Thoughts during the month of November often turn to Remembrance Day, perhaps more poignantly so this year in particular. For a lot of Canadians, that means remembering soldiers – many of them our Parents or Grandparents. But one of the most wonderful things about Canada, and I think, something that now in fact defines Canadian Culture, is our unique ability to welcome people from all corners of the world. One look at the sea of restaurants and festivals that occur in Toronto, for example, clearly shows how much Canada has incorporated traditional cultures that were not our own. I’m curious to know what new meaning Remembrance Day takes on for those who perhaps do not celebrate it in their own culture? What if you are say, German? or Vietnamese?
This month our Bloggers explore the dynamics between our ancestry and our perception and interpretation of memories and events. With those thoughts of memory and remembrance on our minds we ask:
How has your culture and ancestry shaped who you are?
Growing up in the suburbs of Stoney Creek, Ontario (right before Hamilton), I remember that my principal desire was to be Italian. My parents immigrated to Canada from the Philippines around the 1980’s and settled in a town that is primarily made up of Europeans, especially Italians and Croatians. Though the Filipino population was prominent in Downtown Hamilton, there were very few Filipinos in Stoney Creek – other than my relatives.
Having been surrounded by Europeans throughout my elementary school years – looking and feeling overtly different than all of my peers – I realized that all I wanted was to fit in with every one else. I didn’t want to have dark hair or tanned skin. I was embarrassed when my parents would speak their native language to me when we were in public. I thought the other kids were disgusted by the Filipino foods that my parents packed for my lunch, so I begged them to start buying the Canadian or American foods such as deli meat or pizza pockets. Everything about my childhood seemed so different in comparison to my European friends, and I loathed every bit of it, back then.
I thought that my parents didn’t understand my troubles but over the years and well into my high school days, they started speaking Filipino less and less in public. And in our household, they less frequently cooked traditional Filipino foods, and finally, resolved to let me pack my own lunch.
Now, as I approach the end of my university career, I realize how much I miss the things related to my culture. Now, I wish I were still different from every one else. As a little kid and as a teenager, I just wanted to fit in but now; I just want to stand out. Though I still have my dark hair, my tanned skin, and I am partially bi-lingual, I wish I hadn’t pushed away my culture so much when I was younger. Though there are things that I still hold on to, such as cooking or baking certain Filipino foods, practicing our traditions, and wearing chinelas (translation: slippers – a Filipino practice) around the house, I wish I had welcomed my culture more.
My family and I have somewhat assimilated into the Western culture, but we are still different. Wishing that I had more of my culture to share with others, I realize that my Filipino background has shaped who I am now, because the things that I still practice and cherish today are the ones that have stuck out to be the most important. Being able to speak and understand a language other than English is amazing. Being able to cook foods that other people go to restaurants to eat is rewarding. Being able to say that I am first Filipino, second Canadian, is priceless.
When considering your identity as an individual, it is not uncommon to attribute at least part of who you are to your ancestry and as an Italian- Irish Canadian, I know all too well about the “old country”. And while I might never get to pick my own olives or live in a thatched roof house, the cultural traditions of my grandparents and many other immigrants were not lost on the boat ride to Canada.
For starters, something as simple as greetings can definitely cause anxiety due to such a broad variety of meanings to so many Canadians. While I can only speak to my own heritage, if you were expecting to visit my Italian side of the family, you should probably prepare yourself to embrace and kiss at least 50
strangers relatives on either cheek immediately upon arrival. However, if you were to start kissing my Irish side of the family, you would most likely encounter quiet whispers and stunned glances. And I am sure everyone knows that cultural differences do not stop at greetings.
For instance, look at how different a celebration such as Thanksgiving would look at different homes throughout Canada. While most of us celebrate with a turkey, at an Italian Thanksgiving you can expect to see
lots and lots of wine lamb and at least one pasta dish on the menu. Alternatively, my Greek friends tell me that Thanksgiving often includes lots and lots of ouzo some form of souvlaki with baklava for dessert in exchange of the usual pumpkin pie.
For these and so many other reasons, I think Canada is very special because it offers us an opportunity to experience such a large number of cultures simply through our friends and family. And perhaps this speaks to our tolerance towards culture as we do not require immigrants to immediately assimilate and renounce their heritage, but rather we celebrate it. Especially in the wake of the events in Ottawa and with Remembrance Day fast approaching, we see a nation pulling together to honour those who have fought for our freedom. A nation pulling together not in spite of cultural differences, but rather because of cultural differences. And though I may sport an Italia jersey during World Cup, at the end of the day I am very proud to be a Canadian.