Move back to my country? How do you move back to Canada when you live in Canada?

By: Anupreet Sandhu Bhamra

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!

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Categories: Canadian Identity, Racism

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

9 replies

  1. you make very valid points. only two cultures in Canada Anglo and Non-Anglo. I am still trying to learn the Anglo culture. Any takers?

  2. hmmmmm… nicely written yet again. Different people, different opinions, though i cannot read the reactions everywhere(websites, newspapers etc) but i am sure these must be of different tones. Beside your well expressed blog, what impressed me is your will to hold your nerve, your patience. Kudos to you.

  3. Anyone who tells someone to “go back to their own country” should buy themselves a companion ticket. No one in North America is here ab initio; even those whose ancestors were here when the Europeans landed came from somewhere else. (Land bridge anyone? That thing was a grassland steppe up to 1,600 km wide and inhabited for millenia before final submersion).

    Good job keeping this conversation constructive, Sandhu.

    Tim

    P.S. My wife’s family came over from China a few generations back. They call it Chinese New Year. For the sake of family harmony, I think I’ll decline your suggestion to cease the practice!

    • Valid point Tim. Thanks for following the content. On the Chinese New Year take: my point is not to offend, but I offered that as an example of how we can look beyond “nationalization” of identities.

  4. This is the beauty of the Canadian Education System. Try teaching your children the correct use of the word PLEASE. For example a simple request like, Please may I have a glass of water. Once these children start going to school, their Canadian born teachers will CORRECT them. The children will start putting the ‘please’ in the middle of the sentence. Please may I have a glass of water will become – May I please have a glass of water. Look at the aforementioned sentence. ‘May I’ is asking for permission. ‘please have a glass of water’ is requesting the other person to have some water. You will go blue in the face trying to explain this very simple grammatical error to these fine Canadian Born Teachers, but will have a better chance putting out a fire using gasoline than getting your point across.

    This is a universal phenomenon for all Canadian educated people. ESL for everyone else!

    • That’s not actually a grammatical error. You were taught one way while I was taught (as a native speaker not in Canada) to put it elsewhere in the sentence. You are not suggesting that yours is the only correct way, are you?

      The Oxford Companion to the English Language (which I’ve read cover to cover) and The Story of English (also read cover to cover) teach that there are many different correct Englishes. To hold that there is only one correct way to use English the world over is a type of cultural and linguistic chauvinism that those treatises each caution against.

      Tim

      • This is interesting, I am not trying to ridicule what you have just said, but lets try it out with a simple sentence. e.g, Please may I leave (asking for permission to leave). Surely you can put the please at the end of this sentence. ‘May I leave, please’ is acceptable. However how can the Oxford Companion (which I have not read) justify. May I please leave. ‘May I’ is asking for permission, and ‘please leave’ is telling the other person to leave. Even moving the comma does not help. (May I please, leave) Lets try it with a another sentence.
        “let me out of here”.
        – Please let me out of here (sounds okay)
        – Let me out of here, please (also sounds okay)
        – Let me please out of here (?)
        – Let me out please of here (?)
        – Let please me out of here (?) etc, etc.

        When my child was in grade four at a Surrey, BC school the (Canadian born) teacher was not sure if ‘impossible had one or two ‘pees’ (the letter p). She had to get help from her students. It’s okay for Canadian born and raised to go on Vacation to Japan and teach ESL there. However when you are selected for a job over other candidates (of various origins), you’ll agree that the professionalism has to be more accountable.

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