What role do our parents play in our identity? In our first episode, Joey Loi covers the journey of his parents from Vietnam to pursuing “the-american-dream”. And how that has impacted him today.
So if you ask me what makes up my identity, one of the answers would be that I’m a patriotic box. Nani, I’m not sure why because by this point, I’ve lived more years in North America than I have in Pakistan. So why am I so patriotic about this country? so a few days ago, I came home to spend time with my family and one day I was going through my old diaries and came across a dusty, unfamiliar diary. The diary was my mom’s from 1997. As I read through it with my mom’s permission, of course, one particular entries stood out the most.
January 30th, 1997.
Maheen’s Mom: “Today was the most important day of my life. I received my PhD degree . A few days ago I received the instructions about the dress code to viewed at the ceremony. When I was reading that, they had a strong feeling that I would like to receive the degree in my national dress. That is your work homies. I had some concerns though about me looking really different from the rest of the recipients and also. For people being judgemental, but I mustered up the courage to listen to my heart carefully. I chose a gray dress with black embroidery, and contrary to my fears, people said nice comments about my dress. I remember that when I was walking across the stage to receive my degree. I felt very proud. It seemed to me that I was representing Pakistan in British higher education”
Maheen: When I read that everything clicked. I grew up with a mom, so passionate and so proud of her Pakistani background that it makes total sense why I am the way I am. Often we get so caught up in our own little worlds that we forget to look at the people most important in our lives and see how they form parts of who we are.
And this lesson was taught to me by my dear friend Joey lawyer. Yeah. Joey was born and raised in Canada. However, culturally, Joey grew up a good mix of Vietnamese, Chinese, and Hong Kong .
Joey: So my grandma, she was born in China, my great grandma couldn’t afford to feed all the children. My grandma, I think she was like seven or eight at the time. She would go and live as like a, like a housemaid for a, family in Saigon.
Maheen: Later, Joey’s grandma immigrated from China to Vietnam on a boat. That’s where his dad was born, but then in his twenties the climax of the Vietnam war hit. So Joey’s dad had to escape Vietnam.
Joey: You know when you hear about the boat people and the refugees, he was one of them. So he snuck away with his two sisters. , they were in Saigon, so they went up through Hawaiian into China. And then in China, gone into a boat and then directed towards Hong Kong and was a refugee in Hong Kong for a while.
When I think about that story . I’ve thought about it. I was like a story of survival and resilience. I think a lot of my identity and how I understand myself comes from an extension of my parents’ story. So that’s a big part of my identity.
So my dad told me this story where his life changed in a moment when he was drifting towards Hong Kong. Any soft billboards in the distance, like. Billboards were like psycho watches.And that was when he felt like he hadn’t made it. he was so excited because he saw it and I said, one day I’m gonna own a psycho watch. it wasn’t a thing that was within. Reach in Vietnam. when he was a kid, Vietnam, and there wasn’t the war. He watched tons of movies and listen to tons of music from America, from Hong Kong, you know, and he grew up like with Bruce Lee and with the Beatles. , and that was like a huge part of his childhood. But when the. War started, and then when the communist took over, like that stream of media and entertainment stopped.
And I think when he was drifting towards Hong Kong with that boat, like he saw it again and saw opportunity. but the great thing about being a refugee in Hong Kong was that he could work. , so. , to survive. He had a lot of odd jobs. , , you know, when you watch movies , , like police movies and they like line up suspects in a row and then they get people to come in and point out. So he was one of those people, he was an extra. so anyways, he, , came to Toronto, the Kenyan government expected him as a refugee and then when I was a kid. He opened a restaurant serving like fast Chinese food, , outside the Ontario science center. I sort of viewed my identity as like an extension of his story, feeling like I have an obligation to really like live my potential. , I think anything other than 100% of my effort, would it be a waste of my parents’ sacrifice . , and I think that’s why like working so hard at school, working so hard, you know, I am, my work, , is a direct extension of trying to fulfill. That obligation, , and I think part of my understanding of my parents’ story was that they were very stoic, , and that, Hey, we were like super low income, but you know, we’ve found a way to, to still live a life and still thrive.
Maheen: Yet when we grow up, we are so embarrassed by the very people who built who we are. For example, there were times when I was embarrassed by my mode of transportation to school or the job that my parents held, and like many immigrant kids, Joey felt the same way.
Joey: I felt as a kid, a lot of pressure to fit in. Even things like during parent teacher interviews I would have to like translate between the teacher and my parents. It just felt like, other kids that have to do that. , so there was that discomfort as a kid, as a kid and still my mom, works at Tim important. , and as a kid, there was a lot of like, , that was the kind of job that my friend’s parents had. And so I was always just , sort of barest to answer that question that people ask when , my mom did and when my dad did.
But it’s, it’s different today. today, I use it as a case study really it’s not, the American dream is the Canadian dream, , is alive and well. Um, and I’m an example of that, right? And they, and I’m very proud of what society has enabled for our family. , but as a kid that wasn’t clear to me, , but I understand it fully. My parents’ story. Um, like, yeah, my dad like worked in a kitchen, but it’s because. You know, when you don’t really speak the language and you don’t have like skill training. Like that was one of the few jobs I had access to and like, Oh, he started a business, he employed four or five other immigrants. , like I’m incredibly proud now thinking back my life and our family’s life like exists in the grand or context of a broader story. And if you sort of think of the whole story of like where they started and where they are now, like it was nothing to be ashamed of. And then if you add, you know, where I am now today, like increasingly nothing to be ashamed of. Today I’m like very comfortable. And I think it’s been incredibly rich. Part of my life is celebrating. You know, like the Chinese and the Vietnamese culture. I’m very proud of it and very happy to talk about it.
Maheen: One thing I really like about Joey’s story is that he really tried to understand where his parents come from and the experiences that they’ve had, and it got me thinking. How come? I don’t know the same level of detail about my own parents. Maybe it’s because I never asked.
Joey: My grandma passed away in the summer of 2017. , , and when, when someone passes away, that source of history and story is lost. And all you have are like clues left over from like old photos of my grandma. I can’t ask her anymore. , and so, you know, we talk about things and lately it’s been incredibly clear to me that I always, I think I understood my desk during the past. It’s like him running away from something like running away from the poverty of Vietnam. , but lately I’ve been understanding it more as he actually like, saw opportunity and greatness, , in America and Canada and like really wanted it and was willing to risk his life as a 20 year old to like, , get on a boat and like drift towards wherever every time I go back now. I find the time really precious and I want to like learn more about that story and find about, you know, what was he like as a kid? What is my grandma’s story?
Maheen: I’ll leave you with this thought. How much of your parents’ story do you actually know and how has her story impacted her identity and who you are today?
Thank you for listening to fake ID. If you know someone who has an interesting story to share about identity, please reach out to us on Instagram and Twitter at fake ID podcast.