My last blog post, If you are not White, you are not-Canadian-enough generated a lot of response: blog comments, Facebook messages, tweets, personal emails, phone calls, repost on The Georgia Straight’s website, and a radio show discussion on RedFM with Mr. Harjinder Thind.
The feedback? Some angry, some supportive, some encouraging, some blatantly racist, some accusing, some applauding under the assumption I was championing the rights of the “Other” and it was time to “denounce” the “White” identity.
Except, I did none of that.
I asked a question. Questions stem from experiences. In this case, the experience was my daughter’s kindergarten admission and the ESL program.
I didn’t question the need for the ESL program.
My question was not about my experience.
My question was not about racism.
My question was not to denounce “White” identity.
My question was (still is):
“What is Canadian culture?”
I framed my question in an argument that started with my experience at my daughter’s school. Except, my experience became the argument.
One of the commentators on my blog, Mr. Dave Whitfield found my post and its tone, “disturbing”. He accused me of racism, and said I am “misguided”. I admire him because he kept coming back to reply to me and another commentator’s reply. I like such people who stand for their words and defend them. I may not agree with Mr. Whitfield but as a fellow Canadian, I defend his right to express his opinion.
Another commentator on the Straight’s website, Jordan83 asked me to move back to my country. He said, “We don’t need immigrants telling us how to run this country”. Except, Mr. Jordan83, I have no country to move back to. Canada is my nation; I don’t have dual citizenship. And here’s a general knowledge lesson: immigrants do run the country. They could be first-generation or fourth-generation descendants of immigrants, (maybe like you). We all (except for the Aboriginal peoples) are immigrants or descendants of immigrants or White settlers.
And never in my blog post, I questioned the validity of our two official languages – English and French. In fact, I question why the school wants to put my daughter who speaks fluent Canadian English with a kid who has never been exposed to a Western school environ in the same frame? And that is what forced me to think about Canadian identity in the framework of race and culture.
But Mr. Whitfield and Mr. Jordan83 weren’t the only voices. Some teachers wrote to me explaining their position on the ESL program, while some parents recounted their bitter experiences with the program. Some echoed my experience, some completely new, and some shocked me. Some thought I was rejecting our European ancestry, some were horrified at this prospect and some rejoiced.
I thank all for expressing opinions and sharing experiences. I don’t want to fill this space by defending every allegation leveled against me. That will be going off on an irrelevant tangent and I will be deviating from the focus of my previous and this post:
“How do we define being Canadian in 2012?”
Some say there is no need for such a definition. I say, variably or invariably we do end up defining it. Because we crave identity – where we live, what we eat, what we call home – it gives us a sense of being.
On the eve of Canada Day in 2012, I ask you again: “What is Canadian identity?” And I ask you all, irrespective of your culture, racial and linguistic heritage to help me define it, so I can feel I belong here. You can feel you belong here. My kids, your kids, everyone feels a sense of being, being Canadian.
I am not rejecting White identity (by which I imply Euro identity, no racial discrimination intended), but I am proposing the recognition of plurality of cultures. We can’t ignore the historically important fact that Canada was founded on a “White’ identity, but we also cannot ignore that our ancestors “settled” on the land of Aboriginal peoples. And this is 2012, where “visible minorities” are heading to be “visible majorities” (this classification is a topic for another blog post). That is why I ask to redefine Canadian identity and culture.
No one culture and heritage is superior to the other. Each culture and language is rich and important and we need to find a way to recognize this richness, in the backdrop of English and French as official languages, for the social well being of the country. Let’s not point fingers at one another.
I am not offering a solution; there is never an easy, straightforward one. And that is why we have dialogues, dialogues that initiate social change. And that is the intent of my blog.
Let’s start by recognizing that the multicultural heritage of our country is a reality. Not merely as a policy on paper, or as a diversity team in a corporate organization, but reflective in our social living.
I will start by offering something simple:
Stop calling the Chinese New Year, the Chinese.
It’s like calling the first of January, the Christian New Year. Since we all have accepted the first of January, the start of the Civil Calendar, we just call it the start of the New Year, whatever its roots.
For differentiation argument, let’s just call it by the name of the animal the year represents, for example, the Year of the Dragon or simply the Lunar New Year; don’t define it as a festival of the “Other”. It’s a big part of being Canadian; let’s accept it. Let’s not keep it limited to politicians dressed in “Chinese traditional red”. Recognize its Chinese heritage but accept its evolution as being Canadian.
And same for the Vaisakhi parade in Surrey. I am done with watching a handful of “White” politicians dressed in Indian traditional finery. (Special note: they need more research as what they wear is fit for a wedding, not for a religious/cultural day event.) Mr. Whitfield, I invite you to drive down to Surrey next April and be a part of being Canadian.
Bring on the solutions. Happy Canada Day everyone!