COLUMN: Question of my Canadian identity

With recent talks of immigration, what does it mean to be a Canadian?

What is it to be “Canadian”?

It’s certainly a subjective question, with a number of people able to give different definitions of it.

In a way, aside from the indigenous, none of us are Canadian by blood, and because of that, there isn’t a set Canadian culture.

So if being Canadian isn’t defined by blood or by culture, what defines it?

I would like to say that I’m a Canadian – I’m a citizen from birth and I’ve had family living in B.C. since the 1910s – but I’ve had people try to tell me otherwise.

I used to work at a grocery store as a cashier, and with that came interacting with an assortment of people.

Making small-talk with customers – for better or worse – a question they would always like to ask is, “Where are you from?”

And I would answer the same way almost every time, ”I’m from Surrey – lived in Newton for a while, then came to Cloverdale.”

And that’s enough for most people… but not everyone.

Every so often though, people would add: “Where are you really from?”

I was born here, at Burnaby General, living in Surrey my entire life so far. I am of Japanese and Fijian decent, but I have never set foot in either country. So there’s no doubt that where I’m really from is Canada.

I have a tattoo on my left arm of my last name written in kanji, a Japanese script. Perhaps that’s where their question stems from.

But even though I have a tattoo that relates back to my heritage, if I’m telling you I am from Canada, shouldn’t that be enough?

So again, I have to ask: what makes a “Canadian”?

Canada is a country of immigrants; the British-Canadians who colonized the country were immigrants themselves. Yet that’s what many consider to be a Canadian.

And in the 20th century, people from all over Europe came to Canada, and still to many, they are Canadian.

But today, immigrants who are coming in aren’t as accepted as others were in the past.

Many of the people aren’t from Europe; coming from Asia or the Middle East.

It brings up the thought that maybe immigrants in the past were accepted because of the fewer cultural differences they had. The British settlers did originally want to make Canada fall in line with western European culture.

So with people today coming in with a much different cultural background, is the lack of acceptance because of the larger number of those differences?

Regardless, we are still a country grown by immigrants, and with that should be an acceptance for newcomers, no matter where they’ve come from.

With our history, it’s hypocritical to try to justify that immigrants in the country today are somehow less Canadian than those who came 60 years ago.

But there still are many people arguing that the country should close its borders, and that we shouldn’t let in any more immigrants.

That’s a situation that has been currently playing out in the U.S., with legal residents in the process of obtaining citizenship being barred entry into the country, based on where they immigrated, because of the culture of the country that they chose to leave.

With what’s happening right across the border, how we respond is what will determine how people see the “Canadian” identity.

As we address what’s happening in the U.S., the debate will continue to go on and the question that will be brought up more and more will be: what is a “Canadian”?

-Brian Kurokawa is a journalism student at Langara College in Vancouver, serving a five-week practicum with Peace Arch News.

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