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Career Focus

The Importance Of Self-Determination

By MINA WONG - September 10 2018

Mugi Lu in conversation with Mina Wong.

When I first met Mugi last year, she was working at a Chinese supermarket. As we got to know each other, Mugi told me she would soon start evening English classes. 

How did you come to Canada all by yourself?

I was a farmer in southern China, but a cousin in Ontario asked if I could be part of her small business. The next thing I knew, I came to Windsor as a tourist and ran a Chinese grocery store with cousin Yu and her husband, Lin.

They were both 32 and I was 29. We worked hard, made money, and dreamed of bigger things. Yu and Lin wanted better incomes, children, house, car. I wanted an education and city life.

How did you decide to move to Toronto?

I had no idea I would end up in a huge city. I lived in a village in China all my life and only visited big cities a few times. Windsor was very big when I first arrived.

Once our store was doing well without needing all of us all the time, Yu and I visited Toronto one weekend and I just wanted to move here. After many phone calls to supermarkets with [Help Wanted] ads, one of them thought I had enough experience as a cashier trainee. Yu also thought it would be good for me to get a work permit in Toronto.

She also wanted me to live in a safe neighborhood even if it was farther away from work. My employer knew someone needing a fourth person to share an apartment, so within a week, I took the subway and bus to Finch and Victoria Park to live with three single women my age, all supermarket employees.

It’s great that people have been helpful. How has life been in Toronto?

It’s challenging because I never studied English in China. But I am reading more product labels. I listen when people speak English, and soon, I can talk with customers in short sentences if I understand what they are saying.

Being a cashier is representing the store. If I smile or scowl, it has a huge impact on customers. My folks back home seem surprised by my job. They thought I would always be a farmer. They’re stunned I am studying English. Now my sister wants to send her son here to learn English, too.

But my life here is also a problem for my family back home.

If you’re happy in Toronto, what problems can your life create for your family?

For one, we are not as close. I’m now someone who left for selfish reasons. When I tell them I want an education, they advise me to find a husband instead.

My parents are traditional. They hoped for boys and named my sister Mu for “girl” because she didn’t deserve an elaborate name. As their second girl, my name was simply “Mugi” in our village dialect for “small girl”.

My folks don’t understand I am managing a full-time job and evening classes and rent and expenses in a big city. I haven’t told them our farm back home makes more a month than I earn in three months.

My parents also believe success means finding a rich husband and having sons. They don’t value a woman’s education. Mother keeps saying, “Why tough it out on your own when you can find a good provider”, but I prefer to make my own decisions.

Now that you have been studying English for a year, how do you like that experience?

It’s great. It’s not like my village school where education wasn’t important to farm kids. I finished Grade 8 and then farmed full-time.

At the adult school here, students set goals for themselves. My first English teacher was supportive, but she wanted me to make my own decisions. She said, “Don’t give up, make mistakes, find ways to improve yourself.”

My second teacher was also nice and encouraged me to think in English even if only words or phrases. “Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Learning from mistakes is a wonderful gift”, he said.

These teachers gave me high marks for trying, but they also thought I was ready for higher levels. In Level 3, I’m reading more, writing more, and in class, I am listening and speaking more. 

What are your goals now that you have decided to stay in Canada?

I will finish all my English classes, and then a high school diploma to become an apprentice. I like machinery and can make tools for electricians or engineers.

Everything will be fine if I don’t think I’m just a girl unworthy of a name. If I succeed, my whole family will do better. I can bring over my nephew and help him see the world differently.

Thank you for writing my story. It helps me think only about good things for the future.

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