Satellite children: Negotiating ethnic identities

This is post is part of my preliminary research on Satellite Children (referred to as sat-kids) in Vancouver. I am interviewing several people who identify themselves as sat-kids and some of their stories are reproduced here as first hand real life experiences.

Who are they?

Ka Tat Sang, Faculty of Social work at University of Toronto writes, “Satellite children are children of ethnically Chinese immigrants to North America who have returned to their country of origin after immigration.”

There is a wide range of identity negotiating approaches in these interviews and the stats may vary as I progress further in my research. The idea came to me as a dear friend mentioned her trials and tribulations as a young Taiwanese immigrant to the luscious city of opportunity Vancouver with her younger sister. I have chronicled experiences of only two interviewees in this blog  to provide an idea about Sat-kids and what does it entail.  These individuals are very established Vancouverities and have thriving careers so in some ways these are their success stories. Yet it establishes why the issue at hand matters so much. I have many more interviews with a wide spectrum of impressions and thoughts.

On conditions of anonymity my interview subject opened up her heart to me for which I remain grateful. Never had I heard something so authentic and original in terms of feelings and emotions. As you read on bear in mind that it is a very brave attempt to convey her life story without breaking out into bouts of tears. I was teary eyed a few times during the interview but she kept a brave face and poured her thoughts out.

Some candid real life experiences:

Mary-Lou is the pseudonym I will use to refer to her, although she has an actual name. The gist of her story has roots in loss of a familial home, loss of identity and the struggle to embrace an entirely different culture and country as homeland. But the deeply embedded emotion I identified was the need to feel belonged- to claim some place as her own and carve her own niche.  I have written out her words verbatim below.

” I came here with my younger sister and my mother. My father came, stayed for a few days and left.  He is a very established Professor at a University in Taiwan. My mother is a pharmacist by profession. We are very well-0ff in terms of financial capacity.

It was a very new culture for me and my mother had to struggle to get us established. She cooked, cleaned and tried to get life together for us. I became a mother for my sister as I eventually learned to drive and had to drop her off and pick her up from school and other activities.

I do not feel that I was ever a kid, always a responsible grown up who had a child to look after. Part of the reason was that my mother could not speak the language as well as I could. She also had mobility problems and would get lost if she went too far away from home. So she stuck to friends and places where she could communicate easily.

My father would come visit every once in a while but never really enough to make me feel nutured. I always felt that he was more duty bound to come see us than anything else. I craved for a father. Luckily I had a mother and a sister, some of us here have no one at all and are completely on their own. I had a home to go at the end of the day.

I believe if my father had not sent us away we would be a normal family. But to him Canada was a land of opportunity for us. We could learn English get better education and if we chose we could c0me back whenever we wanted. But now after living here for so long I wasnt sure if I wanted to go back. As fate would have it I met my boyfriend who is from Taiwan, he moved back and that has motivated me to move back.  My sister adapted better than I did. Probably because she was younger and slipped right into her role.

My father got a mistress and when my mom found out, she was devastated. My father was not very remorseful about the break up of our family and that ate me up inside. Now I think I keep a more closer watch on my boy friend because of my experiences. You can call it insecurity if you like.”

The other interviewee is a successful, career focused individual with a well established life style in Metro Vancouver, yet memories are still fresh from being a sat-kid. Please note again that this is verbatim.

“1) Economic difficulties: My Dad was an entrepreneur in Taiwan, but did not have a formal education. So naturally, when coming to Canada, his only option was to continue with doing business. He found moderate success in his first 2 to 3 years; however, opportunities in Taiwan was still better, which eventually led him back to Taiwan.

I wouldn’t necessarily blame the government for my dad moving back to Taiwan. This is Canada….it is what it is….there’s only 33 million people in this vast land of ours. Taiwan is probably a little bigger than Vancouver Island and has a population of 23 million. The density of the population makes a big difference when considering economic opportunities. And Canada, while I’ve observed significant improvement over the last 10 years, still has a strong socialist ideology.

Everyone expects the government to feed them dinners; and the economic improvements came mostly from the new immigrants to this country. So, it was obvious that my dad would’ve found better opportunities back in Taiwan. It’s been 20 years now, and he’s been coming back two times a year. Each stay is around one week. I feel very lucky that our family is still together. The hardest was probably on my mom….now that I’m raising my own family, my mom can stay with my father three to four months of the year in Taiwan.

2) Social Issues: Never had the flashy cars….I don’t know if you can count a Honda Prelude as a flashy car….it was a gift for my acceptance to University. Definitely, the self-esteem played a factor in my highschool years. I was getting in a lot of trouble, grade 12 was the only year I was not suspended. Some of my friends ended up going to Jail….most of them had the satellite issues. I didn’t think I had a self-esteem issue in high school; I always felt super confident.

But in looking back at the things I did, I would definitely say that low self-esteem would explain a lot of my past behaviours. But at the end of the day, you make decisions for yourself…you can’t blame your parents or the environment. You choose where you want to go in life!”

Keeping these impressions in mind I want you to take away from this blog that it is not easy being the new kid on the block, especially when that “new kid” comes from a completely different culture and speaks an entirely different language.