I AM 1.5 GEN...


“I am 1.5 gen…” is a volume of short stories, poems, and personal essays told from the perspective of Asian immigrants who have lived and were raised between cultures. Having left the place of their birth at an early age, the 1.5 gen experience growing up with the culture of their heritage and the culture of the country their family has made home. Childhood and adolescence is a journey of self-discovery and identity. And while this journey may never truly be over, “I am 1.5 gen…” explores the nuances of navigating between cultures to share the untold stories of nine writers who grew up as Asian immigrants. How does the experience of moving to a new country as a dependent shape and inform an individual’s identity as well as their sense of belonging? What memories resonate throughout their lives? What knowledge and insights can their stories impart to future generations? 

This collection of stories represents the personal experiences, views, and opinions of the individual authors and does not reflect the positions or views of Asian Arts & Culture Trust (AACT) or its affiliated sponsors or members.

Aleeza Mendoza

How do I construct the origin of how I came to be?
      I am Filipino. I am 21. I am bisexual. I am a woman.
             5’1. Black hair. Light skin. Wears glasses.
                           I immigrated to Canada at the age of 7 with my family from the Philippines.
                           It was 2009.
                           We have lived in Canada for 14 years &
We haven’t been back since.

I see these two versions of myself stitched into one:
             1. The kid I was in the Philippines for 7 years of my life, &
             2. The person I am today who lived 14 years of her life in Canada.

Blurred borders of identity and culture,
Conceived after one long journey by plane.

And although these halves are what make up my skin, my pride, and my soul.
The threads making up these halves rip slowly at the seams,
I am Filipino but, am I enough to represent my culture?
I am Canadian but, I will never fully be.

Attached but not fully.
Detached but never really.

Questions about how I perceive my culture.
Hanging like loose threads &
Snagging on the surface that is my identity.

And maybe these questions don’t have to be answered,
My loose ends can stay as they are,
And this unraveling,
             though a messy, complicated, act of reclamation,
Is vibrant,
                           and uniquely my own.


Aleeza Mendoza (she/her) is a queer Filipino woman living in Scarborough. She is a 1.5 gen Filipino immigrant who is passionate about advocating for social justice issues, an avid media consumer, & creative. As a recent graduate, she is devoting her time to things that make her happy which includes creating art, poetry, and living life to the fullest.

Writing Interests: poetry - identity, friendship, romance, and grief.


Exotic value
Navlika Ramjee

you judge the shade
of the tone you need
measuring the fine grain
of an unclear situation
careful to calculate
the texture of your talk
the fabric of your dressing
the exacting etiquette

then you can flavour
your social masala
with some India some Africa
and a dollop of Britain
to be sure that you are not mistaken for
a bloody foreigner

it is an uncanny business
that requires chameleon-like
talents for match-making


Navlika Ramjee is an Indian, African, British person who was born in the Great Karoo to a Gujarati family. Navlika grew up in the suburbs of Cape Town, South Africa in the 1950’s and 60’s. Then came to London, aged 20, to study and now lives in Oxford.

This poem is from Navlika’s book Fig Loquat Orange, available here.

