Dear Don Cherry

Saturday nights in the early 2000’s. Hockey Night in Canada. Me, my dad, the Leafs. You, during the first intermission. 

One day, when the Leafs win the Cup, I’m going to celebrate proudly, remembering those times. Those times when my immigrant dad made me into a Leafs fan—those times that helped me lean into the “Canadian” part of my Asian-Canadian identity.

You helped me feel Canadian, at a time in my life when I wasn’t sure how to reconcile the fact that in many ways, I didn’t look like, act like, speak like, eat like my “Canadian” (read: white) classmates. If I could eat rice for dinner and watch Hockey Night in Canada right after—first intermission Don Cherry rants and all—then maybe it was possible to be both Asian and Canadian all at once, you know?

That’s what made your comments on Saturday sting so much. 

You made me believe I was Canadian. But all this time, it seems this is what you really thought.

You people come here and enjoy our way of life... The milk and honey... The least you could do...

I am not naïve to the fact that I enjoy my way of life on the backs of courageous people who made sacrifices beyond belief.

As a young man, my grandfather made a life-altering choice to make a courageous journey from China to the Philippines in order to secure what he believed would be a better future. One generation later, my parents made a similar journey here to Canada. I will never know the weight of the sacrifices these people who are just one, two or three generations above me made—some at my age or younger.

And it’s hard to believe—but the way they struggled pales in comparison to the struggle of other immigrants to Canada. We have tens of thousands of refugees in Canada who endured and fought wars, who watched their families die, who starved in refugee camps. After enduring one of the most dehumanizing systems on earth in the refugee system, they come to Canada and they are part of making it what it is. Many of them work endless hours, drive your Ubers, cook your meals, clean your hotel rooms. 

The least you could do...

As young men and women, many Canadians made a life-altering choice to make a courageous journey from Canada to the frontlines of the Great War in order to secure what they believed would be a better future. Less than one generation later, many more young Canadians made a similar journey to fight in the Second World War. Millions of them died fighting in these wars. I will never know the weight of the sacrifices these people who are just two or three generations above me made—some at my age or younger. 

They made the ultimate sacrifice in wars that should’ve shown us to never do it again, and yet violent conflict continues to rage around the world, often forcing people into refugee status and pushing people to flee to countries like ours.

I can guarantee you that those people know the gravity of the sacrifices made in war.

Those people know that the peace they enjoy here in Canada comes at a very steep price. They might not yet know that the way many people acknowledge this in Canada is by pinning a red flower to our coats for a couple weeks each year—and maybe they never will quite get into the habit—but I promise you that they don’t take any of this lightly.

It’s hard to know from the narrative that is often painted, but people of all kinds fought in both World Wars. Immigrants. Asian-Canadians, African-Canadians, Caribbean-Canadians, European-Canadians. First, second, third, fourth, fifth generation Canadians. Members of First Nations. People from British colonies all over the world—including Australians, South Asians and Africans.

The “you people” you referred to in your rant on Saturday night? They fought. 

They fought in these tragic wars for peace, for freedom, for a world where everyone can enjoy life to the full.

The least you could do, Mr. Cherry...

But no—I won’t go pointing fingers.

Instead, I’ll invite all of us—Canadians, you and me both—to this: The least we could do is continue their fight. 

See, you’re right, Mr. Cherry. You and I have a “milk and honey” way of life—and we enjoy this life on the backs of the rest of the world that doesn’t. 

You were upset because of a lack of respect for people who died for this country. So, you might be interested to know that there are people dying for much less. People are dying in the mines where the metal in your cell phone comes from. People are dying in the factories that make our clothes, on the farms that produce our coffee. Indigenous people are dying on reserves here in Canada, enduring the neglect of the rest of us drinking our milk and honey.

And people aren’t just dying. They’re enduring extreme poverty and slavery. Oppression and injustice. Misogyny. And racism much like the stuff you said on Saturday night.

