My parents packed Chinese food in my lunches. I pleaded with them to pack carrot sticks and Lunchables instead | CBC Documentaries


By Yú, 瑜瑜, director, The Lunchbox Dilemma

Three Asian Canadians recall hiding, discarding and leaving behind their lunches — the ones their classmates called “weird,” “smelly” and “funny-looking.” Watch The Lunchbox Dilemma on CBC Gem.

As a child, I had trouble reconciling who I saw in the mirror with the faces I saw in magazines and on TV. 

I remember wishing that my family could just “be like everyone else.” 

I remember always knowing that I was different. 

The lunches that I brought to school — curry fish cakes, steamed daikon, cheung fun — were a physical manifestation of just how different I was.

The anecdotes in The Lunchbox Dilemma are so familiar to me. I grew up in a predominantly Caucasian community, at a time when traditional Chinese food was strange to most of my classmates; it wasn’t as common or accepted like it is now. 

Yú is an independent music video director and film/video producer in Toronto. She’s the director of The Lunchbox Dilemma from CBC Short Docs, in which three Asian Canadians recall hiding, discarding and leaving behind their lunches. For Yú, their stories are very familiar. (Anthony Tuccitto)

I remember the kids in my class commenting on my dumplings with jabs like, “Ew! What’s that smell?” and “That’s so gross — what is it?” 

In response, I rejected every part of my Asian heritage. I wanted to assimilate, to be considered “normal.” I pleaded with my parents to pack me carrot sticks and Lunchables instead. Until the end of high school, I threw away my lunches every time they weren’t sandwiches. For years, I’d hide any part of myself that I thought my peers might find weird or unusual.

Food was a reflection on what it was like to grow up with a diasporic identity: a push and pull of two selves that I was trying to reconcile.

One part of me wanted to accept my background, to enjoy the foods that I (secretly) liked. But the other part wanted to reject everything, wishing I was “like everyone else.” 

Now, I know that I was just one of many Asian Canadian kids that felt like this. I wanted to share these stories in The Lunchbox Dilemma to shed light on this experience and hopefully inspire reflection on what it’s like to grow up as a visible minority in Canada.


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