Wu Moli
Melody Sun

              I knew Wu Moli from orientation. Like me, she was from mainland China, but I only heard her speaking Mandarin once. 
              On Day One of orientation, the instructor asked us to introduce ourselves. For the first time in my life, I was surrounded by people of different skin colours and different accents. I looked at the piece of paper I held in my hands. On the paper was a brief introduction in English that I scribbled down the night before. I recited it in my head one more time.  
              Wu Moli was the first one to go. She was short and plump. A pair of bulky, black-framed glasses hid beneath her thick bangs. Her skin was slightly darker compared to most Chinese girls. Maybe she’s from Southern China? I thought. Her black jeans wrapped tightly against her round thighs.
              I could tell she was from the mainland, even before she spoke. She dressed just like the girl who sat beside me in middle school. Moli told us that her English name was Jasmine because that was what Moli meant in Mandarin. She said she liked watching Friends and Gossip Girl and hoped to meet different kinds of people. She spoke with a heavy accent. I immediately panicked because I knew I’d have the same accent. In my script, I also explained what my name meant, but that felt so stupid now. I crumpled the piece of paper in my hand.  
              After Moli finished speaking, she started to sing “Jasmine Flower”, a Chinese folk song only people as old as my parents would love. The melody was still the same, but she had translated the lyrics into English. Her singing was mostly off-key, and the translation was awkward. I looked around, trying to see how other people were reacting. My eyes were accidentally locked with the eyes of another girl on my right. She had long black hair and wore a denim jacket patched with a small Chinese flag on the left sleeve. We instantly detected the embarrassment in each other’s eyes. We bowed our heads, not looking at Wu Moli. When the self-introduction came to my turn, I muttered my name and something about where I was from with a shaking voice. I didn’t follow my script.  
              During lunch break, the girl with the long black hair smiled at me and asked me in Mandarin if I wanted to have lunch with her. I agreed quickly – maybe too quickly. She told me that her name was Crystal Chen.  
              Crystal waved a few other Chinese students over. Everyone seemed relaxed after switching to Mandarin. We discussed which Chinese cities we came from while eating, and then complimented on the delicious food in everyone's hometown. No one noticed where Moli went. 
              I was lucky enough to share a lot of classes with these Chinese students. Every time we went to a class, we sat together without a second thought. But when I walked into the Social Studies 10 classroom, I realized that I was the only Chinese student there. Without my Chinese peers, I was instantly overwhelmed by my fear, so I picked a seat in the back and sat down slowly so as to not make any noise. Shortly after I sat down, Moli came into the room. The pounding in my chest started to subside, and I raised my head, looking expectantly at her.  
              Moli darted her eyes somewhere else at the sight of me and headed to the empty seat next to the girl who was right in front of me, a white girl with blond hair. Moli introduced herself in her broken English. For the second time, I heard her explaining the meaning of her name. The white girl replied politely, speaking in a high-pitched voice. She said her name was Julia.
              A group of teenage boys sat on the other side of the aisle, across from Julia. Before the teacher arrived, Julia chatted with them, laughing occasionally. They spoke so fast that I could hardly follow along, let alone understand why they laughed. But Moli seemed to be very engaged. She cupped her hands around her face and leaned towards Julia and her friends, nodding and smiling from time to time. 
              “Moli. Wu Moli,” I called her name in Mandarin. Maybe she didn’t see me when she walked in? 
              Moli turned around, looked at me for a moment, and said, “Oh, hi! How are you?” She said every word in English, with her heavy accent.  
              At lunch that day, Crystal and I went to the cafeteria. At the center of the cafeteria were three large rectangular tables, surrounded by several small tables that could only accommodate four people at most. I noticed that the three large tables were always occupied by certain groups. The Chinese international students claimed one of them. Soon after school started, Crystal managed to become friends with James Wang who belonged to that table. Crystal brought me even though I was not invited by James. A group of laowai students settled into the largest table in the middle. The third table was taken by a group of second-generation Asian teenagers. Though they looked the same as us, we rarely talked to any of them in school.  
              Moli never showed up in the cafeteria during lunchtime. I told Crystal about Moli's cold shoulder during the Social Studies class.  
              “She honestly believes she could be one of them?” Crystal scoffed. “She should listen to herself when she speaks English.” 
              “Are you curious about them, you know, those local students?” I asked Crystal and she shrugged.  
              “It’s boring to hang out with them,” she said without any hesitation as if she had known them well. After this remark, Crystal went back to scrolling on her phone. We had recently set up our Facebook accounts.  
              The next Social Studies class, Moli sat beside Julia again. Julia greeted her but continued chatting with the boys. Like last time, Moli turned her face towards them and listened to the conversation without saying anything. From the few words that I could understand, I figured that they were discussing next week’s Club Day. Julia was a member of the drama club. She would be in charge of the recruitment. 
              During lunchtime, Crystal also asked me if I would sign up for the badminton club with her. Crystal told me that James was in the badminton club, and so were most other seniors at the table. I agreed even though I’d never enjoyed playing badminton.  
              On Club Day, Crystal and I found the table decorated with a hand-drawn flying badminton birdie. We approached the two Chinese-looking students behind the table, speaking English, but we were greeted in Mandarin. As we wrote down our names on the signup form, more Chinese students arrived at the table. We were surround by small talk, all in Mandarin. I had no idea we Chinese people loved playing badminton so much. What if a non-Chinese student would like to play badminton?  
              After signing up for the badminton club, I walked around to check out the other tables. As I walked towards the booth for the drama club, I noticed Moli. She was filling out a form right there. Sitting across from her was Julia, who was talking in her usual high-pitched voice to a white girl with pink hair and a brown-skinned boy with a Herschel beanie. 
              Moli pestered Julia about the drama club at the beginning of the following Social Studies class, especially about the audition. New members had to perform a monologue to join the club. Moli chose to perform a scene from Romeo and Juliet. She held a piece of paper with lines and scrawled-on circles. She pointed to the circles, asking Julia the meaning and the pronunciation of each word. Julia responded to her politely at first, but as soon as her friends came in, she joined their conversation, leaving Moli alone. Moli put the paper down and turned to listen to them again. 
              Fortunately for Crystal and me, the badminton club didn’t require any screening. Every Wednesday and Friday afternoon, we practiced at the school gym. Crystal bought a new pink tennis skirt and a pair of white Nike sneakers. Every time we finished a training session, she would go to the bathroom to carefully wipe away the sweat on her face and examine her makeup. One time, I followed her to the bathroom after a session. I told her about Moli’s audition. 
              “She wants to be Juliet? Oh wow, she wishes. I’ve never seen a Juliet as fat as her,” Crystal said, smacking her lips after applying a thin layer of the pink lip gloss to her mouth. I didn’t know how to respond. I regretted telling Crystal.  
              “Hey, what do you think of James?” Crystal changed the subject.  
              “He is a very good player,” I said.  
              “He sure is,” Crystal smiled, fiddling with her hair.
              The week after the audition, Moli’s face beamed the second she found Julia in the class, asking Julia about the audition result even before she settled into her seat. Julia smiled at her, thanked her for her enthusiasm for the drama club, and praised her for her courage to perform in public. Julia's answer was full of words like amazing, incredible, and impressive. I was about to applaud Moli in my head when Julia said that the club had decided not to recruit Moli for the time being. Julia sounded genuinely apologetic, adding a few “really’s” before “sorry”. Moli seemed taken aback for a moment before she thanked Julia several times as if she had passed the audition. However, when Julia was talking with her friends, Moli didn’t listen to them anymore. Moli turned away. 