Our world is still far from the one I believe our ancestors were dreaming of when they made the sacrifices that they did.

So, each year, when I pin a poppy to my coat, along with my immigrant dad who taught me to love Leafs hockey and Hockey Night in Canada, I not only remember the sacrifices that people made and make for Canada to be as beautiful, diverse and vibrant as it is. I also commit to continuing to fight—to make sacrifices of my own that will make this country and this world more peaceful, free and whole. 

Lest we forget.


I honestly didn’t get sad about leaving my old blog behind until I went to put up the “Come visit me in my new space!” post.

Leave it to me to get emotional about a website. (Don’t worry, I’ll be keeping it up as storage for my old words, and I will probably still visit often when I need to read back for my own sake.)

That blog got me through seasons that formed me.

It helped me process through several different forms of culture shock, it was a soft place for my rants and questions and ponderings to land, it helped me experiment and grow as a writer and creative. I grew up on that blog... but now I’m getting more sentimental than is probably appropriate for this post.

Maybe it’s just because a lot of things are transitioning, changing—new—for me recently, and a new website on top of all of it felt peculiarly fitting.

I have a new boss at work. Our youth pastor moved away, so we’re in transition at church. I’m going back to school for the final year of my undergraduate degree this week. My cousin moved away and for the first time since we became neighbours back in elementary school, he lives a plane ride away. 

It seems as though things are ever-moving around me—even as I move and change myself. 

That’s the beauty of living in this dynamic world, I guess.

It’s the beauty of following a God who is the same yesterday, today and forever—yet manages to meet us uniquely in each new circumstance we find ourselves in.

That’s a God worth following, honestly—and that’s the God of the Bible, too. A God who is constant and steadfast, consistent and steady. But He is also a God that is active, always moving towards us, pursuing us.

Don’t confuse a steadfast God for a God who rejects our human growth and movement.

We’re ever-moving—physically and in life circumstance, yes, but also in the ways we relate to Him. And because of his steadfast love for us, He moves, too, meeting us in new and unique ways.

This tension—of remaining steadfast while also adapting to new spaces and places—is also asked of us. In John 15, we’re asked to remain in Christ—but that doesn’t always look the same. We know that because of Paul, who tells us to find common ground with everyone in order to spread the Good News (1 Corinthians 9:22-23).  

I’m convinced that life with Jesus is life lived in tension—in balance.

Aren’t times of change, transition and newness the best time to practice that?

All that to say—welcome to my new internet home.
I can’t wait to do some exciting work here.

Ethiopia and Christmas

This post was originally published on my previous website on December 9, 2018.

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I came home to Christmas.

There was a pretty tree on the baggage claim carousel and evergreen tinsel hanging from the ceiling.

The Western world—often unknowingly—inviting God to be with us for one month of the year, every year, with plastic decorations and a rush of capitalism.

So maybe I'm cynical.

Or maybe it's that I haven't been able to stop thinking about—something—in the weeks since coming home.

I finally made it to our home church this week, after almost two full weeks of being home. The Christmas buzz has only become more intense with the start of Advent and Christmas shopping. It doesn't help that I go to church at the busiest and highest-grossing mall in Canada.

And we're singing Christmas carols at church now, too.

Emmanuel, Emmanuel. God incarnate, here to dwell.

Don't get me wrong—Emmanuel is for all of us. God is with all of us, in all of our mess, in every circumstance and context of life.

But as this Sunday's Advent reading is read, the scene of where God specifically chose to come to be with us, at that specific point in history all those years ago—the place He chose when He could only choose one—comes barrelling into my mind.

It's the thing I can't stop thinking about—the thing that's been resting heavy on my heart since coming home to Christmas.

And I'm suddenly back in the small home of a single mother in Ethiopia, reaching across to squeeze her arm in reassurance as tears flow while she tells me her story.

God is with us, there.

