On Being Canadian

Posted by Pat Mestern on Sep 12th, 2014
Sep 12

On Being Canadian

I am not a hyphenated-Canadian. Although I have Mayflower Puritan and Iroquoian blood running through my veins and can claim ancestry that includes Scottish, Irish and Italian roots I am not an American-Canadian, a Scots-Canadian, an Irish-Canadian or an Italian-Canadian. I am a CANADIAN.

When Grandmother arrived in Wellington County from Italy, in 1885, she was told by her parents that she was in “Canada now and must embrace the culture”. Although her parents spoke Italian to each other, she was urged by them to speak English, to read Canadian history, to learn about her new country. Although hubby was born in South Africa to German and Irish parents, he is not a South African-Canadian, a German-Canadian or an Irish-Canadian. He is a CANADIAN . When he immigrated to Canada, he chose to become a Canadian citizen because he realized that Canada was a very special country, and he wanted to be part of it. His citizenship paper is one of the most precious possessions he has.

The essence of being Canadian has nothing to do with religion or politics. For the most part Canadians are not a gun toting society. We are not usually zealotistic individuals. We believe in an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay. We believe in equality of the sexes. We exercise moderation is everything we do. We are slow to anger but watch out if we’re threatened. We’ve proven our worth many times when pushed to the wall.

Personally, being Canadian means I give back what, and when, I can. I try to broker peace not wage war. I try to be kind, courteous and polite to others. I respect all the traditional Canadian symbols – sing “Oh Canada” at every opportunity and fly the Canadian flag. Being Canadian means that I celebrate my various cultural ties happily and freely. But, at the end of the day, I stand as a Canadian.

As a Canadian I am free to practice any religion I choose. But, I know that regardless my faith, strong religious views have no place in governing or ultimately shaping our nation. Canada has been down that rocky road and learned a hard lesson. As Grandmother Mattaini used to say, and I quote directly – Long ago true Canadians found out that state and religion, as bedfellows, needed to be confined to the hog pen. H og-pen governing has no place in a great nation ”.

There’s no doubt that Canada has always been a multi-cultural country. Like the United States, Canada had to rely on – and due to a declining birthrate still has to depend on – immigrants to people its vast lands. During the past four hundred years, immigrants built a vibrant country. In particular, during the late 19 th , and early 20 th century period, immigrants accepted the immense challenge and spread across the nation, populating the rugged north, the vast prairies and the western mountains. Within a Canadian context, each group celebrated their own culture in their own unique way knowing they had the freedom to do so. They also knew full-well that by choosing Canada as their new home, they also accepted, and adopted, responsibilities and allegiances to their chosen country. One of the most important responsibilities was that the country known as Canada came first when loyalty and allegiances were forefront issues.

Being an immigrant has never been a smooth process. Often stubborn prejudices, silly beliefs and name-calling makes life miserable for those that come from different cultures. Grandmother went through her fair share of stupidity on the part of some bigoted people. So did dad, a first-generation Canadian – and so did I, simply because we had an Italian surname. But, we – all three generations – learned quickly to overcome, and ultimately laugh at, such narrow-minded behavior. One elderly Irish gentleman who amassed a small fortune during his lifetime told me that deflecting insults was the fabric by which he developed a very tolerant attitude which allowed him to succeed in business.

Today’s open-door – call it an ambivalent – policy that allows duel citizenship, duel loyalties, English as a second language, as opposed to striving to make it the first language – is commendable. But, the old adage that it is difficult to give loyalty to two masters, to serve both equally holds true. Multi-cultural tasking becomes multi-cultural muddle. Those who choose Canada as their new home must also choose to be Canadian in the truest sense of the word. It is absolutely impossible to live with two sets of rules, two ideologies, and two allegiances.

Unfortunately, during the past twenty-five years, some groups/people – have slipped through, or avoided, the loyalty-to-Canada circle. No longer do they heed the call to embrace and experience the vastness, beauty, solitudes, and peoples that make our nation so special. No longer do they see the need to integrate into the main – perhaps traditional is a better word – Canadian environment. Most now prefer to congregate in familiar, almost segregated if I may be so bold as to state, cultural enclaves in larger cities. More often they do experience the same prejudices, the same problems, the same intolerance that they left behind simply because they still surround themselves with it in their separate “communities”.

If you are fortunate enough to live in Canada today, remember that you are a resident in one of the safest, freest and best countries in the world. Act accordingly. Celebrate and remember your culture, but BE CANADIAN first, and always.

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