I remember my grade five teacher telling us it was Multiculturalism Day in my elementary school as she handed out sheets of paper to my class. “Now on this piece of paper,” she addressed us. “I want you to write down your nationality. Where are you and your family from?”
Now side from my dad’s mother, who was born and raised in England, my family has lived in Canada for over a hundred years, possibly over two. So I thought about it briefly before writing, “I am Canadian” on the sheet of paper.
My teacher then asked us to read aloud the notes we had written. Sri Lanka, India, Scotland, Egypt, Bosnia, Norway and Venezuela were some of the countries people said they were from. Not a single person in my class had said they were from Canada when it was my turn to read what I had written. I stood up.
“I am Canadian,” I informed the class.
A few kids snickered and my teacher looked uncomfortable. “Tara,” she told me. “Canada doesn’t have it’s own cultural identity. You are Canadian but your family didn’t originate from here unless you’re Aboriginal.”
Bless my ten year-old soul for not having a single clue what she meant. I was Canadian, wasn’t I? Why couldn’t I just say I was?
Fast forward to university, when the idea of cultural identity arose a second time in my life. Again, my profs and TA’s tried to tell me that Canada was too young a country to have it’s own identity. Again, I was told that Canada was a mosaic of cultures and that I had to pick one.
So I asked my parents for their birth information and decided to trace back my family tree to see just exactly how “Canadian” I was. Guess what I found.
Not only has my family been here for hundreds of years, but I am equal parts Indonesian and British if you go back far enough (i.e. right before my ancestors moved to Canada). SIDE NOTE: if you don’t know what I look like, I’m naturally blonde and green-eyed and very pale.
So considering that I am neither Indonesian or English (aside from the fact I call my mother “Mum”) I just have one question: CAN I PLEASE BE CONSIDERED CANADIAN NOW?
No, I don’t like hockey. No, I don’t pour maple syrup on everything. No, I don’t have a pet moose. No, I do not make my own moccasins. No, I’ve never seen a wild polar bear. No, I’ve NEVER pronounced it “a-boot”.
Yes, I drink Tim Hortons daily. Yes, I’ve seen the northern lights. Yes, I’ve built an inuksuk with my Inuit cousin. Yes, I treat people very politely. Yes, I’ve seen wild wolves and moose and foxes and beaver and muskrats and boy this list can get long.
Yes, I support multiculturalism.
And to me, multiculturalism is what makes Canada so Canadian. So how come all us “foreigners” aren’t Canadian enough for our own country?
Next time someone asks me where my family’s from, I think I’ll just reply with, “The greatest country on earth” and I’ll let them guess.