              For a long time after that, Moli wasn’t on our radar, not even for the sake of amusing ourselves at lunch. After our weekly badminton practice, Crystal and I always hung out with other members. We took the bus to a tiny restaurant owned by a Taiwanese couple where I tried fried Tempura for the first time. Crystal brought up James too frequently, but when one of the girls suggested that Crystal should make a move, Crystal seemed to be offended. 
              “If a girl made the first move, she would be less valued by the boy,” Crystal continued, “I will just send a friend request to James on Facebook.”  
              I’d never dated anyone, so I didn’t know if that was true. What happened to Moli later seemed to prove Crystal right. 
              One day in October, while walking to the Taiwanese restaurant with the group from the bus stop, I caught a glimpse of a familiar face through a window. Moli had her hair down, but I recognized her black-framed glasses. When she lowered her head to write notes, her hair covered her profile. She was talking to an Asian boy in a gray hoodie sitting next to her. Several other Asian students were scattered around the room. I realized this was an after-school tutoring center. A yellow light bulb wearing a graduation cap was painted on the banner above the window with a line underneath written in a bold black font: Mathematics, Physics, English, Algebra, University Application. When I heard Crystal shouting out my name, I ran to catch up with everyone. I didn’t tell them about Moli.  
              A few days later, Moli appeared in the school’s cafeteria during the lunch break. She had replaced her eyeglasses with contacts. She also appeared more feminine, wearing a black sweater and a skirt with polka dots. She was holding a green cylindrical lunch box in her hands, one that looked exactly like the kind of lunch boxes my mother would use to bring soup when visiting any sick relative in the hospital. Moli gazed at us first. For a moment I thought she was finally going to join us, but she walked directly to the table behind us. That was the table occupied by the other group of Asian students. We called them CBC, Canadian-born Chinese. They were different from us in every way except for their looks. 
              I sat on the opposite side to watch her. Moli stood behind an Asian boy. I couldn’t see her face and the overlapping conversations in the cafeteria drowned out her voice. I only saw that Moli put down the lunch box on the table while the boy twisted his body to talk to her. He didn’t ask her to sit down. As soon as Moli left, the group burst into laughter. “Aaron, she must have a crush on you,” someone teased the boy. Aaron didn't touch the lunch box at all. Before they left the cafeteria, Aaron picked up the lunch box and walked to the food waste bin next to the microwave. Only then did I see his face, and I realized it was the boy I had seen Moli talking to in the tutoring center. Aaron dumped all the food in the lunch box into the trash can. It was dumplings, my favourite dish.A few days later, Moli came to the cafeteria again at lunch. She wore a gray turtleneck sweater, a plaid skirt, and a pair of black boots. I noted that she had brought handmade sushi rolls neatly packed in a glass lunch box. Did she make them? Aaron still didn’t invite her to sit down, but he didn’t throw out the food after Moli left. One of his friends who came in late ate all the sushi rolls and praised the boy's mother for her excellent sushi-making skills.  
              The following day, Moli strode into the cafeteria. This time she even wore some make-up. Her tote bag was full of snacks: a box of Coffee Crisp, a pack of Twizzlers, and a family-sized bag of All Dressed Ruffles Chips. Moli’s face beamed with excitement when she was finally welcomed to join the table. She passed the snacks around the table, her voice blended into the background noise of the cafeteria.  
              Moli became a regular at that table. Her lunch was always homemade sandwiches or burgers and fries bought at the cafeteria. The students at that table chatted and laughed loudly, but Moli seldom spoke, only occasionally exchanging a few words with Aaron. When the others on the table laughed, she followed along with a giggle.
              It didn’t last long. A few weeks before the end of the term, Moli stopped showing up at the cafeteria. Soon after, another Asian girl filled the spot next to Aaron. She spoke fluent English and became friends quickly with everyone at the table. I couldn't help wondering what happened to Moli. Another day after we came out of the Taiwanese restaurant, I stopped at the tutoring center. Aaron was still there, but Moli was nowhere in sight. 
              During the Christmas holiday, we flew back to our hometowns and only returned at the beginning of the new term. Crystal took advantage of returning to China to change her hairstyle – now dyed brown and curled – because it was way cheaper there. She brought back a new collection of Japanese and Korean makeup products and kept bragging about her bargaining secrets. She only quieted down when James joined our conversation. James told us that every year around the Lunar New Year, the school would organize an Asian food festival. We were invited to prepare the traditional Chinese food and bring it to the school for a fundraising sale, so we didn’t have to go to the cafeteria during lunchtime. Instead, we could bring our lunches to the classroom assigned for our meetings. James kept staring at Crystal while he was talking to us. 
              I ran into Moli a few times in the hallway. She looked refreshed with a new pair of thin metal-rimmed glasses and her short new hair. When she passed by, she nodded and smiled at me. I felt strange, but what was even more unusual was that she sent me a friend request on Facebook. I hesitated before accepting it. She didn’t post a lot on Facebook. To be honest, she didn’t have many friends there.  
              One day at noon, I found Moli hovering at the door of our meeting classroom. Her eyes brightened when she saw me. I thought about saying hi, but I remembered the time she darted her eyes away in the Social Studies class, so I only gave her a silent nod before going straight into the classroom.  
              “What is she doing here?” Crystal asked. 
              “No idea. You wanna ask her?” I said.  
              “No, absolutely no.” Crystal turned her attention back to James. Recently, they were always together at lunch. Everyone sensed there might be something going on, but they had not said anything yet.
              While we had our meeting that day, Moli lingered outside for a while.  
              The next day, Moli was wandering outside the room again. James was about to enter the classroom when she stopped him. Moli smiled uneasily. When James finally came in, he said that Moli wanted to join us for the food festival.  
              “Did she speak Mandarin to you?” Crystal asked.  
              James nodded, confused by this question. 
              “She’d never talked with us before in Mandarin,” Crystal said. “She’s too good for us.”
              “Oh, so that’s her. I remember you said something before. Okay, I think we’ve already gotenough hands,” James concluded. No one objected. Crystal volunteered to tell Moli. 
              I looked through the window. Moli seemed quite calm when Crystal passed the rejection to her. Only when Moli was about to leave, I saw her biting her lower lip tightly with tears building up in her eyes. I rushed out, bumping into Crystal.  “
              Where are you going?” Crystal asked. I didn’t reply.  
              Moli walked quickly along the hallway to the other end, ignoring Julia who was organizing a bake sale, and avoiding Aaron who was messing around with his friends. I followed her all the way. We passed the stairs, the cafeteria, and the gymnasium, and finally stopped at the girl’s changing room. She looked inside before stepping in. 
              I didn't know what she was doing in the changing room, so I stood at the door like an animal guarding its territory. A few girls passing by looked at me suspiciously but didn’t approach. I was relieved. A faint crying sound came from the inside. I walked in but no one was in sight. All the shower rooms were empty. The crying came from a stall with a locked door.
              I knocked on the door. The crying paused. 
              "Hi, are you okay?" I asked in English. My tongue twisted as I spoke. My English was still heavily accented. 
              After a long silence, Moli opened the door. She sat on the toilet seat, eye rims red from the crying. I dug into my pocket and handed her a crumpled napkin. Moli wiped her eyes and then blew her nose without making any noise. She threw the napkin into the trash bin before standing up and walking towards the sink. She turned on the faucet, letting the water run through her fingers. After putting her new glasses on the surface of the sink, Moli splashed her eyes with cold water. 
              When she finished, she put on the glasses again and said, “谢谢你。”
              That was the first time she spoke to me in Mandarin.


