When someone asks me how I identify myself I may say Canadian.This will always lead them to ask, “But where are you really from?”
If I go to the generation before me, I would once again say that my mother was also born and raised in Canada.
I would finally explain that my grandparents are from Jamaica.
Jamaica explains my face, Canada explains everything else about me. But does it really? Besides the language, I cannot say that much else conforms to the Canadian identity. Does this mean that I can fully claim the Jamaican Identity?
I have been to Jamaica only a handful of times and the majority of those times were spent on a resort. I know Jamaica through the food served at my family’s restaurant and the reggae that my mother plays. I know Jamaica through the patois my father and step-father speak. But even this does not seem enough.
Canada is often referred to as a land of immigrants. Besides the Indigenous population, every other ethnic group has migrated to Canada from somewhere else. This is why Canada often refers to itself as a “cultural mosaic”. But despite this fact there are still ethnic groups who conform to the Canadian identity better than others. A large portion of a person’s identity stems from their ethnicity, race and culture. But what does it mean to be an immigrant in Canada?
BORN IN JAMAICA
“When I decided to come to Canada, I wanted to see the snow. And when I came here, I fell in love with Canada and so I wanted to stay.)”- Joy Fable (My grandmother)
My grandmother considers her decision to settle in Canada as one of her greatest accomplishments. In the 1970’s, moving to Canada was seen as an achievement that many people from her town in Clarendon, Jamaica did not get the opportunity to do. Changes to Canada’s immigration policy in the 1960’s and 1970’s led to a shift in immigration sources. Rather than a policy that favored people with European backgrounds and white skin, Canada increasingly began to accept people of varying races and ethnicities.
“When we moved, I hoped to have a better life. I wanted to bring my kids, to have a better life. There’s a lot of opportunities to get a job, and to do better.” – Joy Fable (My grandmother)
There is a common hope amongst many immigrants that their children will be able to lead better lives than they ever will. My grandmother has always been a big dreamer. While cleaning houses in Jamaica, she knew that one day she would find herself in a different position. In 1968 she moved to Nassau, Bahamas with my grandfather. Together, the two of them worked at the Princess Hotel. My grandmother loved Nassau and I often wondered why she did not decide to settle there. After two years my grandparents moved to Bermuda for 12 months before moving to Toronto, Canada.
BORN AND RAISED IN CANADA
“When I was younger, I really wished that I was born in Jamaica. So when I would go to Jamaica I would try to be like my family there. All of my cousins, aunts and uncles were from Jamaica and I was the only one born here. So I kinda felt left out” – Kim Fable (My mother)
My grandmother had a total of four children. My mom; the youngest, is the only one born in Canada. My mother grew up in the heart of the Danforth on Logan Avenue. For a majority of her childhood she went to predominantly white schools and had mainly white friends. However, she was still able to go home where she was surrounded by her Jamaican parents, siblings and grandmother. It was not until my family moved, when my mother was fifteen, that she got her first group of Jamaican friends. Due to my mothers upbringing, I noticed a lot of differences between her parenting style in comparison to my cousins whose parents grew up in Jamaica. As much culture that my grandmother tried to instill into my mom, there is still a stark difference in the way that she identifies in comparison to her siblings.
“Most times I tell people that I am Canadian, but my parents are Jamaican. So I have a Jamaican background.” – Kim Fable (My mother)
My grandmother says that she considers her grandchildren to be “twenty-five percent Jamaican”. Being born in Canada with a mother also born and raised here, I am not able to tell how accurate this statement is. But if it is accurate, what does this mean for my children and my siblings’ children? Is this percentage going to go down the more generations are born?
There is almost a hierarchy in how “Jamaican” one is or if one can even call themselves Jamaican at all. But how can you not when everything around you is Jamaican? Your mother, father, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and your cousins. All Jamaican. Jamaica raised you. But some may say, to be Jamaican you need to be born there. Or to be Jamaican you need to go there at least once a year. This cycle can keep continuing and become a source of shame when one cannot meet these requirements. Upon the failure of these requirements, one may be inclined to identify with Canadian culture.
It becomes easy to want to embrace Canadian culture. It is easier to ask your parents to pack you a turkey sandwich instead of the stew chicken you had before. School is typically the first place where, if you have not already identified yourself, you become identified by others. But the thought of my children having an even lesser connection than I do to Jamaica is something that deeply saddens me.
As much as the generations that come after me may identify as Canadian, I do not think they can claim this fully. There will always be questions because their appearance will never correlate directly as Canadian. My connection to Jamaica is through people but this is not a sustainable way to identify yourself either. This is why it is important to find connections yourself whether that be through music or experiences. As much of a “cultural mosaic” Canada claims to be, there are groups who fit into this mosaic better than others. It is why people with Scottish or Irish backgrounds are never asked where they are actually from and often willingly offer this information themselves. Whether they identify as Canadian or Irish or even both, they will never be questioned. They fit both identities seamlessly. But the same cannot be said for myself or the generations that may come after me.
The Jamaican Coat of Arms was granted in 1661. Below this the Coat of Arms is the phrase, “out of many one people”. My mother always told me this meant that to be Jamaican looks like many things. Whether that is race, sexuality, gender, or anything. Jamaica is diverse and despite the failure to conform to all Jamaican traditions, I know that I am just a variation out of the many one people.
The same can be said for Canada as well. I do not resent my grandmother’s decision to move here. I do not question it either. My grandmother says that she loves the sky here. She says that in all the countries that she’s been to, the skies in Ontario are the most beautiful and that the clouds seem close enough to touch. When I hear her speak of Canada in this way, I know that I also belong here.
The identification process for the children of immigrants is one that will always be difficult. You may never feel that you belong to your home or host country. But maybe we can find solace in the idea of belonging somewhere in between or belonging to both. There is also identification in the parts of our cultures that we do not know. And once we can identify those parts, we can make the decision to accept the unknown or find it instead.