With Tigist and Yeabsira, who graciously invited me into their home and story.

With Tigist and Yeabsira, who graciously invited me into their home and story.

We like to invite him into our big and bright white Christmases of the West—without even a thought that His choice for where He would come be with us and spend that first Christmas was a small, messy, quiet, humble and dim brown Christmas in the Middle East.

I'm not saying He won't meet us where we are—He will fight every distraction and all our excess to get our attention and capture our hearts.

But I just can't stop thinking about how close He felt as I listened to the stories of mothers who were afraid when they first heard of their pregnancy...yet chose to say a brave yes anyways.

That's all I've been thinking about, actually.

I came home to Christmas...but in so many ways, I came home from experiencing all that Christmas was, is and should be—and no matter how many times I do it, it keeps on wrecking me, shaping me, forming me...and I couldn't be more thankful.

What they don't tell you about reverse culture shock is that it's never the same twice. Each time, it's different and it doesn't necessarily get easier, but it's never quite the blinding intensity and year-long anguish of the first time...nor does it follow the same path as the last time. It's a unique story every time.

What they don't tell you about reverse culture shock is that sometimes you might feel incredibly entitled, childish and privileged for experiencing it, particularly when it's part of your (dream) job...and that writing about it in a public forum sometimes helps like it did when you were fifteen, and sometimes that just makes you feel crazy vulnerable in ways that you don't want to at twenty-one (or ever).

But I think vulnerability is good? Or I'm just part of the narcissistic generation that puts their lives on the internet. At least I'm self-aware...or maybe I am cynical.

Anyways, I just wanted to pop in to share some reflections and give some (very small) peeks into what my experience of travelling to and back from Ethiopia was like, to add to (or in case you missed) what's on Instagram. To take the responsibility seriously of stewarding the stories of those I met—and my own story—well. —ae

When Dreams Change

This post was originally published on my previous website on April 26, 2018.

As most people in my circle know, for the past 3+ years, I've been planning to go on a year-long co-op placement in the Global South as part of my undergrad, in my 4th year. These past few months have been spent working to secure a placement and prepare to leave over the summer.

I think this has been a dream of mine since reading Kisses from Katie in grade 9. I think a part of me has wanted to spend extended time in the Global South since I first travelled to the Philippines in 2011. It's been something I've been working towards and dreaming of since I heard about this program at the University of Toronto.

A few weeks ago, I found myself with an offer to live in a beautiful country for a year, working with a local, grassroots, church-based NGO. I would be working with youth, doing communications, and using my international development degree.

It was my dream placement.

I had every intention to accept it. "Unless God writes in the sky," I texted a friend.

But sometimes God writes in the sky even when you don't want Him to, and especially when you least expect Him to.

So, on the Thursday before Easter, I declined my dream placement.

I don't expect everyone to understand. It's hard for me to articulate the intangible feeling of knowing and understanding exactly what I needed to do deep down in my soul. I won't launch into the full story here... it's one that needs to be told over a coffee, not on a blog. There isn't really much of a story, other than that where there should've been peace and excitement about this placement, there was instead division and uneasiness.

It wasn't my dream to hold onto anymore. I think part of me has known that for months, but another part of me, the part that's been dreaming about this for more than five years, didn't want that to be true.

It's sad when dreams die. I cried more tears over losing this dream than I had cried in a long time. But the day after declining that placement, I entered into a weekend that was a reminder that resurrection doesn't happen without death. That full and abundant life doesn't happen without sacrifice at the cross. That something can be celebrated on one Sunday, killed on Friday, and then raised to new life the next Sunday.

Things change. Outlooks change. Sometimes very quickly. And in this case, very quickly is exactly what happened...

I thought I would have to drop-out of the co-op stream of my program, and graduate a year earlier (which would've been nice, honestly, but...).

But don't I know that God's grace reaches infinitely farther than I can ask or imagine.

