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Finding Identity as a 'Canadian Cocktail'

Updated: Feb 11, 2020

Don't know what a Canadian Cocktail is? That's okay, I made it up. You'll understand by the end but here's a hint: Identity, identity, identity.

I had the opportunity to speak in front of my sociology class last week regarding diversity in Canada. Here is a blog version of what I decided to speak about.

Having the opportunity to talk about diversity in Canada got me really excited but at the same time pretty anxious. I knew right away I wanted to talk about Canadian identity.

Most of the time, when we think about Canadian identity our heads wander to the stereotypes: maple syrup-eating hockey lovers who ride polar bears to work. Although we know there is more to Canadian identity, how often do we dig deep into the topics that make up social identity? Like language, religion and beliefs, gender, ethnicity, and sexual orientation.

Thinking about my own personal experiences, I ran through my brain's index to figure out what my focus could be. Do I talk about being a business owner in the outdoor sector? A sector where women of color are usually left out of the narrative?

Do I talk about the major transition in my life; from living in Downtown Toronto to moving to Middle Musquodoboit, a rural Nova Scotian community? Do I talk about going from a school of diversity to a school where I was one of the only people of color?

I decided the best way to talk about diversity in Canada was by explaining the following topic: why I am a 'Canadian Cocktail' and how it has affected my life until today.

First off - a 'Canadian Cocktail', just like any cocktail - has many ingredients. I am only going to cover a few of mine in this post.

So lets start with a dash of ethnicity. It seems in Canada regardless of cultural similarities or differences, ethnicity is still a way we visually differentiate from others. For example, growing up in Nova Scotia I've had people asking me"where are you from?", and I say "Nova Scotia" because that is where I identify as home.

"No, but where are you from?"...

In my youth, this question frustrated me. It confused me because home was home. To satisfy the question being re-asked, I would end up telling people my whole '23 and Me' story. (DNA Testing website)

"Well, on my Mom's side, I have German, Scottish, Irish and Mi'kmaw. My Dad is Jamaican, which makes me a first generation Canadian on his side. I guess I have Chinese on my Dad's side too, but I don't understand how...."

I ended up telling people my whole life story because I didn't know what was really being asked of me. I've come to realize in my adulthood when people ask me 'where are you from', 90% of the time it means - 'why is your skin the shade it is'. Although this annoyed me before, I am realizing now it is a growing pain of multiculturalism, and I am all for the curiosity of learning.

Another ingredient is religion. Religion always seemed like an identity marker for me that wasn't easy to define. My Grama on my Dad's side is a Jehovah's Witness. My Nana on my Mom's side was a born-again Christian. Growing up, my Dad was a Hare Krishna, while my Mom started traditional ancestral practices when I was a young girl. To add, I even have a great uncle who was a Rabbi.

Not that I identified with these specifics beliefs, but growing up with so many ideologies floating around my young, sponge-like brain, I was always hearing and learning different ideas, unable to differentiate them sometimes. This made it impossible for me to see one belief as better than the other because I knew that, to the people I love, each belief worked for them. To this day, I define myself as non-religious, but the cliche 'spiritual'. I would be more inclined to saying "Nature is my religion!".

Another feature that I think is important to my Canadian Cocktail is Western systems of oppression, specifically societal norms and power structures within Canada.

I am underprivileged just by being born a woman. By being born black. Those are the 'obvious' ones. Then there are the variables that are not so obvious to some: I grew up in poverty, with a father who was half there. To add, I am a first generation Canadian. All because of these textbook examples, I am more likely to experience and to have experienced systems of oppression than members of the dominant social groups in Canada.

Do not think I am complaining, or expecting sympathy because the reality is I am so privileged! I am a Canadian citizen. English is my first language. I am bilingual. I have clean drinking water everyday. I have had the opportunity to rise out of poverty. My government is giving me financial aid to pursue further education. I am healthy and able-bodied.

I could go on, but what is most important to me is the privileges people do not talk about enough. Dissecting privileges within societal dis-privileges. The intersections:

  • I am pansexual, but benefit from being in a long term heterosexual relationship because I do not experience direct oppression in our hetero-normative society. No one would know about my sexual orientation unless I state so.

  • My connection with my Mi'kmaq roots. In Canada, aboriginal women experience more oppression than any other group in Canada. As a black woman, I will and have experienced less disenfranchisement than if I looked Aboriginal.

  • I am in the process of testing for a learning disability. If diagnosed, I will not experience the direct stigma as someone with a physical or intensive psychological diagnosis of a disability. Again, unless I state so, you would never know.

All in all, my ingredients list might look different than yours, but what makes Canada so amazing is its multiculturalism. This means everyone has their own cocktail which looks and 'tastes' different than others'. As citizens or permanent residents, we get to decide what makes us Canadian. Although Canada might be known for its yummy Caesars, we all can decide what cocktail defines us. There is a cocktail for everyone.

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