The Challenges of Being First/Second Generation Canadian

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The Challenges of Being First/Second Generation Canadian

On August 23, 2014, Posted by , In Life in Canada, With No Comments

This isn’t exactly the easiest topic to bring up without a potential backlash; however, I feel it is a topic that should be discussed.

Who is truly considered Canadian?

Some will say the true Canadian are solely those whose bloodline resided in Canada before Canada was even a country, while others will say a true Canadian is an individual whose bloodline resided in Canada for over two generations. The rest of the population will say a Canadian is an individual born in Canada or any individual who has legally secured citizenship. Most cultures worldwide revere Canada, as former residents of their country have found a new home in Canada.

Canada is a multicultural mosaic honouring cultures from around the world, while evolving their own culture. This great nation is in its adolescence compared to other cultures being centuries older. Upon my last trip to Europe, I came across the following dialogue many times:

Random Traveller:
Where in the US are you from?

I am actually Canadian.

Random Traveller:
I thought you were American.

Why would you think I am an American?

Random Traveller:
Your accent is similar to the actors in American TV shows and movies.

What does a Canadian sound like to you?

Random Traveller:
Very soft spoken and they say ‘Eh?’. Most Canadians I know speak French.

You do realize not all Canadians speak French, although it is one of our official languages. I think I only know one person that actually says ‘Eh!’, it is a regional dialect; however, it is hardly ever said on the West Coast.

Random Traveller:
In your opinion what would you consider a typical Canadian?

Sometimes the conversation will end quickly, with me trying to be comical, by saying a typical Canadian is depicted accurately in a Molson Canadian ‘I am Canadian’ commercial. The joys of modern day technology, I can pull out my phone and play a few commercials on YouTube. For those who were seriously interested and demanded a detailed answer, I found myself having a difficult time answering the question.

Coincidentally, the majority of my vacation time was in Spain (where I walked the Camino de Santiago), and Portugal where my family is from. My bloodline is 100% Portuguese, with my mother and father’s family being at least four to six generations Portuguese. My parents emigrated from Flores, an island of the Azores located in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, in the 1970s. Speaking very little to no English, my parents took English courses and quickly became functional members of society.

Immigrating to Canada was not easy for my parents; they were non-visible minorities, with very little support in their community. When they established their foundation, by securing their careers, they bought a home and started a family. They raised three children and ensured their children spoke English, as they did not want their children to endure the same adversity they did when they first arrived in this country. They did instil their cultural values through their parenting and actively participated in numerous cultural events.

There were moments growing up that were challenging, being 2nd Generation Canadian (according the definition I referenced my parents are actually 1st Generation Canadian although I have always thought of myself as 1st generation Canadian) I dealt with the ignorance of others. I learned that many traditions my family participated in were not wildly practiced by those who claim to be 100% Canadian. Whether it be the food we ate, the fact that my parents were self-sufficient by cultivating their own food (including purchasing a pig to make various delicacies, canning fish they caught, and making their wine), and/or the numerous cultural events within our local Portuguese community. Such harassment by my peers in school led me to become jaded throughout my adolescence, leaving me to hide my cultural pride unless I was with my family or attending a cultural event.

Being jaded, I stopped speaking Portuguese with family members and I did not spend much time learning the history of my roots. Looking back, this was a huge mistake on my part, although at the time I felt I was doing the right thing. I am now catching up on lost time. Over the last two years, I have traveled to Portugal to reconnect with my roots, while trying my best to become fluent in Portuguese.

Somewhat of an unfortunate reality, as much as I felt I wasn’t a Canadian growing up, I learned that I wasn’t truly considered Portuguese to those born and raised in Portugal. After speaking with numerous locals, throughout my travels, it was odd for them to hear a foreigner refer to themselves as Portuguese (even though my upbringing was with Portuguese traditions and my parents being Portuguese). Initially I was annoyed with what some people were saying; however, it eventually led me to my epiphany – I am Canadian.

I have a choice, I can be like many 1st/2nd generation Canadians and hyphenate my ethnicity (i.e. Indo-Canadian, Luso-Canadian, Chinese-Canadian, etc.), or I can claim to be just Canadian. I will forever be grateful for my Portuguese heritage and upbringing, and I will pass on my family traditions to my children. For me being 2nd generation Canadian, I have inherited additional responsibilities than those who are many generations Canadian, such as:

  • Being bilingual or even multilingual (being fluent in English, Portuguese, and potentially French if I ever moved to Quebec).
  • Learning the history and keeping up to date with current events in Portugal to be able to converse with my relatives and family friends residing in Portugal.
  • Introducing the Portuguese culture to my fellow Canadians so they can understand my upbringing more effectively.
  • Supporting other 1st and 2nd generation Canadians by sharing my family’s and my experiences to help them overcome the same adversity we overcame many years ago.

To answer my original question, I believe a Canadian is an individual born in Canada or has legally secured Canadian citizenship through the appropriate channels. It is important that all Canadians speak either or both of the national languages fluently (English and French), while acknowledging the adversity of their neighbours’ journey to become Canadian. For those with the travelling spirit, they can benefit from getting reliable information from individuals who once resided in the country a person may be researching. As well, those with an extensive pallet can benefit from a variety of foreign cuisine within driving distance of their front door. Although many countries worldwide have the same privileges, Canada provides a safer atmosphere for landed immigrants than most 1st world nations.

By hyphenating my ethnicity, I am only segregating myself from my fellow Canadians, and as a whole we fail to progress moving forward to solidify a Canadian culture that can be acknowledged worldwide. As Canadians, we need to work together to move away from discrimination, while helping new Canadians integrate into society sooner. Together we can make this country even greater.