I am Calvin and I am Canadian.
Sounds good, but what does it really mean? Canadians travel the world with great national pride; we sew flags on our packs, pants, shirts, hats, and every other visible piece of clothing we own, all to let the world know that we are Canadian. But why are we so proud of our country and what does it really mean to be Canadian?
This fundamental question, asked for generations, has many answers. However, it appears that no one comprehensive definition exists of what it means to be Canadian.
When people are asked to define Canadian identity, some answers keep being repeated. We are a diverse country and proud of it, we are not Americans, we are peacekeepers and not peacemakers. However, critical examination finds some holes in each of these assertions.
We are a diverse country and proud of it. One only needs delve into our government’s actions during the last century to see this is not the case. During World War II, Japanese Canadians-not Germans or Italians–were taken from their homes and placed in internment camps throughout interior Canada. And what about the Canadian government’s financial support of residential schools until 1981 in an attempt to assimilate Aboriginal Canadians. We even had a "No Asian" immigration policy within the last 50 years. Although Canada is obviously diverse, these acts are hardly something to be proud of.
At least we’re not Americans. I’m not quite certain about that either. Sure, we don’t use the American dollar (yet), we can’t vote for the President (thank God we’re not responsible for that), and we can’t compete on Survivor, but how truly non-American are we?
We watch their TV shows for hours on end, we buy their clothes, and I am sure if asked who the first American president was, more Canadians would be able to answer correctly than if asked who the first Canadian prime minister was. Perhaps if we keep telling ourselves we’re not Americans, we may actually believe it.
At least there is our long-time reputation of being peacekeepers, as opposed to peacemakers, right? Just one second, let’s look at the Canadian soldiers’ most recent involvement in Afghanistan.
Canadian troops have been photographed attempting to make peace by capturing Al-Qaeda soldiers and handing them over to the United States for detention in their new six- by eight-foot cage homes at Camp X-Ray. Is this a peacekeeping maneuver, or are our soldiers
simply carrying out combat missions for the U.S.? Does this comply with our righteous self-image as peacekeepers?
Surely our national identity cannot be reduced to the ideas expressed in the ever-so-famous Molson Canadian beer commercials. Is our identity simply based on the fact that we say chesterfield instead of couch, or toque instead of beanie? I hope it isn’t merely the fact that we are superior at hockey or worse yet, the beaver.
Perhaps this age-old question of what it means to be Canadian will never be answered. Perhaps our country is too diverse in its cultures and beliefs to reach a unifying answer. Perhaps this unending uncertainty occupies a large part of our identity.
Whatever the case may be, in a world where size truly does matter, we can still sew our flags on our packs with pride because Canada is really big.
I am Calvin and I am Canadian.