Like many young Canadians, I played a lot of ice hockey in my childhood. I had big dreams of making it to the professional level someday. My biggest obstacle was that I was not good enough to make the highest-level teams. When we first moved to Newfoundland and Labrador (NL) from rural Québec, there was a significant skill level gap, and it took me a few years to catch up. During those few years, I continued to play hockey with lower-level teams while also putting in countless hours practicing in my garage.
The fall of 2006 was the beginning of my third hockey season in NL, and the peewee (Under 12) regional team tryouts were right around the corner. I can still remember all the emotions going into that tryout. I was excited for the season, yet scared to fail again, and eager to prove myself.
After a wait that felt like an eternity, it was finally day 1 of the regional team tryouts. My father drove me to the arena and walked into the rink with my equipment. As a visible minority, some moments in your life are so traumatic; you can remember them so vividly you will never forget them. One such moment was when I opened the dressing room door, and suddenly all the kids began laughing uncontrollably. Initially, I thought to myself, it must be a coincidence, and this is not about you, Miguel, but when some of the kids started staring, pointing, and offering racist gestures, I then knew...it was about me.
At that moment, I could hear their inner thoughts that accompanied their actions, as they left a permanent mark on me: What are you even doing here? Do Asians even play hockey? There is no way he is making the team. You don't belong here. As I stood there frozen with shock in the dressing room doorway, the silence finally broke through the blatant bigotry, and I opted to find an alternate dressing room.
Once again, like many other times in my life, my sense of belonging and identity was questioned because of my race. I found myself just sitting there for some time, quietly questioning myself. Is this a waste of time? Maybe I don't belong here?
Looking back on this distressing event now, I am proud of my 11-year-old self for persevering through and trying out for that hockey team.
You might be asking yourself, but what is the overall purpose of sharing this story? To answer your question, I wanted to share this story to show people the impacts of their actions and show our role in fighting racism. I understand that speaking up is not always easy, but take it from me, that on one of my darkest days, I could have used a friend and ally.
Weeks later, I received a letter in the mail that I had been named to one of the roster spots on the regional peewee hockey team. Making this team was gratifying, given all my hard work, but it was also confirmation that I belonged. To anyone who has faced a similar situation to mine, I want you to know that you are strong, loved, and to not let racist actions steer you away from your goals and dreams.
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