Jun
27
2017

My name is Olivia and I am Canadian

Olivia Lewis of Marshfield is a proud young Canadian who remains linked to her birthplace

Olivia Lewis was born in China but has lived on Prince Edward Island nearly all of her life. On a trip to China a few years ago she volunteered at an orphanage, named Starfish.

When she was 11 years-old, Olivia applied to, and received, funding from the Francophone Young Millionaires Program to start her own business: Olive Branch Bakery.  Her best sellers were her award-winning brownies and cookies shaped like lobsters, maple leaves and Canadian flags. Along with the sales of her baked goods, she collected money for the orphanage where she volunteered.

Olivia displayed her baked goods at a Young Millionaires event
Image caption: 
Olivia began her business "Olive Branch Bakery" as a member of the Young Millionaires program.

Then, when she was 13, she did a school project on Chinese immigration in PEI. She learned a lot, and this spring she received the 'most original' provincial 4-H award for her speech titled “Chameleons”.

In her own words, this is Olivia Lewis' speech:

Chameleons have the extraordinary ability to blend in with their surroundings in reaction to their environment.  One minute, they may be green, yellow, or white and the next minute they may be brown, black or spotted. Let’s just say they can fit in anywhere!  Lucky for chameleons they don’t need to know a lot of different languages!

I have thought of myself as a chameleon because I can adapt to most environments. Although I have spent 12 of my 13 years on PEI, I was born in China. I am used to being asked questions about where I’m from and the fact that people expect me to speak Chinese.

At my school, I was ‘voluntold’ to do a project about Life in China, in a cultural fair in the school cafeteria even though I had no memory of China at the time. It didn’t help that my own great-grandmother asked me, “How do you like living on PEI?” as if I remembered living anywhere else!

My mother thought we should take a trip to China so I could see what it was like. While we were there, I obviously blended in. One day, my mom and sister were trying to catch a taxi for us, while I stood behind them.  Many empty taxis passed and refused to stop. I offered to stand in front, and as I waved, the very next taxi stopped.  The taxi driver certainly expected me to speak Chinese and was shocked to discover that I couldn’t but my Caucasian sister was fluent!

A few years ago, I travelled to Hawaii. While shopping for souvenirs, the cashier spoke to me in Hawaiian. She had a strange look on her face when I didn’t understand. This past summer, I was selling my baked goods at the waterfront, as usual, on cruise ship day. Coincidentally, it also was the Mi’kmaq pow wow celebration. It was a record-breaking sales day for me because people assumed I was a part of the pow wow.

But that’s not all. Recently, there was a substitute teacher at my school. As I was packing up my books to leave, he asked me, “Do you speak Mandarin?” I was a bit surprised, and said, ‘Um, No’.  As I was heading out the classroom door, he yelled after me, “Spanish?” 

So you can see why I sometimes feel like a chameleon, but I am happy in my own skin. I go to school at a French first language school and take Chinese classes once a week. I have experienced so many different languages and cultures. 

In junior high, everyone wants to blend in. Students will change their attitudes, opinions and feelings in an effort to fit in and be accepted by the people they are with. This is called being a social chameleon.   I took an online quiz which of course, was totally accurate, that said I was willing to chameleon myself in some social settings to try to blend in. While that is sometimes true, I know that every person is different and that it is better to get along with people despite our differences than to start an argument. But I want to be myself and I won’t change to please the crowd. Why fit in when I was born to stand out?  

Not so long ago, it wasn’t common to see diversity on Prince Edward Island.  In 1901, the Chinese population on PEI was only four (persons). In 1971, there were 25. When I came to PEI in 2004, less than one per cent of the population was a visible minority. I definitely stood out, but it wasn’t long before a lot more people from China decided to join me here.

  • In 2006, there were 250 of us.
  • By 2011, there were 1,920. 
  • In 2013, there were almost 5,000.

The Chinese are now the most populous visible minority on PEI.

Over the last 12 years, I have grown a lot add so has PEI. I am proud to be growing up in PEI as a Chinese Canadian and even though sometimes it may seem as if I am a chameleon, I don’t have to be. Actually, it was my environment that changed to blend in with me!

I speak English and French.

I believe in diversity, not assimilation.

My name is Olivia and I am Canadian.

 

 

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