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Honouring Your Identity 1

Friday, August 23, 2013
Ancestral  (i.e. pre-1965) Canadian Flag  
The only way to stay rooted in reality is to tell yourself the truth all the time. This includes cutting through myths or wishful thinking about your own identity. This can be difficult for all kinds of reasons, but usually because of the expectations of other people or even your culture.

For example, as a Canadian born after the 1960s, I was encouraged by state and school not to think of myself as a Canadian without simultaneously thinking of myself as the member of an ethnic group, too, e.g. as an Irish-Canadian. However, like most white Canadians whose first Canadian ancestors arrived before the First World War, I have ancestors from more than one ethnic group.

Meanwhile, my father's family is from Chicago, but nobody ever suggested to me that one of my ethnic group was "American". I was encouraged to ignore my father's experience of Civil Rights days, the American experience of both World Wars, the American Civil War (someone in my family fought for the North) and, heck, the Revolutionary War (my dad's family fought both sides) and even life in the Thirteen Colonies before the Revolution. That's a lot of really cool history, but it didn't count. All who counted were the starving Irish crawling off the boat in 1847 and the adventurous Germans popping up in Chicago in the 1880s, and, on my mother's side, fed-up Scots and an English cook fleeing the stultifying British class system circa 1900.

Because it was too much trouble to say I was an Irish-German-Scottish-English-Canadian, I went with Irish-Canadian because my primary identities were, actually, Catholic and Red-head, traits I associated most with the Irish bunch. This drove my mother nuts, especially as the red hair comes from the Scots and the Germans, and so I tried to swim against the multicultural tide. However, my teachers wouldn't let me. My first-ever published story was a creative non-fiction piece about being humiliated by Sister W for saying I was "just a Canadian" instead of obediently claiming to be Irish or Scottish or German or whatever.

In Canada we are told that "we" are "all" immigrants except for perhaps the First Nations (American Indians), which is literally nonsense. My father is an immigrant from the USA, but my mother wasn't an immigrant, and her parents weren't immigrants, and I am not an immigrant. Well, I wasn't an immigrant. Now I am an immigrant--although that feels like a weird word to use when four of my great-grandparents were born here and, until 1947, everyone born in Canada was a British subject.

"Canadians aren't foreigners," bellowed a very Old School Englishman whose conception of Canada is trés pre-1968. "They're just British who live somewhere else!"

Not true, though it was once (de jure) true. And I wonder why it is that the Powers That Be feel they need to make the descendants of men who built the Ville du Québec, or who fled the American Revolution or slavery to Upper Canada, or who won the day at Vimy Ridge, or who survived Japanese prison camps, or who served in the Korean War feel like we don't really belong to the land where we and those men were born and raised. Maybe it makes us easier to control.

I think the Canadians of the pre-1960s era did a great job building Canada, and I am proud to have ancestors from among them. Ditto for the USA although I feel sorry for the never-ending racial tension nightmare and am so thankful I didn't grow up in it. That fact that we didn't is one thing that made Canadian kids of my generation different from American kids, and meanwhile I have a particular loathing of  the concept of inherited guilt. Again, cui bono?

Anyway, it feels positively revolutionary to say that the history and geography of Canada shaped my identity more than that of Ireland and Germany, and any lingering ideas that I was spiritually Scots got blown up at an Edinburgh Robbie Burns Supper attended by English and Scottish republicans. Apparently serious stuff has gone down since 1900.

And that was nine paragraphs just to state the obvious: I am Canadian. Jeepers.

Canadians are lucky in that nobody thinks about us all that much, and apart from some U-Boats and some crazy Americans who wanted to kidnap the country and trade it for Ireland, we haven't been invaded by an army for 200 years. Conservative pundit Mark Steyn was positively gleeful when a Muslim mob bothered to burn a Canadian flag: "Death to the Little Satan!" chortled Mark.

The only places I have come across anti-Canadianism is among Americans who think Canadians are just Americans who act funny, in northwestern Germany where there is still some lingering resentment about our brief occupation and, of course, from sulky immigrants in Toronto, although rather excitingly from a Dutchman who said that although Dutch women had been safe from Germans during the War, they weren't safe from the Canadians. So much for all that "We love you, our liberators, here's some tulips" stuff.

If Canadians were not so invisible--which is really a wonder, really, when you consider that Canada is geographically the second-largest country in the world, a G-8 nation and home to a cousin of everyone else in the world--people might try to make us feel worse about being Canadian. And I would correctly interpret this as an attack and fight back instead of thinking, "Oh boo hoo. Our terrible sins. I will allow my attacker to make me feel dirty and shameful." Because, once again, cui bono? Not me!

Aside re: anti-Americanism: I really wish every American girl being hassled by some rude Canadian or European had the guts to say, "Pooh to you. I'm proud of my country,"-- preferably in the native language of whoever is insulting her, so as to prove Americans can too speak anything besides English.

I know what my sins are. They're bad enough without me having to take on other people's, e.g. those of Winston Churchill against the Poles. But I wanted to write about where Single identity fits into all this. Hmm. Well, perhaps I'll wait until tomorrow.