I’m a Canadian… really
As we’ve traveled, we’ve joined a few facebook groups that are specifically designed to create community for traveling families. Believe it or not, there are a lot of us out there – from all over the globe. I’ve found these groups useful when making plans for my own family. For finding opportunities to connect with and even meet other families like ours. I enjoy serving as a support to other families doing this – or thinking about doing this. But, sometimes, I find advice in these groups that really (I mean REALLY) gets under my skin…
The advice that bothers me the most, is given by (some) Americans, to other Americans. That advice is when in a difficult situation, to say that they are Canadian. Usually, this advice is followed with some sort of laugh, or followed up with further advice to ensure that they are believable by apologizing excessively or throwing in a few “ehs”…
It isn’t like we don’t know that this happens. We’ve had people (including dear friends) tell us to our face that they do it. We’ve seen big Canadian flags on backpacks or suitcases, and approached them with glee to ask them where in Canada they are from. When we get the curt response of “Winnipeg” as they turn their backs to us and rush off… we know they are a poser. (Why is it ALWAYS Winnipeg?)
Canadians are mistaken for Americans a LOT. We don’t take it personally when that happens to us. In fact we expect it to happen. There are a lot more Americans on this planet than there are Canadians. We get that on the surface, many of us don’t look or sound that different. As Canadian travelers, we do ensure that there is some symbol of our citizenship on our beings as we travel. But it is generally subtle. We also know that in many situations, we have been treated differently once our Canadian identity has been revealed. We’ve watched the shoulders relax. We’ve seen the natural, comfortable smile cross people’s faces. We do get WHY people claim to be Canadian when they are not. We get that there is privilege that we enjoy that is special to Canadians when we travel. What we don’t think the people who choose to take on Canadian identity when they are not Canadian get, is that there are consequences to this.
Marcus asked me last night, “Why does this bother you so much?”. Truthfully – I couldn’t answer that question in the moment. I knew that there was a lot tied up in my upset on this particular issue. I knew I couldn’t articulate my reasons in the 30 second response that he was expecting. So, this morning when I got up, I sat down to try and work it out on paper. I ultimately came up with 5 reasons why this is an issue for me:
It is a lie, that can increase true danger – not decrease it
In a situation of TRUE danger while travelling, both US and Canadian governments go to extreme lengths to protect their citizens abroad – and evacuate when necessary. If a US citizen is truly is in danger – they put themselves (and their family) in greater danger by pretending to be something they are not. In a situation of “true” danger… the potential consequences of “being caught in a lie” also increases danger further for that person and their family.
It sends children the message that there is something wrong with their nationality
I really struggle with the message this gives to children… To tell them to lie. To imply that there is something wrong with, or dangerous about their citizenship (any citizenship). Since citizenship is linked to personal identity, I worry that it gives children the impression that this trait that they possess – which they had no control over – means that there is something wrong with them. I worry about kids growing up to believe that there is something about them that they should be ashamed of.
A citizenship is precious to its owners
I am very proud to be a Canadian. This doesn’t mean that I agree with every political decision that is made. This doesn’t mean that I am proud of everything that has happened as a part of my country’s history. But, I do own all of those things as a part of being Canadian… and being Canadian is something that is precious to me.
There is a response that is triggered, when I flippantly hear a US citizen say “Just pretend to be Canadian” that is something like “How DARE you take something that is precious to me – so carelessly – with no thought of how I feel about it – and use it just because it makes life easier for you!”.
I’ve faced difficult conversations in the US, because I was Canadian. I remember at the outbreak of the Iraq war, Canada did not support the US invasion. Marcus and I were in (VERY) rural Louisiana at the time – out in a garage of one of Marcus’s friends… and a gentleman approached us and said “I hear you are Canadian. Are you going to back us in Iraq or what?”. I responded to that question in the most honest way that I could. While I was doing that, I was looking at the huge wall of loaded guns behind that man… feeling icy cold sweat dripping down my spine… knowing that at any second – that conversation could go south. But it didn’t. We both walked away from the conversation holding – but respecting – different views on the topic. I owned my citizenship. I owned my country’s decision. It wasn’t comfortable for a few minutes. But it was a lot easier than trying to live a lie.
