Header Graphic
By Katherine Kiang
KaTsZoNe Newsletters > KaTsZoNe - Issue 102 - What It Means To Be Canadian - My Story

1 Jul 2013

Hi everyone,


Hi everyone,

Happy birthday Canada!  Bonne fête du Canada!

Years ago, I had a great interest in Irish culture.  I immersed myself learning about Irish history, sang Irish songs, learned Irish dancing, attended traditional Irish concerts/shows and visited Ireland.  I learned a saying, “There are two kinds of people in this world:  Those who are Irish and those who want to be Irish.”  I was not a “want to be Irish”, I was Irish!  I am Chinese since I have ancestors from China from both parents.  As far as I know, my great grandparents were from China.  However, I do have naturally curly hair, which might puzzle some people (including my own cousins).  So, it is quite easy to convince my friends in Canada that I have a mixed ethnic background.  In fact, it is easier to convince someone that I am part Irish than the fact that I am pure Chinese (at least for 3 generations).  I'm not going to go into the the definition of "pure Chinese".  I think we are all related anyway, if we go back far enough. 

Taking that Irish saying, I'd say, “There are two types of people in the world:  Those who are Canadian and those who want to be Canadian.”  There’s someone who wears a red suit with white trim (which happens to be the colours of the Canadian flag) and he is a jolly fellow who is kind and very generous to children all over the world.  Being nice and generous sounds very “Canadian”.  So, I assume that Santa Claus is Canadian or perhaps he wants to be Canadian!

I came to Canada with my parents in May, 1973 from Malaysia (a multicultural, Muslim country).  We landed in Montreal.  At the time, I thought that Canadians spoke English and French.

My parents and I moved to Toronto a couple months later.  I attended an English-speaking public school in North York.  I had three best friends: Lesley, Sheena and Joanne.  Lesley’s parents are English and Irish.  Sheena’s parents are both Scottish.  My friend, Joanne, had a Polish dad and a Scottish mom.   I started school from Grade 1 and the kids in my class were mainly Jewish as well as of English/Scottish/Irish descent.  I remember one Italian classmate.  Then, when I was in Grade 4, one Chinese boy enrolled in my class.  My English had improved, I was learning French in school, and I began to feel more Canadian.  I also started going to camp with my class -- to my Chinese mom, camping is so Canadian because who would want to sleep out in a tent in the woods when we had a perfectly comfortable bed to sleep in at home?

One of things which made Canada such a great place to live is our ability to keep our language and ethnic identity as we learn to live with people of different cultures.  Unlike other countries where the minority can suffer persecution for their race and religion, we have the freedom to keep our traditions, if we wish. 
My mom still made me speak Chinese (Mandarin) at home. I would return home from school, after speaking English all day, and I wanted to continue speaking in English, but, my mom would pretend not to understand.  We came from a multicultural country, so, of course my parents spoke English.  Thanks to my mom, I can still speak to her in Mandarin.  There were no “Heritage language classes” when I first came to Toronto --- my parents were my heritage language teachers.  We ate Chinese food at home, but, we also went out to experience other cultures through events, music, food, concerts, etc.  While my mom taught me to keep our Chinese traditions, my dad taught me to reach out and experience other cultures in Toronto.  As I’ve mentioned, I was very interested in the Irish culture and also the Jewish faith and culture.  So, other than being Irish, I had friends who thought I would become Jewish as well.  Only in Canada, eh?

I'm grateful to have had a positive experience as a first generation Canadian.  I realize that not everyone shares an equally positive experience as me, as a first generation Canadian.  We may have high expectations from Canada but more importantly, I think we need to have realistic expectations.  We cannot lead better lives without understanding where we live, the people we work with, and who our neighbours are.  In some cases, we may need to change ourselves in order to live in peace with ourselves and others.   

How do we see ourselves as Canadians and what might people outside Canada see in us?  I found some awesome quotes which  provides views of Canada and being Canadian.

