Too Canadian for My Own Good?

Canadian for My Own GoodOne of the great things about living in Canada is that we are very accepting of different cultures and embrace them to a huge degree.  I would like to think that most newcomers would not feel too out-of-place considering there are many “cultural corners” in the large metropolitan cities.  Most of them manage to keep their culture and at the same time embrace Canadian things such as poutine, ice hockey and maple syrup.

Although both of my parents immigrated from the same country, they did not meet until they arrived in Canada. It wasn’t right away either. My mom was living in the east coast for a bit, before she moved to Ontario.  At that time, the 70s, it was easier to get a job and you didn’t have to have “Canadian” work experience.  There weren’t as many people coming to Canada back then.

Fast forward to the 80s. Growing up, I was one of the few non-Caucasian kids in my class. Majority of my friends were Caucasian. The neighbourhood I grew up in was mostly Italian and Polish. Obviously, there was absolutely nothing wrong with that. Perhaps that may attribute to why I have a love for pasta. I’m a very picky eater and to make things sound worse, I don’t even really like my culture’s food that much.  I love certain ethnic foods such as Italian, Portuguese, Thai, and Lebanese, but not the stuff I grew up eating. Perhaps I got sick of it eating it all the time?

Every now and then, we would get a new student in the class who came another country. It was one thing to be new, but to be the new kid from a completely different country and not speak English very well was a whole  other story. I remember vividly some kids making fun of the new kids because of the way they dressed and the way they spoke English. I also remember them just sticking together because they felt safer and more comfortable that way. Having lived in Canada all my life, I can’t even fathom what it would be like to leave your country, come to a foreign one as a kid and experience a culture shock. Having traveled to quite a few countries, I still haven’t experienced culture shock.

Fast forward to the late 90s. High school was bigger and a little more diverse. We all know high school is all about the cliques. Jocks, nerds, goths, skaters, etc. There were also a few ethnic cliques. I was never part of them. I just hung out whoever I got along with, regardless of their background. A few people from the clique with the same ethnicity commented on how I hung out with Caucasian people. I didn’t see this as an issue and I couldn’t understand what would it matter.  I can’t help it if the environment I grew up in was with mostly people of European background.

Growing up, my parents only spoke English to me and their mother tongue to each other. I tried taking a language course in high school for extra credit and as an effort to be more cultured, but I still can’t carry a conversation. My mom took cultural dancing when she was young, but I was enrolled in ballet and jazz lessons instead. I tried again in my last year of university to join one of the ethnic social groups. At the first encounter everyone else seemed to know each other and my anti-social self just got fed up and left.

People who were born and raised in another country often talk of back home and visiting back home. So wouldn’t it be fitting for me to go and visit my parents’ home? To learn more about where my parents’ came from and the culture? Last time I visited the country I was 11. It’s been 20  years.

Does it seem bad that I only want to go out of guilt? I know despite all its shortcomings, its a beautiful country, visited by many tourists. But it’s not even in the list of  top 10 places I would like to visit before I die.

I consider myself Canadian first and foremost. My parents’ background comes second.  I grew up watching Mr. Dress-up. I had a Roots sweatshirt. I listened to I Mother Earth (I had the biggest crush on the lead singer) and Our Lady Peace. I work for the Canadian federal government and my side job is with a Canadian owned company. So what if I’m too Canadian for my own good.

I ask you this, if you have recently come to North America from a different country, have you managed to still keep close ties to your culture? Or have you shed that skin and become Westernized?

If you are an 4th, 5th, 6th, etc generation Canadian or American, do you feel more Canadian/American than where your ancestors came from because your family has been in the country for so long?

Has anyone experienced something similar to what I experienced growing up?