Melody Sun is a Chinese Canadian settler living in so-called Vancouver. Born in mainland China, she immigrated to Canada with her family when she was fifteen years old. Melody graduated from Simon Fraser University's Writers' Studio program and she is working on her short story collection. Her writing usually features immigrant experiences, identity crisis, feminism, and classism. Besides writing, Melody is passionate about reading, connecting with book lovers, and smashing the patriarchy. 

Writing Interests: immigrant life, identity crisis, girlhood, womanhood. Melody Sun writes short stories.


Elsewhere, Here
Wandy Cheng

              There was a podcast episode* on This American Life about immigrants hyper-fixating on their accents. It was recorded in the style of a game show, where the subject claimed to be able to tell when someone immigrated to America based on the way they speak. In particular, how much they over-enunciate. Because, “​​The more fluidly they could pronounce certain words or ride out a cadence, the younger they must have been when they arrived”.
              It was a particular segment that stuck out to me. It got me thinking about how much I fixate on the way I speak English, and how long I’ve been fixating on it for.
              There are some days when the words flow out of me effortlessly. My thoughts and speech patterns following one another sequentially. I’m thinking and articulating all the words and pronouncing them “perfectly”. But more often than not, I trip over the spaces between my words, slurring the syllables and twisting the characters before the sentences end just enough to obscure my intention, demanding repetition. There are some words I am more confident in pronouncing, usually words with multiple syllables and “hard edges” — sa-tis-FACT-tion, per-FEC-tion, dict-A-tion. T-sounds are encouraging and friendly; they welcome my tongue with a hard pat on the back when I approach them nervously.
              In a class of 26, the R-sounds are definitely troublemakers, sneaky ones poking you in the back, only for you to lose sight of them when you’re sure you’d caught them. Ru-ral, roll, re-gu-LAR.
              U & L-sounds don’t usually lay obvious traps for you. They are the masterminds behind chaos, plotting to snicker as you ponder their place within the word structures. SuC-CEss, pub-lic, rest-AUR-ant.
And when they show up altogether like u-Ti-li-ta-Rian? Forget it.
              It’s not because I don’t know how to separate the syllables, position my tongue and mimic the sounds with my mouth. It’s the way my otherness jumps out as soon as I do. My accent — the strongest indicator of me not being from here.
              What is the shame related to me not being originally from the place I currently reside in?

              — that I didn’t have tangled roots on the land not ours to settle on?
              — that my parents didn’t make their immigrating decision twenty years earlier?
              — that the sense of loss for an alternative reality is greater than the current one I am living through?

              Whatever the reason, I felt the slap on my face from the expressions of others as I tried to fit a new language in. The suppression of laughter as I read unfamiliar words in class; the furrowing of brows as I tried to clarify an assignment; the patronizing repetition as I assumed a pronunciation.
              Over time, I self-reject before others get the chance to avoid the hurt and shame I feel deep in my chest – mostly in my throat. Mostly a lump that feels like an itch that cannot be scratched; a lump that makes me want to bury all the thoughts rushing to my head while I shrivel in embarrassment with my eyes shut.
              “I do sound different, even when I'm trying really, really hard not to,” Jiayang says in the podcast. I too spent a lot of time and energy making sure my English is as colloquially understandable as someone that belongs here, worthy of respect. However, I don’t particularly feel the sigh of relief when someone comments on my accent being undetectable, like I’m from here. It feels like a part of me from the past, the heavily-accented immigrant, is in some way erased. Though, disagreeing feels like I’m actively denying the hard work I’ve put into crafting a palatable persona. It’s conflicting to feel the tug, especially because I know I sound different.
              I’ve been noticing more Cantonese being spoken around me when I commute. Names of familiar Hong Kong places and slangs woven in. I remind myself not to stare and put away the impulse to interrupt with a shared identity.
              Does simply being from a place dictate your identity? Or is an identity what you take from a place? Is the taking ever justified if you don’t consciously give back?
              Maybe, how I sound ultimately doesn’t matter as long as it remains an honest representation of my current self. Maybe, the hyper-fixation of my accent was born from the hyper-fixation of self in reality–a self in a space that feels increasingly narrowing. However many tries it takes, and as cringey as I feel as I type these words, I vow to dedicate this year to do it all, even if afraid.