In the matter of a few days, a new plan was in motion, and I will now be completing my co-op placement at Compassion Canada, continuing in a similar role that I have been working in for the past two years. I get to stay in Toronto and continue investing in the places, spaces and people I love, while continuing in this amazing program, doing something I love, and contributing to an organization I am so proud to work with.

It's the dream placement I never even knew to dream of.

And that's just how much the Lord desires to lavish His love on His kids.

I'll also likely be taking a bit of time to travel throughout the year to visit some of my Compassion kids. And, as part of my program, I will also be conducting some primary research, based here in Toronto, for a thesis paper that I will write in 5th year.

Yeah, it does blow my mind a little, too.

I want to say thank you, to those that prayed through this process with me. You prayed me to a different outcome than I expected, but one I am fully at peace with and one that I couldn't be more delighted with.

I also want to apologize for my inconsistent updates. Things happened fast and suddenly, and it was hard to keep up with updating everyone, remembering who was updated up until what point in the process... etcetera. This post is my attempt to do a sweeping catch-up for everyone. Thank you for grace in this.

This has definitely been a weird space to be in because over the past several years, everything in my life had been barrelling towards this placement that is no longer going to happen. Everything has been about placement, everything fit around the big block that was placement... and maybe that was part of the problem.

Throughout this process, I've been hearing God tell me to trust. To step off a cliff, even if it feels like I'm free falling, and trust that He is going to catch me.

I thought many things of this picture. I thought that stepping off the cliff meant going on placement. Or maybe that I wouldn't be offered a placement.

Turns out it meant that I would be offered what I thought was my dream placement and He would ask me to let go of it. Step off the cliff into the unknown of giving up a long-held-on-to dream.

And to know that sometimes, dreams change. And that's okay.

In fact, sometimes that changing dream is the very best He has for you.

Dear 45, on behalf of children of colour

This post was originally published on my previous website on January 12, 2018.

Dear Mr. President,

First thing first... I’m Canadian. You’re not my President. Yet time and time again, you’ve dragged all of us—women, people of colour, advocates, allies, global citizens, Kingdom people—into this through your comments and your actions.

Yesterday, you called the homes of millions of people a term that I struggle to repeat on my blog. You—the man that holds the most powerful political office in the world—used a vulgarity in one of the highest offices in the world that many, if not most, people rarely to never dare to use in their own offices, schools and homes. That alone is an abuse of your power.

But this letter isn’t to tell you to watch your language—you should probably know that. This letter isn’t even to tell you that I’ve been to Haiti and that it’s beautiful, or that one of the most precious girls in my life is from Africa and that she is beautiful. Plenty of people are doing that, and I will let them speak on behalf of all of us who work every single day with the resilient, beautiful, incredible people of the Global South to breathe beauty and love and wonder into this messy world.

With Happyness, who I’ve sponsored through Compassion Canada for seven years, at her Compassion centre in Tanzania.

With Happyness, who I’ve sponsored through Compassion Canada for seven years, at her Compassion centre in Tanzania.

No, this letter is on behalf of children of colour who live in America.

You see, in this season, I’m trying to work on giving people the benefit of the doubt. I’m trying to work out of the overflowing grace of Jesus in the way I respond both privately and publicly to events, people and situations in my life. So even though the cynical side of me absolutely does not want to, I’m going to try and approach your comment under the assumption that you are simply ignorant. That your racist comment comes because as a white man that grew up in America, you are simply ignorant to the experience of people of colour in America / North America, and you are ignorant to the ravaging effects that your comments have on young, impressionable children of colour.

So, I humbly ask you to hear me out for a few minutes as I explain.

I grew up as a first-generation Asian-Canadian in a primarily white neighbourhood just outside of Toronto, Canada. I was privileged to have some exposure to cultural diversity, since Toronto is one of the most multicultural cities in the world. But my primary experience was one where whiteness was default and everything else was Other.