Canadian’s don’t generally “run from danger”
This is a difficult one to articulate… and I don’t know of any Canadian that will claim that they actually do this… but more often than not – when a Canadian sees another in danger… without thinking… they will put themselves in danger to help them. We aren’t taught to do this in school (if anything – we are taught to do the opposite). I don’t know why it happens so often, but it does happen a lot. I’ve watched (and run after) both of my children when they have bolted instinctively, like a bat out of hell to another that they have seen suffering or in danger.
Years ago, I listened to General Romeo Dallaire (who was the Canadian head of the UN envoy in Rwanda at the time of the genocide), talk about a situation that he, and his troops found themselves in. They stumbled upon a mass grave, where many women – who had been raped and mutilated by machetes – were left for dead… but still alive… and suffering. As the commander, the General turned to his second in command to discuss the risks and options. “Should he put his troops in the very real danger of contracting HIV to provide care and comfort to these women, or should he protect them from that risk?” When he turned around to look at his troops again, what he found was that his Canadian soldiers hadn’t waited for orders. They were already in there providing care and comfort. That didn’t surprise him (or anyone in the audience who was listening to him that day) one bit. Another (amazing) woman that I know was also in Rwanda during the genocide. She told me the story of being stopped at a checkpoint and how she hid the passports of the Belgian citizens who were part of her convoy because she knew they weren’t likely to make it out of that situation alive.
To me personally, when someone decides to “run FROM danger” by taking on a Canadian identity, they are dishonouring something that I love to the point where it makes my heart burst about so many of my fellow countrymen (and women). That willingness to put themselves out of their comfort zone, and often in danger to protect or ease the suffering of another.
There are reasons why there are Canadians and Americans
This last one is fairly personal… and perhaps I feel so strongly about this one because of own ancestry. The two countries have very different histories. The majority of Canada’s first English speaking settlers (some of whom were my own ancestors) were living in the US before they came to Canada. During the American Revolution, they left or were forced out because they were Loyalists or religious pacifists. Most of them lost everything that they had. Some of them were tortured (…tarred and feathered…)… because they were unwilling to lie to stay safe and comfortable – or be something that they knew they were not. They were Canada’s first political refugees.
As a nation, we BY NO MEANS do this perfectly, but Canada it is a country where freedom of religion is a value. It is a country where people are allowed to celebrate their ancestry, and where we work towards people being free to be who they are. (And – we DO have a lot of work to do still in this department…). When an American claims to be Canadian to make their lives easier, I question if they truly understand the two countries histories. I question if they understand that so many Canadians are Canadian (either by birth or choice), because of an unwillingness to be something that they are not.
My eyes fill with tears when I hear my national anthem. When I put my hand on my heart to sing “Oh Canada”, I’m proud that there is a Canadian heart beating in my chest. And you know what? I want EVERY child growing up on this planet to feel the same way about their OWN country when they hear their national anthem. I want kids (and adults) to be proud of who they are, and where they come from. Yes – I hope that after reading this post, there are a few less Americans in the world casually saying “I just say I am Canadian” and laughing as those words roll off their tongue. I hope that if they choose to do this, they don’t take that decision lightly.
Being proud of a country doesn’t mean that you turn a blind eye to politics. It doesn’t mean that you accept everything that is going on within your country as right or just. The proudest Canadians that I know, are also the strongest fighters and advocates for others when things happen that aren’t aligned with our values. They work towards creating a better version of Canada everyday. And, if you aren’t proud of your country of citizenship, the best advice I can give you is to invest yourself in it. Give your country the best part of yourself, and it WILL improve. Do what you can to make your country a place you CAN be proud of.
Be PROUD of who you are and where you are from!
A fiercely proud, travelling, Canadian mother
About the Author
Professionally, I am an e-learning instructional designer who breaks down the barriers of space and time in learning. Personally, I'm the Mom in the Little-Green Family, and co-planner in our adventures.