Wandy Cheng is a multidisciplinary artist from Hong Kong whose work is expressed through illustration, ceramics, paper-cut and public art. She has experience coordinating and facilitating collaborative workshops to bring meaningful, community-engaged installations to life. In recent years, her illustrations can be seen on the streets of Toronto and within pages of international publications.

Writing Interests: Personal essays about diasporic identity, working in a creative career, and reflections of the mundanity of life.


Don't let the white people look down on us
My internalized racism as a child
Esther Leung-Kong 江梁爾欣

               As a kid from an Asian immigrant family, well-meaning parents would remind us kids, "Act properly while eating in a western restaurant, so the white people won't look down on us."
               In front of white people, we could not share food, blow bubbles in our drinks, use the wrong fork, or talk too loud etc... or else
the white people will think less of us.
               It's not so much about the rules, but more about the phrase "don't let white people look down upon us" as if western cultural standards are the best ways and we need to fit in.
               Don't get me wrong, I DO NOT blame the last generation, they did what they need to do to protect us, unburden us, and to survive, I totally respect what they had to do for the next generation.
DECOLONIZE our minds. Learn to Unlearn white superiority. Be proud of our own cultural ways and traditions!
   Internalized Racism is the personal conscious or subconscious acceptance of the dominant society's racist views, stereotypes and biases of one's ethnic group. It gives rise to patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving that result in discriminating, minimizing, criticizing, finding fault, invalidating, and hating oneself while simultaneously valuing the dominant culture. (Definition from: TAARM Taking Action Against Racism in Media)
               Learn to Unlearn white superiority for our souls


Esther Leung-Kong is a Vancouver based Chinese Canadian Author who aims to educate children on diversity, immigrant struggles, and cultural representation through her bilingual book “Wonderfully Made 奇妙的傑作” for kids 5 to 10 years old. She is a mother of three, she was born in Hong Kong and immigrated to Turtle Island (Vancouver, Canada) when she was 9 years old.

Esther’s passion includes advocating for justice & compassion both locally and globally through her work at the non-profit organization Culture Regeneration Research Society and volunteering with the local grassroots charity Vancouver Urban Ministries, leadership development for young people, and inspiring others through music.

Throughout the years she has been raising awareness among the Chinese immigrant community about colonial history and treatment of Indigenous people.


tulpak (selective hearing)
sharon joy tung (shar)

i’m ten years old and just finished my swimming lessons at birchmount pool. small gusts of wind fill the tiny bus shelter with wafts of chlorine from my still-wet hair.  

a small, quaker oats chewy bar was packed as a post-pool snack but i’ve been growing into my body as of late. the energy exchange of chocolate chips and oats does not match the last sixty minutes of front crawl and back crawl my body just endured.

i’m hungry, grumpy and tired.

i feel the whoosh and the beeps as the 12A kingston road bus pulls up to our stop. my mom gestures urgently for me to get on the bus.

as we load ourselves on and find our spots, there is a man sitting across from us causing a bit of a disturbance. my mom’s eyes dart towards him. i see a wave of disapproval fill her face as she assesses him for any danger.

she nudges me hard and sharply whispers in ilocano:

ang bagtit isuna
that man is crazy.

she begins to get up to leave and her eyes instruct me to follow her. i pretend i don’t see.

the man gets up and starts walking furiously from the front to the back of the bus. over and over.

she nudges me again and motions for me to get up so we can re-locate further back. still i remain seated.

the man is now yelling profanities.she nudges me harder and tugs me by my backpack to take me back with her. i am annoyed.

maybe it’s because i was born into the notoriously independent, sun sign of aquarius that i hate being told what to do. maybe it’s because i’ve begun craving more freedom in my tenth year of life.

or maybe it’s because the bile in my stomach has been gnawing at me for the last thirty minutes - that tiny quaker chewy oats bar has been long gone. so, i snap at her:

leave me alone.

my angry, english reply is resonant. she looks at me, stunned. this is quickly replaced by fury, as she curses me:


i know what this means. it means i’m in some deep shit when we get home. but for now, in front of the bagtit man and the other white passengers on the 12A, i pretend i don’t hear her.

this is because, in fifth grade, as i learn about:

     -how to build proper sentence structure
     -distinguishing subjects from predicates
     -making inferences about words

i also learn that:

     -teachers treat you better when you don’t have an accent
     -people in general treat you better when you don’t have an accent

and most importantly to my ten-year-old brain:

     -the kids who speak in their home language are being called FOBs or fresh off the boat by the other ten-year-olds

and so, from now, until i’m about nineteen, i pretend i don’t hear her. 


sharon joy tung (shar) is a queer, neurodivergent multidisciplinary community visual artist with ancestry that roots to the Philippines and Singapore.

