Wednesday, May 23, 2012

I am an English Ontarian

I originally decided to go to school in Quebec because I wanted to experience a new culture and a new language. I believed university should be about experiencing new things, and I thought Quebec would allow me to do that. I thought it would be great.

I was right and I was wrong. 

I was wrong because I ignored the fact that new experiences are not always fun experiences. I wanted to experience something new and challenge myself. I never really considered that "challenging myself"may not be so fun or easy; I never guessed that a new language and a new culture would make me feel so different, so alienated. I never could have imagined how much I would learn, both about myself and about others. 

In high school, most my friends came from similar backgrounds as me. Middle class. Educated parents. Usually white, English native speakers. Here in Quebec, though, things are different. I am different. I stick out. 

Here, a lot of people learned English as their second language, after French. I am a minority as a native English speaker. I have begun to refer to myself this way--"native English speaker". I never did that before. Everyone I knew spoke English. It wasn't something unique about me. It wasn't part of my identity. 

This year, though, it has become a part of me. A part of how I describe myself and think of myself. Not only has it become a way I identify myself, but it has also become a part of myself I have to defend. My closest friends here are all native French speakers, who learned English in their teens. A lot of the time, they'll speak French when they're with me, forgetting that I can't really understand them. Time and time again I've had to explain that I don't understand, that I feel left out. I've had to ask them to switch to English. I've had to listen to them tell French jokes that I don't get; I've heard them discuss French grammar, French idioms, French culture. Suddenly, this year, French has become like some big secret that I'm not a part of. Suddenly, being English is something different, something alienating. Suddenly, it's a whole new part of my identity I have to accept and understand and stand up for.

Suddenly, I've also become an "out of province student". I am now a "Torontonian" and an "Ontarian". All new phrases and terms for me. And again, all new ways I can be attacked. 

In comparison to Ontario, Quebec is a very hostile environment, at least in my opinion. Here, some people hate you the moment you open your mouth, just because of the language you speak. Here, some people dislike you because of where you're from, as if being from Ontario is a bad thing. Here, being a Canadian is not always a good thing. 

I am proud to be Canadian. I don't think it's necessarily superior to any other country, but I am proud to call it my country. It is the place I want to live for the rest of my life, the place I want to raise my children one day. 

As a Canadian, I have always felt like something of a minority. I am surrounded by American culture all day. On the world stage, Canada just isn't all that important. As a Canadian, I'm used to being an after thought, a quick dismissal. But here, in Quebec, being a Canadian is not something to be ignored, but rather debated. Here, they don't play O Canada everyday. Here, they don't celebrate Canada Day. Here, a lot of people want to separate from the country. Here, it sometimes feels awful to be Canadian. 

The thing that I often forget about Canada is that few people are truly Canadian. Unless you're actually First Nations, you are not native to this country. Toronto has been known as the city of multiculturalism; Canada has always been the country of immigrants. From a historical perspective, we are a relatively new country, having only been founded in 1867. Before then and since then, we've been a divided country: French vs. English, Upper vs. Lower Canada, Maritimes vs. Central Canada vs. Prairies, Provinces vs. Territories. When you grow up in the centre of the country, like I did, it's easy to forget these divides. Ontario has been the core the country since its inauguration; it's easy to be unaware of the lines that separate us from other provinces.

Ontario is the geographic middle of Canada; it is home to the bulk of the countries' people. It is multicultural, sure, but it is also almost wholly English speaking and English cultured. Newfoundland, however, only joined Canada sixty years ago. Quebec has been fighting to be heard in this country for centuries. Before this year, before living in Quebec, I never knew what type of provincial pride that kind of history could inspire.

Someone actually did a study asking Canadians to rank how they identify themselves: by their city, by their province, or by their country. In Quebec, most people ranked their province first. In Ontario, most people ranked their province last. I too would rank Ontario in third place in such a survey, at least until this year.

This year, though, has changed identity more than a little bit: I am now an Native English Speaker, and I am, forevermore, an Ontarian. I thought, that, by moving to Quebec, I would learn about a new culture and a new language, which I did. However, I think I may have learned the most about myself and what it means for me to be a Canadian.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...