A young women expresses her Canadian patriotism and corresponding lack of identity. She shares her struggle to find herself in what she considers “the world’s most budding cultural mosaic.”
I grew up in a tiny, white, Anglo-Saxon, protestant town near the US border. I saw my first Asian at age 10. I attended university in Toronto, the most diverse city in Canada – arguably the world – where it’s common for whites to be the minority in a lecture room. But for the most part, regardless of colour or creed, we’re all Canadian, born and raised and often so are our parents and sometimes their parents too. What’s not common is for a native Canadian to identify himself as “Canadian”. Canada as a country has an attractive social system that supports immigrants, and once accepted into the country provides them the space to exercise their original culture. The downside is that only a small percentage of 2nd or 3rd generation Canadian populations will actually feel connected to Canada.
I recall taking a class, it was a rather small group and we all were given a chance to introduce ourselves. One student introduced himself as Egyptian. The professor then asked him if he was born in Egypt, no. Were his parents? No. Had he ever been to Egypt? No. Did he speak Arabic? No. Where was he born? Scarborough, Ontario, Canada. Right.
When I’ve been asked “What are you?” i.e. “What nationality are you/where do you come from?” 99% of the time I respond Canadian and someone will shoot back with “No, but like, where are you REALLY from?” Um, Canada. I was born here, my parents were born here and their parents were born here. From my understanding that makes me Canadian. The answer these people are looking for is “I am Irish/English Canadian.” But I’ve lived in both England and Ireland, and trust me I’m neither Irish nor English.
So what is it that defines me as a Canadian aside from my passport? To tell the truth, I’m not exactly sure. I don’t have a particularly intimate relationship with mountains, maple syrup or Justin Bieber. If I were to use the international perspective to define my nationality, I should be some sort of mountain dwelling, snow-shovelling, English and French-speaking, pancake eating, pick-up truck driving, super nice, happy-go-lucky hockey player drinking a Molson. I’m none of these things. My fellow Canadians want me to define myself by my non-Canadian roots and the international community wants to define me with every possible Canadian stereotype available. In the end I’m left wondering where to even begin.
Because Canada has spent very little effort assembling a national identity and instead promotes a culture of “acceptance and tolerance”, which essentially is just a culture of silence, new Canadians do not feel it necessary to integrate. The country is also determined to make allowance after allowance to accommodate others with regard to things like religious practices and holidays in schools and public buildings, all the while ousting the original Christian practices and holidays. They even are willing to defy the uniform of the Royal Mounted Police Force to allow Muslims and Sikhs to wear turbans.
Once on a flight with Air China, reading the in-flight magazine, I came across an article about Canada and why it is attractive, as a Chinese person, to immigrate there. Apparently one of the lures is the fact that in Canada, because of cultural bubbles and China Towns in cities like Vancouver and Toronto, an immigrant can essentially isolate herself and there’s no need to integrate into Canadian society. I’ve been in coffee shops, asked clearly in plain English for a cup of coffee and was served a blank stare.
One argument is that Canada is a young country and thus has not had the time to develop an identity or a strong culture. Bullshit. There have been Europeans in Canada since 1535, that’s nearly 500 years, and Canada has been a democratic nation since 1867. In spite of this there is little trace of any European culture still remaining and even less remaining architecture – an important vessel maintaining cultural.
Recently in Vancouver the government has voted to tear down and rebuild a 100-year-old colonial style school, along with demolition of other buildings in the city rather than retrofitting to protect against the impending earthquake. In the last 400 years, Vancouver has never had a single earthquake. The difference between retrofitting and building a new school is $3mil CDN. Apparently saving 100 years of history and memories is too expensive for a city that spent over $700mil CDN on the Olympics in 2010.
My country could have a greater influence on its citizens and the world, but as it currently stands we’re tearing down buildings because of earthquakes that will not happen. We define ourselves using countries we’ve never set foot on, and breaking existing Canadian cultural institutions all while I’m still waiting for that damn cup of coffee.