Being grown and raised in Scarborough, shar witnessed the cohesion of many diasporic folks co-
habitating and developing resilience against systemic oppression by building community together. This
upbringing inspired her artistic practice by combining multiple mediums into her
work. Whatever canvas she uses becomes the space where the materials and colours merge together
as a community.

shar contributes her story tulpak to this collection because believes there is power in recording and
acknowledging the ways that she has been the villain in her own life at times – to meet that villain
with compassion and curiosity; and realizing that she wasn’t really a villain all along.

When shar is not making stuff, she is in training at the Toronto Art Therapy Institute to receive her
license to practice art psychotherapy.

What currently brings her joy is going on adventures to find art in nature and unexpected places!

Writing Interests: onomatopoeia, blackout


A Toast to Our Strength
Nivedita Shori

Like the resilient ice
Refusing to melt with the warming snow,
Like the last dewdrop
Testing how long before the sun will make it go.

For all to see — our strength we’ll show.

Like a stubborn grey strand
Peeking through thick, dark hair,
Like the last leaf on autumn’s branches
Clinging tight, as if saying, “I dare”.

Unstoppable — we’ll triumph with flair

.Like thunderous clouds
That roar before they pour,
Like the fragrance that wafts in
From underneath a closed door.

We stand tall — to stay, to sway, to soar.

P.S.: In this journey of my life, I raise a toast to all the women who constantly teach me the meaning of resilience!


Nivedita Shori is a teacher, mentor, facilitator, community worker and a creative writer of South Asian descent, wishing to create authentic literature representing the multi-layered identities of our world today. She writes in multiple genres including short fiction, narrative memoir and poetry. She enjoys nature and writing meditations, and is hopelessly in love with ink-pens, lattes and rain.


“Life with Dai Ma”, excerpt from Of Ox and Unicorn: An Immigrant’s Story
Alan K. Joe

               Life with my stepmother had been uneasy at the beginning. It took several months for me to get more comfortable. The excitement of reuniting with my father after twelve years, and of seeing a new country, quickly wore off. I was soon overwhelmed with loneliness. I worried that my mother was all alone in Communist China, missing me as much as I was missing her. I found it difficult to relate to my new family: a stepmother and a half-sister and -brother who were fifteen and sixteen years older, respectively, than I. They were not really unkind to this boy who had suddenly been placed in their midst. Perhaps I was too sensitive, but I felt unloved. Dorothy was nice enough to sit with me one or two evenings a week, to teach me the English alphabet and pronunciations. Particularly, I had difficulty enunciating “r,” as in rice, and “th,” as in this.
               Howard lived in St. Catharines, and I saw him only occasionally; at first, I was a little afraid of him. In traditional Chinese society, the first-born son is dominant, a father figure. I felt the most at ease with his wife, my sister-in-law, Hazel, who appeared the most friendly and caring. She always greeted me with a smile.
               That first summer, I had a pleasant excursion to see the vast and lush countryside east of Toronto. Howard and Hazel took Dai Ma and me on a motor trip to the Kawartha area to see the lakes, the Trent Canal, and the locks that transport boats from one lake to another. We visited Peterborough and close family friend Henry Low, who entertained us in his Silver Moon Restaurant with delicious meals of T-bone steaks and local smallmouth bass, pickerel, or walleye. I had my first taste of the golden potato called a French fry and a dessert named Boston cream pie. We stayed the night a hotel in Peterborough, which our friend insisted on paying for. I enjoyed the trip very much and got to know Howard and Hazel a little better. Gradually, I became less afraid of my big brother.~Dai Ma was my father’s first wife. I had felt awkward when I was instructed to call her Mama, or Dai Ma. I had called my biological mother Dai Jie, meaning Big Sister, since I learned to talk, and when I asked why I had to call her Dai Jie, while my friends called their mothers Mama, she explained that, according to Chinese custom, the first wife of a man is the official mother to all his children, and they must address her as Mother. I found that tradition disconcerting, particularly when I had to introduce a grey-haired woman as my MaMa to my school friends. I loathed explaining, because I felt the Canadian kids would never understand.

