The Grumpy Giraffe

Critiques on social and education issues

What does “Canadian” look like?

In a world that is quickly being swept by the trend of being “politically correct”, it is becoming increasingly difficult to say something without worrying that it will offend a certain group or individual. This was truly apparent when some students in my sixth grade class were talking with me in innocent conversation:

Students: Who is the secretary lady they were talking about in the notice (that was given out to them)?

Me: What was her name?

Students: [gives the name]

Me: Oh, she’s that woman with the blonde hair in the high school office.

Students: Oh, so the Canadian one!

Me: What do you mean? We’re all Canadian here, myself and yourself included.

Students: I mean that she’s the one that looks Canadian because she has the blonde hair.

If this was a conversation between adults, I would have been scared, probably offended. But these are sixth graders in a private school, and they were well-secluded from the public school resources of multiculturalism. In this private school, they were much more concentrated on grammar, math, and the sciences. Everything else is deemed as disposable and “soft”, such as gym, art, and music. Social issues like multiculturalism and inclusion are always on the back burner, that is, if not forgotten.

I saw this as a teachable moment. Bells were going off in my head, and I visualized flags going up. This was a Mr. Feeny moment!

I started by asking them what they thought a Canadian looked like. As expected, they said blonde hair, blue eyes. I could see they were avoiding the topic of skin completely. I asked if they thought they looked like Canadians, and they said no because their parents were from the Dominican Republic, or Haiti, or so forth. I asked if they were Canadian themselves, not their parents, and they were actually unsure in answering, “I.. think so.”

I told them that there is actually no one cookie-cutter look for a Canadian.

They were clearly either baffled or thought I was crazy.

And from that, I asked to them to tell me what makes a person a Canadian. They then told me all they knew about the process to gain citizenship into Canada, and the anthem, and how your passport would look like (I was impressed). But on the other hand, I was saddened by the lack of mention about the culture of being Canadian. There was so much more than just a stamp on a passport and citizenship papers. Where was the essence?

I then asked them if they were happy living in Canada, if they were proud of being part of the community that is Canada. Do they have friends who live in Canada and have different ethnic roots? Do they like that they can speak their minds (among with other freedoms in the Charter)? Did they like being able to know people from around the world in one city?

A lot of them answered yes to all of them, most notably about the friends question. We have quite a mix in our class, so I asked them how they would feel if they only know about one culture their entire life, such as no Chinese New Year or no Diwali or any of that. They were surprised and asked me, “But that isn’t possible, the people who live here celebrate those holidays”.

I then told them, “You say that because you’re a Canadian. But not every country will recognize those important days as holidays. However, you accepted them because you were open-minded and it’s part of Canadian culture to be welcoming to people from other countries who bring their culture with them.”

I wrapped up that short discussion by saying that because people from all over the world choose to come live in Canada, Canadians can look very different. Many of these students are from various backgrounds, so I threw in a comment about how Canadians can wear hijabs, burkas, saris, kippahs, crosses on their necklaces, etc. Canadians can be with religion or no religion, and Canadians can have various beliefs. But most of all, Canadians are open-minded and welcoming, and that’s what makes me most proud to be a Canadian.

Through this very short speech, I saw that they had understood, and some of their eyes lit up when I named the religious clothing that some of their parents wear.

I didn’t want them to think that they can only have one culture, so I reminded them that because Canada is a big mosaic of cultures coming together, one person can be part of 2 or 3 or 4 or more cultures. Just because you’re a Canadian doesn’t mean you lose the culture you come with. You become a combination of both so that you can create your own Canadian identity.

They weren’t too sure what I meant, so I said that you can celebrate holidays in both cultures, and mix a bit in each other’s cultures. In fact, it was a little like fruitcakes: mixing in the different berries and fruits in the cake mixture doesn’t make it disappear. It becomes a whole new product, a fruitcake, where you can still see the fruits added in, but it’s not really just scrambled fruits.

I realize that this was a rather personal post, and doesn’t exactly follow the format of an article that critiques society, but it really is important that this issue is addressed. To hear children, non-Caucasian children, think that Canadians only look like blonde-hair-blue-eyes is frightening because that means they don’t see themselves as Canadian, yet when I look at them, I know that they are Canadian. Growing up in a community thinking that you don’t belong in it is painful, and I wouldn’t wish that on any of the kids in my class.

I suppose my next step would be to look for resources that would introduce the concept of multiculturalism and Canadianism in their curriculum. It’s a little difficult since their curriculum is so rigid and heavy on subjects that don’t necessarily allow social issues to intervene.

I just cannot imagine how a school in 2013 can exclude current events. It is no wonder that some of these children do not show compassion nor understand the seriousness of the disasters that go on outside of our city in suburban Toronto. Perhaps a lesson is in order.


3 comments on “What does “Canadian” look like?

  1. OC
    November 19, 2013

    It’s confusing to people because the whole idea of labeling is to make things organized, so to speak. At least that’s how I see it. Categorizing people into cultures is like putting them into folders for easy reference. Saying that the folder “Canadian” means all of them yet none of them ultimately seems vague.

    But I agree that no matter where you are from, your Canadian culture and worldview affects all your choices and actions. It creates habits in all of us that we take for granted. When I was young, I remember feeling more Canadian than I do now. I think as we all grow up in Canada, we make choices about whether we want our kids to grow up here or back in our home country, or even somewhere new.

  2. Megan
    November 7, 2013

    This was a beautiful post, and I really appreciate the story and critique that you offered.

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This entry was posted on November 7, 2013 by in education, politics, society and tagged , , .



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