As Canadians, many of us may take freedom of choice for granted.
In China, where families were only allowed one child for a long time, little freedom of choice exists. At nine years old, Lisa Zhao and her father left China for Canada, searching for a better life with more opportunities. While her father worked long hours to make ends meet, Zhao had to mature and learn responsibilities at a young age.
It was a “typical experience for many first-generation immigrants,” she told me.
When Zhao and her father moved from Toronto to Barrie in 1998, “there were barely any different ethnicities in Barrie. In school, I was probably one of the only ones,” Zhao remembers.
People would often assume Zhao didn’t speak English.
“At the supermarket, I would hear the cashiers having conversations with the people in front of me. Then, when it was my turn, they wouldn’t even say ‘hi.’ It’s gotten better in recent years. Even as a restaurant server, I had customers who would speak to me super slowly or use hand gestures.”
Once people got to know her, their perceptions quickly changed.
After completing several university degrees, Zhao returned to real estate, an interest she’s had since a young age. At 17, she had helped her father make their first real estate purchase and has watched and analyzed the markets ever since. Her real estate career gives Zhao the flexibility to actively advocate for environmental change.
Always involved in community, she’s a member of the Barrie Huronia Rotary Club. Zhao is the club’s incoming director and environment committee chair. Her goal is “to educate people about how to reduce waste and minimize their carbon footprints.”
Zhao worries that her 21-month-old son may never get to see whales or hear songbirds. She’s helping the environment by turning part of her lawn into a pollinator garden and planting native species. She suggests reading “Bringing Nature Home” by Douglas W. Tallamy to learn about saving the planet.
From real estate and business to environmental advocacy, music and art, Zhao loves to express herself and follow her passions.
While traditional Chinese culture will always be her heritage, “I’m grateful every day to have my freedom of choice here in Canada,” said Zhao. “We’re lucky to live here where you can have your own culture.”
Michèle Newton is an experienced diversity and inclusion speaker. Connect with her.