Finding Your “Place”

Photo by Karisa Cheng

The words “culture” and “community” can mean different things for each person. “Culture” is typically more personal, as it reflects your background, whereas “communities” can exist in other, less personal aspects of your life (at school, at work, etc.). For me, culture and community largely go together; they both involve connection and shared values within a group. Whether you are connected to your culture or not, it is important to find your “place”—your community—where you feel comfortable expressing yourself. Personally, I am very connected to my culture. My family celebrates cultural events regularly and is a part of a community where culture is a big part of its essence. This community requires a space to gather and celebrate our culture. For us, we found our “place” with Aberdeen Center. That being said, my journey in accepting my culture and finding my “place” wasn’t always easy.

Connecting to My Roots

As a second generation Canadian (for those who are not familiar with this term, this means I was born in Canada, but my parents immigrated to Canada), it was easy for me to forget my roots as a child. Being engulfed in Western culture makes it easy for children of immigrants from Asia to follow Western standards and reject their own family’s traditions. I’m sure many children of immigrant families can relate (especially as kids) to wanting to fit in and be as “normal” as possible. Wanting to eat the same type of food, wanting to dress the same way, wanting to watch the same shows as everyone else.

I was one of those kids.

For a part of my childhood, I rejected my Chinese culture because I didn’t want to seem “too” Asian. I wanted to have Lunchables instead of fried rice in a Thermos for lunch; I wanted to dress in ways that didn’t make me seem like I “wasn’t from here.” My biggest struggle was trying to understand where I belonged. I felt like I was juggling a dual personality where I was too Asian to be considered Canadian, but at the same time too influenced by Western culture to be Asian. That made me want to fit in with the other kids who were either not connected with their culture or had a different background from me—I thought rejecting my culture would make my life easier since I wouldn’t have to balance two sides of myself anymore. But as I grew up, I became more accepting of my culture. I realized that it will always be a part of me, and I shouldn’t feel the need to abandon it. I am both Canadian and Chinese. There is so much to learn and celebrate about my background, and that’s something I’m proud of.
A large part of my journey in connecting back to my Chinese culture was finding a “place” where I felt like I belonged, and where the small voice inside of me—the one that urged me to embrace my culture—could scream out loud and celebrate. I finally found that “place” with Aberdeen Center.

A Celebration of Culture: Aberdeen Center

Photo by Karisa Cheng

Aberdeen Center originally opened in 1990 in Richmond as one of North America’s first Asian malls. The name “Aberdeen” was meant to emulate the liveliness of Hong Kong’s famous tourist harbor with the same name and was built in response to an influx of immigrants coming to Metro Vancouver from Hong Kong in the 1980s.

In 2002, Aberdeen Center received a huge makeover to become the grand, glass-encased mall that it is today. It is now a 380,000 square feet shopping center, with a large food court and a 60 feet musical water fountain that plays every hour. The food at Aberdeen Center is one of the most prominent attractions of the mall. You can find many Asian cuisines ranging from Japanese, Korean, Hainanese, Shanghainese, Taiwanese, and Hong Kong.

Aberdeen Center also hosts different events throughout the year, with contests and decorations that keep the community engaged. One of the events that I look forward to the most every year is the Chinese New Year Flower and Gift Fair. This event is usually hosted a week or two before the annual Lunar New Year and spans all floors of the mall. Vendors would have stalls set up along the mall, selling various little trinkets. Some vendors sell Chinese New Year trinkets, meant to be displayed all over your home to bring good luck, and some sell flowers to celebrate and welcome the new year. Some vendors sell baked goods and others sell accessories and clothes. This event is the most significant to me because I absolutely love the feeling of being enveloped in everybody’s excitement. It warms my heart when I think of everyone gathered in one location to prepare for an event that is important to each and every one of us.

What makes Aberdeen Center unique and special to me is that it provides a setting for immigrants like my parents to celebrate their culture. Leaving home and moving to a country with an entirely different culture than their own is a daring feat, but Aberdeen Center provides an opportunity for those people to connect with others with the same background in a foreign place. It reminds them of home.

Although times have changed, and many of the immigrants from over 20 years ago now consider Vancouver to be their home, it is still nice to have a place where they feel welcomed and safe to celebrate their culture.

I am now fully embracing my culture and my sense of community within my culture. Having a space to celebrate my culture is certainly a vital part of that development. Seeing Lunar New Year decorations at Aberdeen Center every year helped expose me to Chinese cultural festivities and helped me learn about various folktales—which only got me more curious about my culture.

If you are wanting to get in touch with your culture and haven’t already, I urge you to look for your “place” where you can embrace yourself fully.