opinion

The Canadian and American Adoption of Cultural Identity

Being raised in Canada, it was common to have school assignments around your cultural identity and ethnic background. This could include family trees, a lunchtime potluck, or a simple presentation of where your family comes from. Canada is a mosaic of cultures. At a very young age of 153 and having essentially slaughtered any housed tradition of the land on a national scale, being a Canadian is mostly chalked up to being polite and saying “eh” while riding our pet moose to school.

Outside of jest, we need to understand how the adoption of cultural identity to be our own creates an environment that is not conducive to the growth of a true national identity. It also, in turn, dilutes the true elements of the culture that the population proudly claims as their own.

This is not to say that it is an every-case situation. But in my experience and upbringing (in what was a very predominantly white city and neighbourhood in Ontario, Canada) this is what I have observed.

My whole life at home I was not Canadian, sure I was Canadian whilst abroad, but at home I was Scottish. My Nana came from Scotland, that makes me Scottish. Right? After dating what ACTUALLY is a Scottish man, moving to Scotland, and interacting with the global network of people who are truly from these groups of deep-seated tradition and cultural norms, I couldn’t have been more wrong. Growing up I knew “French” people. “German”. “Italian”. “Greek”. Many of whom had not even met the relative they claim to have inherited this culture from. You may have a fun-sounding last name or an AncestryDNA estimate backing your claim, but is this a matter of language and linguistic global faux-pas?

In my opinion, if you do not actively engage in the cultural identity that you adopt, it is a matter of heritage. My heritage is that of Scotland, but I am not Scottish. My partner who was born here, speaks the lingo, knows the history, has donned and owns traditional attire, and has an interest in exploring and pursuing it, is Scottish. He ALSO has Scottish Heritage. This simple rhetoric change means a lot.
“I AM x” vs “I have x heritage” both acknowledges your past and were you came from, but also gives clearance for those who truly ARE of that cultural identity. There is an amount of cultural sensitivity that we need to emphasize here.

Using my partner as an example, he gets incredibly annoyed when he hears people (namely those from Canada/the States since we love doing it) claim that they are Scottish. “Where are you from?” he will often ask. To which they regularly don’t have an answer to but “their last name is the same as a clan from there”. By claiming an identity that isn’t your own, you dilute the value of it for others. Being Scottish (French, German, Italian, Greek, Nigerian, Thai…) MEANS something to someone, many people. You cannot claim a history you seek not to be a part of, but capitalize from in conversation.

It, to me, is not necessarily a matter of where you are born, as that is nationality, but it is a matter of interest and continuous social development to claim a cultural identity.

Some questions that you can ask yourself: can you truly identify as member of a country’s cultural group if you haven’t even visited or at least researched it and the cultural norms? Do you know any more of it than what your grandparent/parent/uncle/aunt have told you? Do you go out of your way, in your own time, to explore these cultures, languages, traditions, and lore? Do you pick and choose your culture when it can conveniently fit your narrative? Do you claim that you understand and are a part of the culture to those who actively practice it? Do you attempt to immerse yourself in the resources (groups, classrooms, socials…) available to you? Is it simply a matter of convenience?

Understanding that cultures and traditions come from history that Canada and the States in their modern form simply don’t have is important. We can appreciate the history without claiming it as our own. We can also move to be more culturally sensitive to understand the difference between having heritage in something and being something.

Having travelled quite a bit and meeting so many people from such gorgeously formed cultural identities, it is a shame to see people plagiarizing them without knowing what it all actually means.

“Culture is the name for what people are interested in, their thoughts, their models, the books they read, and the speeches they hear”

-Walter Lippmann

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