Our five-year old granddaughter excitedly joined her father to watch the Olympic Games highlights when these were being telecast a few weeks ago, especially because in their home reading is preferred and encouraged over watching television. One evening I “planted a seed” in her young mind, suggesting that she should consider competing as a Canadian Olympic team member. She did not show too much interest at the time. However, she visited with us recently and while fooling around in the tub before her nightly bath suddenly said, “Nana, now that my summer swimming camp is over, I have decided I will be in the Olympics Diving team when I am older. But, Nana I will have to join the Jamaican team because daddy is from Jamaica, the Indian team because my mummy is from India and the Canadian team because I am Canadian” adding excitedly, “I will be on three teams!”
I have mulled over this issue of identity for some time. At what stage should/do we stop using hyphenated “identity” labels, for instance an “Indo-Canadian”, “Asian- American” or “African-American” etc.? Canada was the first country in the world to adopt multiculturalism (in 1971) and as Canadians, we are far more accommodating and accepting of diverse cultures, races, ethnicity and religions when compared to almost all the other countries. Canadian multiculturalism is fundamental to our belief that all citizens are equal. For the most part, such hyphenated terms are not prevalent here, other than perhaps when people wish to take pride in their ancestry while enjoying the secure feeling of being an integral part of Canadian society.
It is quite understandable that first-generation newcomers would retain nostalgia for “back home” even after having moved to this country of their own free choice and living here for decades. At what stage does one start to call another country “home”? While the country of origin undoubtedly represents the roots and helps shape one’s identity, is it still “home” that one yearns to go “back” to? At what phase of an immigrant’s life does one move forward and assimilate the country we have chosen as home?
Here is something for your consideration, although similar thoughts have probably been expressed earlier by many people. Each of the billions of cells that make up a human has a raison d’être and a critical role to play both individually and collectively each second every day, for our bodies to function normally. The heart cannot take a break from its constant pumping or the liver halt its support to the stomach that cannot linger to ingest a delicious meal. No organ or cell can claim precedence. Similarly, we have to concede that each grain of rice has to be cooked to the right texture for a delicious biryani, a precise amount of lemongrass must be used to flavor tom yum soup and the right blend of lentils and tamarind is needed for a delicious sambar. It is remarkable that each ingredient must subsume its own identity and “blend in” to produce a Michelin-rated dish. When praising the chef’s production, it is the signature dish itself that come up for praise. The constituent food items, while important, are secondary. So it is with us. While retaining our identity we also have to come together to exemplify the collective Canadian values and strive to contribute towards a more caring world that readily accepts and values diversity.
As Helen Gordon McPherson, the prominent Canadian writer had said, “Canadians have been so busy explaining to the Americans that we aren’t British, and to the British that we aren’t Americans that we haven’t had time to become Canadians.”
Almost a decade ago, a diverse cross-section of Indians came together to intone that “Our music is a confluence of my notes and yours” a sentiment shared over twenty years ago by Michael Jackson and his fraternity whose “We are the world” was a universal call to rally humanity.