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Even when he was growing up in a southern Ontario farming community that was almost entirely white, Michael Chong, the son of a Chinese immigrant father and a Dutch immigrant mother, says he wasn’t often conscious of looking different. He endured some schoolyard taunts and bullying when he was little, but after that he felt warmly accepted in Fergus, Ont., Chong says, and wasn’t again given cause to think much about what set him apart.
But there was a fleeting moment when he recalls feeling that difference in a way that has stuck with him over the years. When Chong was in high school, on one of his infrequent outings to Toronto, he made eye contact with another teen who also looked to be of mixed Asian and European descent. It was the first time he was aware of a boy, even a stranger, sharing that background with him. “We kind of looked at each other and kind of knew,” Chong said in a recent interview. “It was this otherworldly experience.” That was it, though—they didn’t speak and life went on.
Chong’s life has been an example of how, depending on personality and circumstances, ethnicity sometimes doesn’t appear to matter all that much. He still lives on a farm just two over from the one he grew up on, fitting in comfortably, as he always has, among neighbouring families with names like Gilchrist, Mandelson and Scott. In fact, as the Conservative MP since 2004 for the rural and small-town riding of Wellington–Halton Hills, he has always firmly insisted on a “non-hyphenated” concept of Canadian identity.