean: There weren’t many Japanese people, especially in school. We were the only Japanese or Asian people in school.

Janice: We stuck out growing up in Winnipeg. I moved to Vancouver and over the years I’ve kind of gone to: Okay I’m Japanese but Canadian.

I visited Japan in the early ‘90’s and I remember I was all excited because I was going back to the homeland. I had a great time. But I felt so stupid there because I couldn’t speak the language. I was so tall compared to everybody else. I couldn’t fit the clothes or shoes. I remember thinking, I’m actually more Ukrainian.

My parents tried to teach us some Japanese. But when you’re growing up in Winnipeg, you don’t want to be Japanese. You just want to fit in. I know baby Japanese.

Jean: The same with me. There was a Japanese school at the Buddhist Temple but I didn’t learn very much because Japanese wasn’t important. You wanted to be a Canadian, not Japanese. I would speak with my parents, but they’ve been gone for over 25  years. If you don’t use it you lose it, right? I find it very difficult to speak or understand Japanese now.

When I go to Japan, my relatives worry about me coming to visit as my knowledge of the Japanese language is so poor. They have even hired interpreters. I’ve been to Japan three times to visit cousins. Once I am there, I gradually feel a little more comfortable with the language and a bit more comes out. I get by but they’re probably laughing at me.

Some friends watch Japanese TV. I have no interest because I cannot understand what they’re saying.

Janice: My mother gets people saying to her, “Oh your English is so good.” We say she was born here and still they’ll say: “But your English is so good.” She finds that kind of weird.

Jean: It was funny when my husband was in the hospital. Staff wouldn’t talk to him. They would talk to me because they thought he couldn’t speak English. He probably spoke better English than the hospital staff. And now the same thing is happening to me. When I go out with my children, people talk to them instead of speaking to me.

Question: It doesn’t bother you at all?

Jean: No, no. It’s okay. It is what it is.

Janice: It happens to me too … hahaha

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