When I try to define myself, I tend to look through three lenses: My history, my present situation, and my desired future. This is never simple, as each of those elements contain multiple layers of doubt and uncertainty.
While my personal history is relatively easy to reflect on, if I start exploring my family’s history, my connection to it starts to feel flimsy at best. I’ve always defined my family in terms of where we came from: my maternal great-grandparents immigrated from the Ukraine and other eastern European countries, while my dad’s ancestors are French Canadien. I’ve always been proud of this history, but I’ve never really known what it means to me. The visible, tangible elements of those cultures have been lost to time, the links between generations broken. While I still feel a connection to my ancestors’ cultures because they help me identify myself, they don’t help me to define myself.
In some ways, this is a typical Canadien experience. Our ancestors came here looking for a better life, and in the process gave up much of what made them unique. The quest to assimilate and fit in resulted in a loss of what had, until that point, defined them.
Now, the only culture I can truly identify with is Canadien… But what does that really mean? As a nation of immigrants, Canadian culture is a blend of hundreds of different influences. While this diversity is incredible, it leaves us without a clear image of what Canadian culture really is. While being a recent immigrant has its challenges, part of me yearns for the ease of identity that I imagine comes with that. There would be less doubt about your past, for better or for worse.
Trying to define myself as Canadien also carries some challenges. The revelations of the last year around Canada’s mistreatment of its Indigenous communities, and ongoing inequalities (particularly for BIPOC communities) have raised many questions about whether we should be proud to call ourselves Canadian. When you combine these issues with the social divisions highlighted by the pandemic, it’s hard to look at our present situation without questioning it. Coming back to the question of identity, if our past and present are unclear and troubled, the only thing left is to look forward. In some ways this doesn’t bring any more peace, given the world-altering effects of climate change. But with much of that out of my hands, I must focus on my role within it. I choose to put in the work, to be a better person and create a better world. I choose to show up for my friends and family to help spread love and kindness. My identity is shaped only by me and how I choose to act everyday.