As a child in school I never really identified with my heritage. I never identified with any particular group or thing. I just knew myself as ‘girl who likes to draw, girl who rides her bike, girl who lives at Jane-Finch,girl who loves peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, girl who thinks about writing, girl with lots of ideas……years and years have passed and those things haven’t really changed (My locale has, lol)
It’s only when I started kindergarten that I met other kids and they would talk about ‘who they were’.
When kids would ask ‘what are you?’-As is customary in Toronto and I’m assuming in Canada-I would tell them I’m a Chinedu, I’m a girl, I like Star Wars.
Literally, it’s only through racism I discovered who I was. It was being asked by teachers how long I’d been in Canada or the the seemingly slow, slow speech that teachers would utter to me that I began to realize that I was seen differently than I viewed myself. After teaching in Japan and teaching students by webcam online, the first few lessons I taught; students would ask me where I was from and the shock comes when I tell them Canada and they shake their heads saying that ‘only white people are from Canada’. Again, another rude awakening about ‘what I am’ during another milestone in my life……another reminder that I never quite got right since grade school.
To be Canadian is a frame of mind and as I get older I see that it truly IS a frame of mind. With aging parents one of whom I wasn’t raised with (she spent most of my life in the home country, returning to Toronto after 25 years!) I see how differently I think from them, how I speak to them, even my opinions about certain topics….all DIFFERENT. My self-awareness is VERY different.
As important as it is to be self-aware- I believe that dis-association of labels can be an excellent way to achieve goals, ambitions with less caution and restraint. You learn more and you end up in places and spaces most people would only dream. Knowing oneself without becoming wrapped up in what it means to be just that in a limited framework is also important.
A few weeks ago they had a talk (they talked at me) about where I should be in life and what I should be doing now. The interesting part about the talk was that I couldn’t understand why my mother couldn’t see my point of view.
A topic like this gets written off as generational or perhaps I’m not thinking clearly (Maybe I’m transient)…but what I got from the talk was that I was a new species to them.
My Dad started talking to me about embracing both cultures and that I was African-Canadian (Canadian born of Nigerian parents) and it had me thinking the same way I thought as a little girl in Junior Kindergarten……To my parents I wondered what it meant to them to be a Nigerian-Canadian.
Based on their comments it dawned on me that they would never be able to see what my identity means and looks like to me. It seems simpler to them to build some guidelines on how-to-be ‘Nigerian’. Comparisons to other family members who’ve migrated to North America (as Africans maintaining culture or any other ethnic group for that matter, were being bridged).
I started wondering what they knew about what it meant to be me. You see: to me I don’t identify like that.I never will. I’ve never entirely went with a specific group. I’ve never completely identified with Africans. Maybe because most of the Africans I’ve met were newcomers to Canada. They all (parents and those I’ve met) expect me to speak the language, visit the home country frequently demonstrate and understanding of the customs and have them acted out in true form. I say ‘act’ because it’s easier to just follow to behave ‘African’ so guidelines are met and being ‘found’ would be much better than being ‘lost’.
The urgency comes from my mother’s fear( I didn’t grow up with) of me being ‘lost’. My being lost and not ‘knowing the culture’ is a nightmare for them. The problem with that is families have no idea that a hybrid child is created once (im)migration occurs. DNA is the same but the finished product is ‘a new thing’, not ‘ a bad thing’.
If only they understood that my experience with identity had been carved out a long time ago. I already identified with being ‘A Chinedu, a girl, a peanut butter jelly sandwich eater’ long time ago.Seemingly all things making me a Canadian aside from birth.
I believe it’s important to know where someone comes from, where their customs are coming from and understanding about heritage…..but understanding where you are and how you fit in and demonstrate the here or now is more important too!
The point I’m trying to make here is very clear to me: Within the landscape of Toronto-people, organizations, offices, other ethnic groups, your own family, even employers see a name or a face and immediately want to place you, categorize as something and once they get to know you or mis(understand) and dissect you they either become horrified, impressed or shocked why? Because they are expecting you to fall into any of the categories for your supposed type to make it easier.
When I visited the family’s home country….. I remember meeting random people in the streets of Lagos, in shops, people visiting my family during our stay all knowing and not expecting me to be anything other than what I was—A Canadian.
Sooo I may not go camping or fishing every Summer, I may not say Eh! All the time either. Heck, I may not be Caucasian. But I know what it means to be from here. I AM CANADIAN!
Happy Canada Day!
3 thoughts on “I AM CANADIAN – What it means….”
THIS was a fantastic blog. Great insight. Most piercing statement – “Literally, it’s only through racism I discovered who I was.” Honestly, a really well written think piece.
Great thoughts on being Canadian! I had encountered the similar situation you did when teaching in Japan and experienced pockets of racism growing up as well and know what it means to be Canadian 😉 Well written Chinedu!!! Happy Canada’s Day 😀
Thanks so much for reading! I wanted to share a little bit of my reality. I’m still so proud to be from here! Happy Canada Day!!!