Identity crisis

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.


4 Replies to “Identity crisis”

  1. Excellent article sir, you got the juices flowing this morning. I am a born Canadian and will always call Canada home, but my values and upbringing were shaped and formed by my parents or shall I say ‘Mother India”. I am very patriotic to India – for that matter I have recently gotten the entire India map and flag tattooed on my left calf. I follow the state of the Indian economy daily. I am the one who wakes up at 3am to catch Indian cricket matches. I am the one who is constantly thinking of getting my next tattoo that will feature the faces of India’s most prevalent “Freedom Fighters” – Gandhi, Nehru, Bhagat Singh, etc. One would think I was born in the subcontinent but my seed and roots are planted right here in the world’s best nation – Canada.

    i·den·ti·ty cri·sis: a period of uncertainty and confusion in which a person’s sense of identity becomes insecure. Perhaps I am living with a identity crisis. I want to hang on tight to my patriotism for India – my parents were born there and I will always hold the subcontinent dear to my heart. But I do not want to incorporate a hyphenated “identity” label into my life. I am not a Indo-Canadian nor am I a Canadian-Indo. I was made in Canada on March 1st, 1980 and I will always put this country first and foremost. It is my roots that will remain Indian and I have my parents to thank for that, but if ever the day came to compete for a country at the Olympic level, I would proudly be sporting the Red and White…THE TRUE NORTH STRONG AND FREE!!!


    1. Thanks, Alok. I agree that life is all about personal choices. Hopefully, we opt for those that are righteous, make us and those around us happy and help us become empathetic global citizens.


  2. “Identity” and “crisis” need not be said in the same breath. I believe there are 7.5 million unique human identities (not to mention trillions of identities of plants, birds, animals and microbes). We ascribe “identities” to races, nations and ethnicities because humans are political in nature and have profited from these professed differences. And Nana’s little girl will celebrate all of her unique but harmonious identities.


  3. This post gave me so much to think about – and it “planted” many new seeds, too!

    The clip on the meeting of notes was a treat. But I can’t help wishing that they had done it in the voices of the people featured. Imposing Lata Mangeshkar’s voice on all the ladies diminishes the intended message. An identity crisis if you will!


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