Culture Clash: Growing Up (Kinda, Sorta) Canadian


This past weekend, I watched a documentary called Rasta: Then and Now featuring Toronto's own Nation Cheong. Aside from being an eye-opening and exceptionally well produced education of Rastafari, there was a discussion held between Nation and one of the Ras elders that hit home for me.

I didn't catch the exact quote quick enough to write down, but the discussion was about the identity of Black youth in Canada today. The Ras elder mentioned that many Black youth today are confused. Born in Canada to parents who emigrated here from other countries, they are "Canadian, but not fully Canadian, but they don't know enough about where they're from (to loosely quote from the documentary).

I don't know about you out there, but my head started nodding. I recall growing up feeling like I was in some kind of cultural purgatory. I was born in London, ON to Jamaican parents who emigrated to Canada in their late teens/early 20s. London was not the most diverse place in the world, but everything about my home life was Jamaican. Fried dumplin and jerk chicken. Bob Marley and Super Cat 45s played on Dad's turntables.  We didn't watch football or hockey, we watched cricket. When I needed help with homework, I was taught the "Jamaican way" like my parents were when they were kids. However, I was constantly reminded that I was Canadian. If my aunt said something in patois and I said "Pardon, Auntie?", she'd think it was the fact that I didn't understand her patois, not that I just couldn't hear her.  If I didn't want to eat Grandma's cornmeal porridge, she'd kiss her teeth and ask if I'd prefer Canadian food like nuggets and fries. My parents always told me how lucky I was to be born in Canada, but I was so envious of their stories of growing up in Jamaica. When we'd go on trips to visit my Dad's family (he was the only one to leave the island), I'd always cry when it was time to go back home. My cousins were so interested in learning about Canada, but to me it seemed so boring. While they were in awe of my life, I was so envious of theirs. I would go to Jamaica and feel so connected, but as soon as I complained about a mosquito bite, I'd be reminded that I was a soft Canadian. Back home in Canada, I'd be again reminded of my difference when my friends would sleep over and ask why my Dad talked so funny, or turn their nose up when my Mom offered them ackee and saltfish to try for breakfast.

I remember my two cultures coming to a head in elementary school. Working on a project about homonyms, the teacher gave us free rein to use any words we wanted to, simply to drive home the lesson. I worked hard on that project, and when I got it back, I got 29/30. I was baffled, so I flipped to the page with the offending homonym. On one page, I wrote, "My friend's name is Chris." On the opposite page, I wrote, "My Dad says his new car looks criss." I personally thought that was a genius pairing, but my teacher didn't seem to get it.

As I've grown, I think I've found my own way to meld my two cultures. In high school, I met a number of 1st generation Canadians, who I now know struggled with their dual identity, but in person seemed to completely reject their "otherness" in favour of their Canadian self. University is when I began to come into my own. Meeting LOTS of people both born in other countries and born here to immigrant parents opened me up to new perspectives. However, moving to Toronto was a major catalyst. Compared to London, there is a much better merging of cultures here. There is no either/or, but there is more of a symbiosis of being Canadian and being something else.

I no longer feel that same divide and envy that I did when I was younger. I can appreciate the history of friends whose families go back generations upon generations in this country, and I can appreciate the stories of friends who have just arrived here. I've got my own little niche somewhere in the middle. Instead of feeling like I had to make a choice, or resenting one culture in favour of another, I know I'm blessed to posses both perspectives and identities.

What say you? Have you ever felt anything similar to what I did? If you are a ????-Canadian, have you ever had issues reconciling your two cultures? 

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