               Dai Ma was nearly sixty years old when I first met her. She stood less than five feet tall, was a little stout, and looked weary. Age certainly had caught up to her, perhaps because she had spent decades working hard in my father’s laundry business, raising two children, and caring for my father and many of his relatives. She had suffered some minor strokes, and often in church I had to nudge her when she started snoring. She was a devout Christian, and she did her best to feed and clothe me. I imagined it was probably a burden for her to have to raise a stepson in her retirement years, which should have been peaceful. Although she never yelled or punished me, still, I couldn’t stop worrying about whether I was wanted or not. I avoided talking back to her, trying hard not to give her – or anyone – a reason to throw me out, particularly after my father’s passing.
               Our house at 85 Beaty Avenue was a three storey, semi-detached, red-brick house with a good-sized wooden porch, where I often sat and read. An majestic old chestnut tree stood on the front lawn; it gave me the pleasure of shade in summer and horse chestnuts to play with in autumn. We lived on the main floor, which had three bedrooms, and we rented out the rest as a rooming house. Before his death, my father had occupied the large front bedroom with big bay windows. My sister had the middle room, and Dai Ma had the smallest, measuring about seven-by-eleven feet, located next to the kitchen, with a window facing the backyard. I had begun my new life in this little room, taking up one third of Dai Ma’s space. A narrow two-and-a-half-foot folding cot was placed at the other end of her room. I slept in that small alcove for nearly two years. A used walnut chest with three drawers, a small grey metal desk, and a steel folding chair with a thin red cushion filled up the rest of the space. It had taken me several weeks to get used to sharing a room with someone other than my own mother, and Dai Ma’s snoring bothered me a little at the beginning.
               A week after my arrival, Dai Ma had taken me by streetcar to Eaton’s and Simpson’s department stores to look for a warmer winter coat. These downtown stores, with five or six stories each, seemed huge. It looked as if they had everything for sale, even a boat? At Eaton’s Annex, she chose a navy parka from the SALE rack. It hung loosely on me, but Dai Ma said it was large, “So that you can grow into it.” When we got home, she folded the extra-long sleeves inward about one and half inches and sewed them up by hand. The following December, she let the sleeves out, and I could see the frayed crease. Though not stylish, that parka did keep me warm enough my first two winters in Canada, and I never had a cold or the flu. However, I promised myself that someday I would have money, and I would walk into Eaton’s or Simpson’s to buy something that I really fancied.
               Hard-working and thrifty, Dai Ma spent very little on cosmetics or jewellery for herself, but she had a sense of style. Her dresses, hats, and fur coat looked fashionable – more so than the clothes of many other Chinese aunties of her age that I encountered. She was frugal, and when she had taken me to Queen Street Barbershop for my first haircut, she twice told the barber, “Cut short, short.” I kept protesting, “No Short, No Short.” When I came home to look in the mirror, I winced at how short my hair was and the unseemly sight of two dime-sized scars just above my right ear, where two boils had erupted one hot summer when I was a child. Before I went with Dai Ma to church that Sunday, I used a soft lead pencil to darken my pale bald scars. I wanted to look good, because several girls were usually there with their parents. The vanity of youth!
               One day, the screen window to Dai Ma’s bedroom had a large hole cut through it and her purse was stolen. The police were called but the thief was never caught. One afternoon, I came in from the backyard through the side door, and overheard Dai Ma talking on the phone about the burglary. She said, “I suspected that Alan might have done it.” I was shocked, but I dared not confront her or tell my father about my innocence. I retreated to the backyard and quietly wept. I started to mow the lawn to deaden the hurt.
               After my father’s death, I continued to live quietly with Dai Ma and Dorothy, and took over more of the rooming-house chores and cooking, as Dai Ma’s health was deteriorating. In 1954, Dorothy married a very kind gentleman from Vancouver, Edward Yip. They lived for a year and a half in an apartment a few blocks from us, but when Dai Ma suffered another stroke, they moved back to our house and occupied the large front room, which I had moved into after my father’s death. I, in turn, took my sister’s old room, which was much darker and smaller, as it had only one window facing the neighbour’s brick wall, about three and a half feet away. On hot summer nights, I had to keep the windows open, and sometimes was awakened by the streetcars clanking along the rails on Queen Street.

               In the spring of 1956, Dai Ma was stricken with a massive and fatal stoke. I mourned her passing. Although we were not close, we did help each other. She had raised me for six years, and I was a companion for her.Living a short time with my father and my six years with Dai Ma was not particularly memorable at the time, but eventually I would develop more respect for them. They had earned the esteem of relatives and friends by their work ethic and helpfulness, and I realized that they had done their best to nurture me. I certainly owed them a debt, although at the time I was often resentful, too young to appreciate their efforts or express my love and respect for them.


Born in Canto, China, in 1937, Alan Joe experienced some of the worst of the Japanese occupation of his homeland and the uncertainty caused by advancing Communist forces after World War II. Settling in Toronto in 1950, he faced many of the challenges that immigrants must overcome, finally graduating as a dentist, with a specialty in orthodontics. Now retired, Alan lives with his wife in Toronto and St. Petersburg, Florida.

This section is from Ox and Unicorn: An Immigrant’s Story. Copies of the book are available at Toronto Public Libraries and for purchase on Amazon.


