They call me a dandelion because I used to have a golden nest of petals, nectar rich as the culture on a pedestal beneath my skin.
There was a time when each casual phrase was worth praise from my Chinese kin because “wow, your speaking is great for a foreigner!”
I used to have a world to myself, glowing with secrets in scarlet lanterns - I’d make people’s heads turn with the bright red thread in my veins while Mom complained that Chun Jie Wan Hui ran way past my bedtime.
I used to hold in the blood of my hand this bright red thread that wound across the Atlantic like a successful immigrant story, but tectonic plates are shifting, and every morning I’m finding “Oh Canada” remind me there’s a lot that can go wrong with a distance as wide as an ocean.
I used to embrace the smell of people smoking, I used to see crinkly eyes and wry laughter and think this, this is who I am, I used to know that each extended family member would, upon seeing me, press their hands into mine and tell me how I’ve grown, I used to think that just existing to grow was enough. They call me a dandelion.
Set the scene: road trip Chinese restaurant. At the sound of Mandarin musings the storeowners abandoned their fusion facade, jumping on us with “Where do you come from?” “Oh my God, how far have you travelled?”.
Their humble storefront became a mansion, and enthusiasm was only dampened by the illiterate thirteen-year-old in the corner who couldn’t order for herself.
Instead of kung-pao chicken and spring rolls we dined on egg-tomato stir-fry and steamed rice bowls, yet even as I gulped down their offerings in silence I knew the lie in “you are what you eat” - that’s idealistic at best, it’s more “you eat what you wish you were and let God figure out the rest”.
The other day my grandfather asked Dad whether he knew of any translator apps to communicate with my sister and I as if maybe technology can compensate for the perfect retirement that’s slipping away with each one-word reply.
He’ll never learn that I learned about my ancestral homeland through white-paged tomes and white history teachers who pronounce the leader of the CCP “Mow”, but I’d be a hypocrite to blame them now because it’s not like I can pronounce my own last name - there’s this cruel game my tongue likes to play where I try to nail the perfect balance between “hi-a” and "shi-a", and it dangles the key to the vocal resonating chamber I am too whitewashed to claim.
And when people fetishize slanted eyes and traditional dress, I feel as if it’s not my mess to clean because it doesn’t mean anything when you’ve never donned a qipao outside of Kindergarten Culture Day.
They call me a dandelion because I am a ball of white fluff, ugly remnants of a once-beautiful flower destined to disperse in the fields of a nation that isn’t mine.
I call myself a dandelion because I’m a weed with an identity crisis, and that identity crisis is Western education, and the melting pot is cross-pollination, except the difference is when I blow away in the wind my wish will never come true.
1. Chun Jie Wan Hui is an annual Chinese New Year TV programme aired by the government.
2. My last name is Xia.
3. The cheongsam, also known as the qipao, is a type of body-hugging dress of Manchu origin. (Wikipedia)