Xixi Xian’s story

Relationships and language heal together.

Explore Xixi Xian’s journey with Cantonese.

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Xixi’s Story

As told to K Emma Ng for the Chinese Languages in Aotearoa project, 2022.

This is Xixi’s story.

Here it’s told in English, the language Xixi and I speak with each other even though both of our families hail from Guangdong, where our whanaunga speak Cantonese.

Xixi grew up in Guangzhou. It was a great childhood.

She and her sister would play on the sculptures around the fine arts university where they lived with their aunt, who had a job there.

They spoke Cantonese at home, and learned Mandarin at school.

They lived with relatives because their parents were in Aotearoa.

When Xixi was 10, her family friends brought her and her sister to aotearoa to live with their parents.

Xixi didn’t really know where NZ was …

what it was like …

or why they had to go …

The culture shock was huge. Even saying ‘Mum’ and ‘Dad’ felt strange.

Xixi and her sister had only just arrived. But their parents already needed their help navigating this place.

At intermediate school Xixi liked her ESOL (English as a second language) teacher.

When Xixi was 12, the teacher noticed that she and her sister needed some help. (“Is everything okay at home?”)

The two girls stayed with teachers, and then with fister families. Living with foster families it was hard to hold onto their mother tongues.

Xixi has visited Guangzhou three times since moving to Aotearoa – each time it was like a little reverse culture shock.

Languages have to be built back up bit by bit.

At high school Xixi studied Mandarin by correspondence.

As an adult, different flatmates have encouraged Xixi’s Mandarin and Cantonese.

Now when Xixi visits her parents, she speaks with them in Mandarin.

Relationships and language heal together.

Illustrator’s process and reflections

Xixi’s story is one of strength and grace. I was drawn to the way that relearning her mother tongues is playing a part in a larger process of reconnection and healing. With this comic, I tried to strike a balance – while many of Xixi’s experiences have been difficult (reflecting challenges that migrant communities and children sometimes face), I wanted to make sure I also included some of the positive relationships and moments that have shaped Xixi’s life.

K Emma Ng