               I am one of the 1.5s. Does this mean I am more than a whole? Or that I will never be enough? Or does this actually indicate that I am just too much?
               My immigration story began a year after I was born. My parents left Hong Kong because of political uncertainty. They married in a time when daily life was punctuated with political strife that culminated in several deadly terrorist acts. My folks left Asia for good in 1969 and settled in Toronto. I was a year old when we arrived; I have no memory of our life in Asia.  
               There was absolutely no future in Hong Kong for us. My folks had been born into the unspeakable horrors of Japanese-occupied China and then lived under crushing poverty of being refugees after the Chinese Communist Revolution. When the cycle of political and economic instability threatened to disrupt their lives again, they saw opportunity in immigrating to Canada.
               I am forever grateful to my late parents for their foresight and their resolve to fight for our future. For two people who were risk-averse and had already endured so much trauma, uncertainty, and deprivation in their formative years, they craved security and stability. It would be the life decision that would profoundly impact my life then and continue to affect my worldview today.
               When you are the child of immigrant parents, your future pathway is unlikely to be aspirational. Pursuing a creative career? Nope, not if it doesn’t pay well. Want to take a gap year to find yourself? Do this when you know what the value of the dollar is. What? You want to move out? Why do that when you have home-cooked meals and laundry facilities?
               These are just some of the less contentious issues you face when you are trying to launch your life. You live under the specter of obligations from not just your parents but a long line of ancestors who never had the comforts and opportunities that come with sacrifice and determination. If guilt was an Olympic sport, my parents would have medalled every time.
               It was hard to find my comfort level with my Asianness – and more specifically, my Chinese identity – during the insecurity of adolescence. Code switching is exhausting but you do it because you’re desperate to belong somewhere. You become a shapeshifter, adapting to other people’s expectations while suppressing your own. With time, you become further removed from your heritage as your comfort level with your adopted country deepens and you realize that Canadian cultural currency is far more valuable than holding on to Old World traditions.
               If I have any deep regrets, it would be how I let my language skills atrophy. My Cantonese is sufficient enough to help order food in almost any Chinatown restaurant but good luck if I want something other than gan chow gnau ha or want to order off the chef’s menu. The low-level vocabulary defeats me in so many situations. I am forced to default to English or small talk with Canto speakers. While fully functional in English, I just cannot carry on a conversation of any substance in Cantonese.
               If anything, events in past years have forced my hand in reclaiming my culture in a meaningful manner. Hong Kong, my birthplace, has been ground zero in the struggle between democracy activists and the Chinese government. The global pandemic unleashed a torrent of hatred and violence against Asian communities. And more personally, the death of my mother, my last surviving parent, was the factor that forced a reckoning with my Chinese identity.
               Over the course of my life, my mother was the knowledge keeper of all cultural and spiritual practices. Starting off the Lunar New Year in a good way came with a deep cleaning, an exhaustive preparation of symbolic foods and the readying of the ancestral altar for blessings and celebration. As her dementia worsened, her quality of life diminished as the pandemic took hold. These rituals remained important but the rigidity of getting things right lessened as her memory became more fluid.
               When she passed away, my brother and I prepared for her funeral. Our goal was to honour her with a funeral that was culturally accurate and respectful. We were no longer able to seek her approval with each decision that we had to make. Google had nothing on our mother’s power of recall in the rituals of life and death. Without her boss lady wisdom, we put our trust in the Chinese funeral directors to guide us through one of our toughest days.
               Major life changes trigger introspection. The past two years of bereavement have excavated big feelings about understanding who I am. Throughout the diaspora, I am sure that there have been many conversations about our identity and shared history, brought on because of how difficult it is has been to be visibly Asian in the last few years. Virulent anti-Asian hate against the diaspora, something that was evident from the first arrival of Chinese migrants, has resurfaced as a result of the global pandemic and of geopolitical conflicts.
               Part of my modus operandi in assimilating was to tamp down on my Asianness. Whether I did this for self-preservation against racism or to minimize the space that I occupied, I’m less willing to do this now.  Doing so feeds into existing prejudices about Chinese identity and more precisely, Chinese-Canadian identity.
               We are living in an era where being Asian puts us at risk of harassment, discrimination or physical harm. If leaning into one’s identity brings on discomfort, we still have to do this.
               If nothing, we owe it to ourselves. We owe this to those who gave up so much so that we could thrive, not hide.
               Because despite our hybrid identity, we are enough. 


Jse-Che Lam is a Toronto-based secondary school educator who teaches English, politics, and history. Her interests include origin stories, Canadian-produced documentaries, and perfecting homemade dumplings from as many cultural backgrounds as possible.

Writing Interests: Op-ed, personal essays, and curriculum writing

Brave to break hollow bricks
Jeel Patel

I became the person I used to curse on the street
How weeded winds blew evil secrets off the curve behind his ears
Was it ugly to judge his real picture through the fragile smoke
For, nobody had shared his time in the fire to the funeral
Alas! Mouths have manipulative stories and eyes have influenced vision

But now these flames are catching my cells for invocation
Can’t blame the untamed senses in an exotic country
For, how to conquer an already off-guard mind
I sold all forever oaths to buy transient ordinary verse
Is this clear foreign water that pulled my roots off mother rivers

Peers didn’t pressurize but prejudiced the change
How my noble plain lips turned painted with revolution
Right doesn’t have to roar they say, I float silently
Then why even my silent roar goes unheard
Has someone been a winner or a loser over the perspectives

Proving thyself is knotting a promise from the water to stay steady
So, at my feet, a self-centered world started revolving
Parenthood cries for my chase toward instant gratification
Seeds of catastrophic desires I resisted before now grow in my chest
Fluctuating fears and joy, either to fail or to rise

Wiser extracts learning from others’ experiences
Yet how to kill curiosity for the unknown without facing adversity
I shall not regret an unlived phase of life because of a painful outcome
Aftermath I shall not hope for a warm sunny shoulder to console
For grief or happiness is mine until choice is mine

I became the person I used to curse on the street
As He and I were brave to take a chance over vulnerability
Learners can’t be biased for the important lessons or trivial stories
The ultimate quest to grow feeds its hunger in every moment
So, he and I went through perils to carve pearls of persistence

//that’s why I became the person I used to curse on the street,
Now he and I both together share the time in fire and smoke,
And wait for someone else to curse us//



Jeel Patel is a 24 year-old woman who was born in India and started writing at the age of 18. She is a doctor, a writer, and an activist who has written 700 poems, 35 English songs, and 35 articles on human life. She is a published writer for two International anthologies for woman empowerment. Her articles have had a significant impact on her community. In 2021, she shared her journey as a writer in an interview with Medium and also became a featured writer of Miraquill due to her series “Homo sapiens”, which stopped two women from committing suicide. She fosters international relations with writers all around the world by attending live podcasts, conferences, and poetry recitations. She is an analyst of human life. Her ultimate purpose is to leave a magnificent impact on the people through the power of her words before she dies. 

Jeel dedicates all her works and victories to her mother - who has empowered her in everyaspect by giving her disciplined freedom since childhood.

“On dateless death my petals shall perish, I shall not be recognised but I must beremembered through the fragrance my poetries have left.”



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