Whenever I hear the slogan or phrase- I AM CANADIAN, I think of the ubiquitous Molson Canadian beer commercial that tormented us on television radio and print around the mid-2000s. Anyone deluding themselves into consuming that watery beer because it was “Canadian” must have been devastated to learn that in 2004, a merger with a US-based company resulted in it being called the Molson Coors Brewing Company. Suddenly, the slogan I AM CANADIAN, had a hollow ring to it. Ever since it sounds to me like a joke.
These days I often hear mostly newly-minted Canadians using the phrase, I AM CANADIAN. Somehow I feel a tinge of sadness when new Canadians find themselves compelled to state what in all honesty is not obvious- their Canadian status. They foolishly believe politicians who insist they are 100 percent Canadian while at the same time encouraging them to retain and strengthen their bonds with their home countries. This mixed messaging along with that confusing Canadian passport and citizenship leads them to conclude they are Canadian. But the truth is a little more complicated.
Officially they are Canadian, but in the eyes of other Canadians, people around the world including Canadians of color it is far from clear. In fact, a fair amount of eye rolling happens if and when anyone of color with an accompanying accent proclaims they are Canadian.In polite society, no one would deny their claim, but get into an argument with someone and bring up your Canadian status and all bets are off.
I felt that way after watching a viral video where a white customer berated staff at a T&T Supermarket in Mississauga after being asked to wear a mask. Since this column isn’t about the episode, I will get to the point by sticking to just one aspect. At one point, the man asked an elderly staffer of Chinese-origin where he was from, that was indeed a loaded question. Probably thinking that by claiming he was Canadian would defuse the situation he kept chanting, “I am Canadian, I am Canadian,” it annoyed the irate customer who snapped: “You are as Canadian as my butt.”
After the viral incident made news, it was only natural that Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie weighed in and talked about the despicable episode. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of, ‘A Canadian Is A Canadian Is A Canadian’ fame, instinctively took to social media to voice support for T&T staff and called the incident “hard to watch.”
I think on becoming Canadian citizens believe they have magically been transformed into Canadians. An acquaintance of Indian-origin stopped calling herself Canadian while traveling around India after being laughed at by her former country men and women.
But many new Canadians I’ve met have a tendency of flaunting the fact they are Canadian citizens like it was a status symbol, especially when traveling abroad. They do so at their own peril.
That may have to do with the fact they are acutely aware that nothing about them screams Canadian, starting with their faces, hairstyle, clothes and at the risk of being politically incorrect, their accents, which could very well identify their true identities! Being born in your former country is an accident of birth, moving to Canada, is a conscious decision, a choice.
That said, there is absolutely nothing wrong if we South Asians are mistaken to be Indian or Pakistani and not Canadian, especially since so many of us are naturally proud of our rich cultural heritage, cuisine, yoga and clothing and even the leaders of our former countries whom we adulate as much as our (only white) Canadian politicians. We follow every obscure Indian custom, celebrate our countries’ Independence Days and protest about conflicts happening in our former countries and neighborhoods. So I am really quite puzzled when South Asians in particular get offended when other Canadians fail to recognize they are officially Canadian.
When traveling abroad or within Canada, I avoid referring to myself as Canadian when talking to strangers socially, I will definitely avoid saying that if I ever get into an argument with a fellow Canadian. For one, no one needs to know my nationality except the government or security or border officials while traveling abroad.
I don’t feel the need to share details about my background and country of origin or about when I decided to become a Canadian citizen unless I know the people well and if they mean well.
I am willing to bet that no person anywhere on planet earth who views the video where the elderly Chinese-Canadian T&T employee is seen chanting over and over, “I am Canadian,” would think he was Canadian had he not pointed it out.
I for one would not be offended if another Canadian white, black or Chinese refused to believe I was Canadian, in fact I’d commend them on their fine perception.
One South Asian Canadian on the trip to Spain met several Bangladeshi and Indian asylum-seekers who enquired where he was from, “Canada” he responded quite proudly. He was sporting a T-shirt emblazoned with the Canadian flag. The next question invariably was: “Sir, where are you originally from?” To which he was forced to sheepishly whisper: “Jalandhar”.
I would be suspicious if a stranger assumed I was Canadian and if anyone told me to go back to my country, the last thing I’d do was get into a dog fight, I’d shrug and tell them that I have been thinking about it.
And I definitely wouldn’t want any mayor, premier or prime minister standing by my side or issuing statements confirming my citizenship status. That would be so embarrassing.