Having spent many years abroad since a high school student, I have learnt more about my Canadian identity from outside of the country than from the inside. However, every time I return to Canada, I reconnect with my nation(s) and get a sort of update of pop culture. Since I was a teenager, I have been exposed to many other cultures (I mean outside of Canada’s multi-cultural context) and in particular, have been around many Americans living abroad. I often feel that Canadians abroad are very quick to distinguish themselves from Americans. Much quicker than nationals that rarely leave the continent. For me it’s very easy to see the difference. The accent of a Canadian (something I don’t seem to have anymore) is very unique. The conversations with Canadians are usually different from other people you talk to. We all share a common narrative (though often disputed depending on region and cultural identity) and most of us abroad share common values and ideals of tolerance, multi-culturalism and a sort of political correctness that can be almost extreme. I have seen the bad side of Canadians abroad too, mind you, but often I can connect with a Canadian on certain topics and issues that others could never have knowledge about or care (ex. Canadian Politics!!)
I have always looked down on the recent Canadian nationalism over the last decade. Wearing flags on backpacks and being obsessed with being Canadian is often a reaction to trying to distinguish oneself from being American. In this case, it’s a very sad excuse to have Canadian pride. If the main characteristic of being Canadian is to not be American, there is a major need for a deeper look at Canadian nationalism and its identity. I have always been secure enough in my own national identity to avoid having to show strong nationalism in or out of Canada.
Except for last week!
In my Development and Co-operation in Latin America class, my professor gave us a project to examine development agencies of numerous countries for a future presentation and paper. During her hectic and unorganised selection process with a variety of countries, including dear Canada, I was happy to be one of the first to volunteer as a small show for my nationalism, which usually projects itself more in this manner. Having worked at the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), it was obvious that I could contribute well to the work and also refresh myself after over five years away.
Suddenly after almost everyone had chosen their countries and agencies, there was a big empty space beside the USA. Nobody wanted to touch the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Not even the Americans in the class wanted it. There was a small exchange of words that I paid little attention to but there seemed to be a need to incorporate USAID in one of the presentations. There were some students who refused and suddenly the UK appeared as an alternative choice. However, there was still a blank by the USA and I wondered who would finally volunteer to do it. Suddenly the professor, tired of trying to solicit a volunteer, erased Canada from the board. I thought it was because Canada was firmly taken by myself… but no… She said that Canada was going to be replaced and that the Canada team would do the USA instead. I felt the blood pressure rise to my face. I just screamed “。鏔o siempre!” meaning “Just like always!” with the reference to the exclusion of Canada as being merely equivalent to the USA. The German girl behind me just whispered that this is Canada’s destiny… I felt exteremely defensive and angered but refrained from further confrontation. I finally felt it… The Canadian Complex!
In a few weeks I will, with a typical Canadian smile, present on the USAID instead of CIDA. However, I will rememeber this as an internal moment when I felt like those Canadians who always need to defend Canada’s “difference”… Hmmmm, maybe I should say something to exclude Argentina replacing it with Brazil… the class would go bilistic… wish me luck~~~