It starts innocently enough. Maybe it’s Remembrance Day (that’s Veteran’s Day, for you) celebrations at school. The history class that goes along with it is about the trenches in Europe and the men and women that fought those wars—for freedom, for liberty. The assignment that goes along with it is to see if your ancestors fought in those trenches. My classmates go home, and come the next day with stories of their grandparents who are war heroes. Their ancestors are celebrated for their contribution to the peace and freedom that we enjoy here in Canada today.

But my ancestors did not fight in those trenches. So these little doubts enter my mind: Are my ancestors weak? Does my family not contribute to making Canada peaceful and free?

Then maybe it’s a trip to the movies. Maybe it’s every trip to the movies I ever took throughout my childhood and youth. The main character is always white, by default. Their experience is always one that white people have, or at least “default Americans” have, so why not just cast a white actor, since, remember, whiteness is always default in the world I grew up in. It’s the same story when I turn on the T.V. or read books.

There are never people of colour in those stories. Definitely no Asians. Definitely no Asian heroes. So those little doubts are reinforced: Is the experience of people like me not worth depicting in the media? Is my experience always second to the default of whiteness?

Then maybe it’s a few innocent enough comments I heard ever so often. “Your dad says that word funny.” “Nothing’s more Canadian than summers at the cottage and winters at the ski resort!” “I love Chinese food. You’re so lucky, your mom must make Chinese food every night for dinner.” “Can you say something in Chinese?” “There are terrorists in the Philippines, right?” “I would never go to China.”

But I’ve always understood my dad, even when he enunciates every syllable in comfortable as if it’s a Filipino word. My family has never had or wanted a cottage, and we’ve never been skiing. And so on. And those little doubts start screaming: Is there something wrong with the way my family operates? Is there something so exotic or different about Chinese food and language that makes people so interested in it? Is there something wrong with the countries that my family is from?

Are the places I’m from sh*tholes?

In Cebu City, Philippines—my parents’ home city—in 2014.

In Cebu City, Philippines—my parents’ home city—in 2014.

I’ve come a long way, Mr. President. I am so proud of where I’m from. I am so proud of the diversity that I and my fellow people of colour bring to this country, and the stories we can start to tell.

But yesterday when I heard about what you said, my mind immediately went to the black, brown and yellow kids all over North America who have had those little doubts bouncing around in their minds all their life. And I was bowled over with grief at the realization that the most powerful man in the world had just validated their deepest, darkest doubt by stating that the places they're from are sh*tholes.

I know it’s hard for you to understand because you’ve never experienced what I just described to you. But I hope you can try.

I hope you can start to listen to the experience of people of colour in America.

I’ll end off with this:

To my white friends... This isn’t about anti-whiteness. This isn't about discounting who you are, what you contribute to this world, or implying that your whiteness is wrong. I want you to know that from the deepest parts of who I am. What this is about is recognizing that people of colour experience a wildly different America than you do, especially in times like the one we’re in now. And we want you to hear our experience so that you can begin to link arms with us in change. It’s not just about the way we teach history, or represent in the media, or the passing comments we make... it’s much more systemic than that. But we can start to change those systems of oppression when we hear each other, hold each other, and build each other up.

To those from Haiti, countries in Africa, Mexico, El Salvador, and other countries in the Global South, and especially first generation kids in North America... I know for many of you, it will be a long time—maybe never—before you get to see the place you’re from again or for the first time. And based on what you see in the media, sometimes it’s hard to believe that those places are beautiful. But they are. They are not sh*thole countries. They are even so much more than “very poor and troubled”, as the President put it when he tried to rescind his vulgar comment today. They are places that were created by Creator God—just like you. And even in the midst of messiness and brokenness, that same Creator God has a deep desire to reconcile and redeem and restore and because of that, the place you are from is home to many beautiful, wonderful, divine stories of hope and restoration—stories just. like. yours.

Stories just like the one I hope we can start writing as we move forward together.