DOUBLE DUTY: Thoughts On Cultural Expression From A 1st-Generation Canadian

Baby Bee - the Jamaican-Canadian blend that the world wasn't ready for... There's one thing I have to always remind myself as a blogger/writer and avid Twitter user - don't waste a good blog post on a Twitter rant! Granted, I love the discussion that usually ensues when I get deep into a topic on Twitter, but sometimes 7+ tweets x 140 characters just doesn't do it justice. I was recently tweeting about my experiences of being a 1st-generation Canadian,  when my blogging fairy godmother Afrobella nudged me to expand on it in a post. So, would you like to read it? Here it goes:

I will always maintain that my childhood felt like a game of double identity. My home was Little Jamaica - a concoction of smells, sounds, flavours, and sights that evoked the spirit of the island my parents came from. Reading Anansi stories, eating foods cooked with spices and ingredients you couldn't get at the "regular" grocery store, and my dad's weekly Sunday night sessions - playing Buju Banton and Supercat records in his basement sound system, complete with turntables, mixers, and club speakers. The walls of wherever we lived held in so much culture and flavour, and my parents did a wonderful job of maintaining that for us.

Once I stepped foot outside of Little Jamaica, I was firmly in the throes of Canadian life. My hometown of London, Ontario was nowhere near diverse when I was growing up there - it was the epitome of every Tim Hortons/Canadian Tire commercial you could think of, and didn't reflect anything of the life I lived at home. My brother played road hockey with his friends; my dad had us watching cricket. I begged for cans of Coca-Cola in my lunch; my mom packed us fresh juice and made sure we started every morning with a cup of Milo, Ovaltine, or Horlicks. I didn't know anyone who lived like we did - none of my friends did, at least - so though I loved my heritage, I grew frustrated with it at the same time. No one seemed to get me. I was always different. I yearned to fit in somewhere. I started making Caribbean friends in my late teens; met many more friends of Caribbean/African/Asian/Middle Eastern heritage in university; and by the time I moved to Toronto, it felt like the Mecca of multiculturalism and people whose lived experiences were similar to mine. However, if I had a dollar for every time I engaged in the following dialogue -

"Where are you from?"

"Oh, I was born here."

"No - but like, where are you from?"

"Well, my parents are from Jamaica..."

"OK! That's it!"

- I'd be one rich b*tch.


For me, being "Canadian" has always been a confusing identity - and at times, the country seems confused about who she is, too. Canada is not solely made up of maple syrup-eating, "eh"- and "aboot"-saying, hockey-playing citizens who have no fear of the cold - but when that image is convenient, it's pushed in the media.  Canada is also purported to be a multicultural heaven, where people of all races/cultures/ethnicities can come and create a life - and when that image is convenient, that's the one you see. My maple syrup-eating, hockey-playing friends felt that they possessed the Canadian image, and looked at my family and I with curiosity. My parents felt that they exemplified the new face of Canada, and wondered if their expression could be equally accepted by their peers. Canada has not crafted itself to have a specific, concrete identity like our cousins in the U.S.A. - we have no defined "Canadian Dream," and don't possess the same flavour of patriotism. Have we as a country learned how to embrace and leverage our unique patchwork of identities? On an individual level, I think we're all defining what it means to be Canadian on our own - but the collective hasn't come to a decision yet.

It's taken me 30 years, but I feel that I've nestled myself quite comfortably into a beautiful marriage of Canadian and Caribbean diasporic identities. There's no need to pick one over the other - and I couldn't if I tried. I'm neither Canadian enough nor Jamaican enough for anyone who upholds a concrete definition of what it means to be either. Instead of feeling that I've got one foot in each culture, I prefer to think that I have both feet firmly planted on the median - a sliver of space where both expressions meet and create something new. The same way that I've learned to accept my height, my brown skin, and the other physical attributes that make me unique - I've learned to embrace my cultural heritage, upbringing, and place of birth. I've finally stopped trying to fit into a predetermined box - I've got my own space, and I'm living fully in it.

Looking for more inspiration on the topic? Check out this past post I wrote about my childhood and dual cultural experiences, and peep dope hip-hop artist Shad K's new video for Fam Jam (sidnote: my claim to fame with Shad is that he went to my high school, and I still remember him freestyling in the hallways):


Do you have similar experiences around being an immigrant or 1st-generation ____________ (Canadian, American, etc.)? What has your existence been like? 

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