Great Canadian Quotes (www.canada4life.ca/quotes.php):

In a world darkened by ethnic conflicts that tear nations apart, Canada stands as a model of how people of different cultures can live and work together in peace, prosperity, and mutual respect.”
(Bill Clinton, 42nd President of the United States, 1993 - 2001)

“I am a Canadian, free to speak without fear, free to worship in my own way, free to stand for what I think right, free to oppose what I believe wrong, or free to choose those who shall govern my country. This heritage of freedom I pledge to uphold for myself and all mankind.”
(John G. Diefenbaker (Canada’s 13th Prime Minister from 1957 – 1963)

I love those quotes from President Bill Clinton and Prime Minister John G. Diefenbaker!  I hope we can continue to live up to those values.  Yet, you may still have questions about defining what being Canadian means.  Here's another quote from an unknown author (www.edu.gov.mb.ca/k12/cur/socstud/foundation_gr9/blms/9-1-3b.pdf):

“A Canadian is someone who drinks Brazilian coffee from an English teacup and munches a French pastry while sitting on their Danish furniture having just come home from an Italian movie in their German car. He/She picks up their Japanese pen and writes to their Member of Parliament to complain about the American take-over of the Canadian publishing business.”

I asked my friends and co-workers to complete the following phrases and here are some responses:

“A Canadian is ….”

- “kind-hearted, hard-working, open-minded and considerate” (D.P.)

- “envied around the world for living in a country where more freedom to be what you are is enjoyed than in any other country” (H.A.)

“I am Canadian …”

- “I am proud to be living in a country that is so respected and diverse.  I could not imagine living anywhere else in the world.”  (D.P.)

“Being Canadian means…”

- “being courteous and respectful when abroad – representing your country as you would like to have others perceive its citizens as a whole (J.S.)

- “…it means being able to say that you’re not an American” (I.W.)

- “being open to other cultures and to new experiences.  In Toronto, we are so lucky to have every country represented within our city.  It is important to take the time to learn about each other and our similiarities and differences.”  (D.J.)

- “being multicultural and understanding of others and being proud of all our provinces and territories” (D.P.)

- “having the opportunity to freely express myself and my opinion and to know that my country is a safe and friendly place to be.  Coming from another country, but, feeling right at home here.”  (J.C.)

- “you have at least 5 ways to describe a winter storm:  snowstorm, blizzard, whiteout, sleet and, best of all, a snow day! (C.B.)

- “you apologize for things that are not your fault” (C.B.)

Once again, I love what my friends and co-workers said about Canada and what they felt being Canadian meant.  Some of you may recognize what you had said back in October, 2011!  This was part of a presentation I prepared as a member of the Workplace Diversity Change Agent committee in the Ontario Government.  I met some great people and learned so much from the group.

re your thoughts with me on what you think Canada and what being Canadian means to you!

Recently, in Calgary and High River, Alberta, floods have caused power outage and destruction effecting tens of thousands of people.  Floods are not uncommon throughout the world, often resulting in great loss of lives and destruction to buildings and natural surrounding.  I visited Calgary several years ago during a cross-country trip with my friend, Tracy, as we made our way to Victoria, B.C.  I experienced the kindness and hospitality of Tracy's friend, as well as my friends, in Calgary.  I have heard from my friends and acquaintances living in Calgary and thankfully, I heard that they were not significantly effected and did not have flooding in their homes.  I am sure they have stories to tell.  What's important is that they are safe and things will eventually get better for everyone.

Naheed Nenshi, the Mayor of Calgary, wrote on his Twitter a couple days ago which he called "Mixed blessings".  He came home, after a long day, I'm sure, and the last thing he probably wanted to hear was the sound of a LOUD lawnmower.  His neighbour was mowing the lawn.  Well, his neighbour had also mowed Mayor Nenshi's lawn!  How could anyone not feel grateful and blessed after that!  And, that seems to be one of the greatest traits of being Canadian as we see Calgarians helping each other, and fellow Canadians helping as well.

If you are able to do so, I encourage you to help our neighbours - the people who have been effected by the recent floods in Alberta.  In my continuing efforts to make monthly contributions to the food bank, last month, I was in Wasaga Beach and decided to do my monthly donation to the Wasaga Beach Food Bank when I was shopping in Walmart.  This month, I am planning to make a cash contribution to the Calgary Food Bank(s) which I just read about today and will also attempt to help through the Canadian Red Cross. 

I wish you and your families a wonderful, safe summer!  Thanks for joining me for this month's episode of KaTsZoNe!  See you in August!  Don't forget to check out the KaTsZoNe calendar for upcoming events at www.katszone.com/page/page/6673173.htm



Calendar of Events: 
Comments Anyone?:  www.katszone.com/comments.html