“You’re not Canadian, you’re brown”

I never left the house without my hat that had stitched on it “Canada” in the brightest red you could imagine. It was a way for me to disguise my messy hair but it was also a way for me to embrace my patriotism and my deepest love for hockey, maple syrup, snow, and you guessed it, my home: Canada.

Had you asked me a few years back where I was from, the only answer I knew was Canada. This was the land the gave birth to me, that fed me, educated me, sheltered me, and protected me. This was my home, and I was its child. I had never imagined a world beyond this country because I never set foot off of it. To me, I never wanted to leave…

Canada is more than a country, it is my identity. This is where I was raised, it’s culture runs through my veins. I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.

It may seem unbelievable but until last year, I never noticed the diversity of people who lived around me. I never appreciated the differences in skin tone, gender, clothing, religion, ANYTHING! To me, you were either Canadian or not, everything else was irrelevant.

Again, this was until last year… when I was leaving my house in a suburban community just two minutes away from rurality and farmland to go to university. I walked out holding two textbooks (Chem and Bio) and my bright red Canada hat.

Almost near the end of my commute someone shouts “You’re not Canadian, you’re brown”. And then I hear subtle chuckling from every direction. I turned to see what the commotion was and I realized that I was the centre of attention. A homeless man sitting on the concrete sidewalk stared directly into my eyes and yelled the horrifying words again. This time, it sank in me and scratched my heart.

I don’t remember if I was more thrown off by that phrase or by the fact that some people chuckled at those words. I felt harassed and as though everything I stood for and represented just diminished. I could feel my identity slowly diffusing into the sweat that escaped from the pores on my face.

That was the moment I realized that not everyone sees Canada and its people the way I did. Not everyone wanted to live as one big family and not everyone neglected the physical differences like I did. It wasn’t just as easy as Canadian or not Canadian.

Until this day, I’m still astonished by the impact those words made in my life. It was an epiphany. I felt humiliated, I felt confused. Why was my skin colour defining my life and telling my story. Why did that man even consider directing those evil words towards when he doesn’t even know that this nation is the only nation I’ve seen, experienced, and loved.

Why? Why? Why?… is all I could think.

But despite the pain and humiliation that I experienced. I’m thankful for the experience. As it has made me stronger.

It has helped me realize how much more beautiful my home is. The point isn’t that my skin colour made me look less Canadian than that man. The point is that I am honoured to be of this skin colour while saying I am Canadian. I am honoured to be in a country where our differences bind us together. I am honoured to be in a community where we are able to share different cultures, strengths and weaknesses and still call ourselves Canadians.

It just shows how hospitable and humbling this country is. It helps people from around the world come together via their identity as Canadians.

I am not mad at that man, though I am quite hurt. But above it all, I am stronger and more confident because no matter what my skin tone, I know that my identity will follow me until death do us part. I will always know that I can say I am a true Canadian and you can be one too as long as you know it inside…despite being black, blue, green, purple, pink, red, white or brown.

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