Being Mixed-Race in Canada

Reading Diamond Grill and watching Between: Living in the Hyphen made me think of my own position in Canadian as a person of mixed origin, and how it differs from Fred Wah’s experience which he perfectly outlines on page 53.

I’m mixed. I’m half German and half Indian. My mom and dad met in Saudi Arabia and came to Canada where I was born. Growing up I lived what I will call a standard Canadian life style. We went swimming in the summer, tobogganing and skiing in the winter. We celebrated Christmas like every other home. And I learned French in school, but never learned Hindi or German at home. I never saw myself as being something separate, or a new category of being. Like all my friends my parents came from somewhere else and that was normal being Canadian. Looking back on it, the moment when my “race” started being a big deal is when my sister was adopted from India. She looks vastly different from me, my brother or my mother, so I had to start explaining to people what the connection was.

However, this is not just a blog post about me. I want to look at the comparison of the people in “Between” and “Diamond Grill” and my own life. On page 53 Wah describes his confusion that being Canadian isn’t a racial identity (we’ll save that for another blog post). The teacher tells him that you are Chinese because his dad is Chinese and so forth. It was almost a forced segregation. He didn’t feel, because, he was mixed that he had ties to any other nation. However, at the time immigration and multicultuism was not the policy of Canada. Racism and bigotry prevented many mixed marriages, so a mixed child was rare. Therefore, there wasn’t an idea that everybody was part of Canada. As it was, and still is, Canadians identify with the country they were born in or their parents are from. As he puts it:”The only people who call themselves Canadian live in Ontario and have national sea-to-shining-awa twenty-twenty CPR vision.” Ontario (like most of Canada) was dominated by the old protestant anglican descendants. This brings me to another idea.

There is a common belief held by many Canadians that a Canadian is some sort of white miss-match and that everyone else is ____-Canadian (again the hyphen as Wah’s key abstractions). I’m Chinese-Canadian, African-Canadian, French-Canadian. This idea of the “mosaic” is interesting because while we are apparently are all united as a collective identity of “Canada” we also assume that true Canadiansism is equivalent to whiteness. Nobody every says they are Canadian until they are abroad.

Relating back to my life. I have never felt ashamed, or attacked for being a weird minority. I don’t even think of myself as a minority. Perhaps because I borrow from white privilege as that’s what people assume I am and therefore have the luxury of not having to justify myself at every corner. Nonetheless I believe that the times are dramatically different for being “Canadian” from Fred Wah’s life to mine. Take for example this article in Toronto Life titled:”A new mixed-raced generation is transforming the city: Will Toronto be the world’s first post-racial metropolis?” What the future holds for being “Canadian” (it itself a hard thing to identify) for being mixed race (again a complex topic) nobody knows.

One thought on “Being Mixed-Race in Canada

  1. Niklas, as we all talk about multiculturalism and identity within that sphere, you bring up a particular distinct case of being a Canadian. As you pointed out as Canada being a “mosaic” as it is, they represent unity while pursuing “that true Canadianism is equivalent to whiteness.” Indeed, from my short time in Vancouver I do see unity within cultures possibly because as you pointed out, many adopt the white privileges and are not asked about their race. But from my perspective, coming from Hawai’i (often referred to as the melting pot of the Pacific) I saw many cases of interracial tension. And I believe it has to do with how race and social class ties together. For example, almost all construction work are done by Filipinos, while real estate agents are usually white. Whereas, as I noticed in Vancouver, many occupations have many different races and for that matter, gender represented. For example, the road-workers outside my residence are very diverse. And that relatively indistinct social class boundary, I believe contributes to the unity as being Canadian as well.

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