April 2002
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"I Told You, I'm Canadian"
By Shoilee Khan, SNN Editor, Grade 12, John Fraser Secondary School, Mississauga, ON

"I am Canadian"—now that's a great phrase, eh? The bold red and white flag, the humble, laid back community, the diversity, the peace, the freedom…ahhh, the perfect country—and boy am I proud to be a part of it, because yes, I AM CANADIAN.

"You're what?"
"Oh. Well, I mean where are you really from?"
"I just told you—I'm from Canada."
"I mean, your parents, where are they from?"

Well this is where my tale begins. Yes, the plight of young Canadians with parents who have emigrated from a different country to lead a life in Canada. What plight, you ask?
Read on.

I—like millions of other youth my age, was born in Canada. Calgary, Alberta to be exact. My parents emigrated from Bangladesh in the seventies to lead a life and raise children here in Canada. My brother and I were born and raised in Canadian society, attended Canadian schools, watched the fireworks on Canada Day, and waved little Canadian flags out our car window as we sped down the highway. My Dad was a die-hard fan of the Calgary Flames, we cheered for Team Canada during every Olympics—and gloated with pride when our men and women did a double defeat to the Americans in hockey at Salt Lake City 2002.Interwoven with our "Canadian" upbringing was a very strong sense of religion and culture. I was raised with strong religious standards that have molded and shaped my life and made me who I am today. My faith, Islam, is my way of life. Sometimes we turn off the hockey game to perform one of the five daily prayers, or delay our participation in the backyard fireworks to make time for reading the Holy Qur'an. The clothes I wear to special family gatherings are of Bangladeshi tradition and heritage, as is the food I eat. So, am I still Canadian? Of course. Canada thrives in diversity—no assimilating melting pot for us (we'll leave that to our neighbours to the South). So where does the "plight" come in? What am I hinting at?
Read on.

It's hard. It is very, very hard to live everyday of your life trying to "prove" that you are Canadian. To me, being Canadian is being who you are. No transformations, no massive makeovers to ensure that you'll fit in and look "right". To me, Canada is every culture united under one flag, one country, one cause. When you come to Canada and soon become a Canadian citizen, you do not leave your past traditions, cultures and heritage behind. Canada doesn't require you to strip yourself of your identity before you swear your allegiance to the country. Rather, Canada asks you to bring your cultural heritage along for the ride. Where's the unity, you ask? The unity lies in our desire as a people to live together despite our differences—that's what we have in common—our differences. Here's the problem: All of the above is my opinion and I've come to realize that not all people may agree with what my ideal Canada is. And sometimes, that hurts. Whether we like it or not, there is a definite presumption made by many multiple generation Canadians that those who are the offspring of residents originally from another part of the world, are not "really" Canadian. You have to feel it to believe it. And believe me, I've felt it. Somehow, it seems that some of us first generation Canadians just don't "fit the part" in the eyes of some Canadians who have been here for many generations. Somehow, in their eyes, (not all, mind you but some) they can't fathom how we, odd looking creatures with odd shades of skin in sometimes odd pieces of clothing, eating odd concoctions of food—can be Canadian. We don't look like the "normal, average Canadian" (I still haven't figured out what the "average" Canadian is).

Krispy Kreme is an American donut company that has just opened its first store in Canada, in Mississauga Ontario. It's Charity Week at our school and we're selling donuts in the main hallway of our school.
"Do you guys have Krispy Kreme Doughnuts?"
"Nope! We're selling, good old Canadian Tim Horton's donuts"
"I wanted Krispy Kreme!"
"We're staying with the Canadian kind---Oh Canada!!!"
"That's weird, you guys are saying all that about Canada, but not one of you is Canadian."

Whoa. That was a real conversation. How did our fellow school chum come to the conclusion that we're not Canadian? We don't look the part. Although all of us are in Western clothing, we have distinctive features. I'm wearing the hijab, the traditional headscarf worn by Muslim women, my classmate has dark skin and is of Philippine descent, and my other classmate also has a dark shade of skin and is of Indian descent. What could we have done to look more Canadian? We speak perfect English. I learned both Bengali and English at the same time, and am more fluent in English than in Bengali. In fact—I have an English accent when I speak Bengali! I want to know what our Krispy Kreme fan's ideal Canadian is. What did we have to do to look Canadian in his eyes?

The plight of the "by-birth" Canadian with immigrant parents:
1. When asked, "where are you from?" from an innocent inquirer: Replying with a simple, "I was born here" doesn't work. Your acquaintance is waiting for you to finish your sentence. "I was born here and my parents are from blah blah blah…" Solution: If you want to know my background, ask me, "What's your background"?

2. When explaining to a friend that you are born in Canada and your parents are from somewhere else, you are introduced to people by your friend explaining that you're from where your parents are from. Solution: LISTEN TO ME!!!!!

3.Being approached by someone new, speaking to them and standing dumbly as they exclaim in surprise, "Wow, you speak good English!!" Solution: Correct your grammar, it's ‘you speak English well."

4. Hey, I know I'm Canadian and know I don't need to prove that to anyone. I do hope however, that those who have trouble deciphering, who "Canada" is, open their eyes and rethink their opinions. We have a beautiful country that would never be the same without its diversity.

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