I’ve had a girl crush on Kyran Pittman – who guest posts below – for a long while now. When I finally got to meet her in San Francisco last month, it took all of my talent for self-composure (an admittedly limited talent, in my case) to not squeal at her. I’m glad that I made the effort, though, because otherwise she might not have wanted to be anywhere near my squealing self, and I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to pester her with questions about being a Canadian living in the US of A and what it’s like to raise politically aware children when your own political identity straddles two nations. I’m so pleased to have gotten to know her. She makes me proud to be Canadian. Because even though she calls herself Canadianish here, she’s the real deal. Nothing’s more Canadian than being Canadianish.
PS And she’s totally right. We really can, as a nation, be a prissy little bitch. I want that on a t-shirt, overlaying a giant maple leaf.
I noticed a few weeks ago that my Canadian passport had recently expired. Momentarily panicked, I checked my U.S. permanent resident’s i.d., the fabled green card. Issued in 2000, after I’d been in America three years. Good until the spring of twenty-ten.
It has been thirteen years since I voted in a democratic election, because unlike foreign nationals of other countries, I cannot apply for U.S. citizenship without revoking my legal rights as a Canadian. I am raising three American citizens and am married to a fourth. My husband is a political junkie. His office is like a 24 hour newsroom. At any given moment, he is tuned into Kos, HuffPo and MSNBC simultaneously. “Someone’s got to keep an eye on those bastards,” I tease him about his vigilance. But I’m proud of how engaged he is in his democracy. It’s how I should be.
It’s time for me to shit or get off the pot.
And the thought gets no further than that, because I get all tangled up wondering if “shit or get off the pot” is a Canadian idiom, or something Americans use too, or if it’s a Newfoundland expression that would cause noses on both sides of the 49th parallel to wrinkle at me.
I never know anymore. I don’t know where I came from, and I don’t know where I belong.
Remember the movie The Terminal? Tom Hanks plays an Eastern European traveller whose citizenship ceases to exist when his native republic collapses while he is abroad, and he spends the rest of the movie in the literal and metaphoric limbo of an airport..
Being from Newfoundland is like that. That country ceased to exist politically in 1949, the year my father was nine, the result of a bitter referendum. He and I were both brought up as Canadian citizens. And in many ways, I guess we assimilated. My childhood heros were Canadian Broadcasting Company personalities (Canadian celebrity was an oxymoron in the Canada of my youth) Peter Gzowski and David Suzuki. I was baptized into a family religion that revered the Expos and Canadiens and despised the Blue Jays and Maple Leafs. I speak the same wretched, broken french that countless Canadian children from west to east learned to speak from anglophone teachers who spent one college semester in Quebec and were deemed fluent. I can read both sides of the cereal box.
But I wore my Canadian identity awkwardly, like an ill-fitting outfit a stranger picked for me from a charity box. It sagged here, came up short there. I felt less self-conscious about it as a kid in the 70s and a a teen in the 80s, when it could almost be said that ambivalence toward Canada was the defining characteristic of Canadians. But as the Confederation passed its centennial, it began to show signs of a nascent patriotism. I was already living in the U.S. when Molson came out with its paradigm-shifting “I. Am. Canadian.” campaign in the early nineties. I know it was for beer, but I found it oddly stirring. And a little enviable. I didn’t. Feel. Canadian.
What I felt was Canadian-ish.
In fact, I felt more Canadian-ish living in America than I’d ever felt in Newfoundland or Canada. Looking across from the other side of the border, I found there were things about Canada I clearly identified with: core values, like believing that government is necessarily intrinsic to society, not an evil imposition over it. Where even the most liberal American possesses a fundamental mistrust of authority, Canadians have a fundamental faith in government. It makes sense if you think about how each country was founded: one in revolution, the other by consensus.
I feel Canadian-ish whenever I get a medical bill, and I feel the moral rage that healthcare, a basic human right, should be run as a
profiteering profit-making endeavour. I feel Canadian-ish when I type “endeavor” and decide it doesn’t look right without a “u”. I feel Canadian-ish whenever someone crops up in American popular culture whom I can nod toward, and say to my husband, “Canadian..”
“How in the hell do you know?” he always marvels. “Is there a secret mark?”
“I just know,” I say with a shrug. I. Am. Canadian. Ish.
Of course, I have become American-ish too. I never used to know what the joke was about “oot and aboot.” But when I had breakfast with your lovely host Catherine and other Canadian bloggers in San Franscisco recently, it was all I could do to keep from giggling out loud. Seriously, y’all. It’s funnier than Biggus Dickus.
I get truly angry with anti-Americanism when I go back and hear it. I’m not talking about intelligent, critical observation. You know what I’m talking about, Canada. You can be a prissy little bitch sometimes. Canadian media is obsessed with comparing Canada to America, and that drives me crazy, like listening to an otherwise very cool friend go on and on about her nemesis from grade nine. And I confess a little libertarianism has crept into the soul of this child of Trudeau-era socialism. A little mistrust of your own government is not a bad thing, Canada. Someone’s got to keep an eye on those bastards.
And when you say things like, “Oh, a Newfie! I knew a Newfie once!” and then proceed to tell me a joke that you would crucify an American for telling with any other ethnic group as its object, well, you don’t want to take your eye off your Molson then, Canada.
But none of those things have made me eager to give up that little leather book that says, however I may feel about it, I am Canadian. Nor has it made me want to forfeit that option for my sons. They can claim their citizenship there as young adults if they choose, and I think I would be happy for them to do so; proud if they turned out to be Canadian-ish, like me.