When I was 14 years old, we were living in Colorado as resident aliens. I harbour no grudges against the people I knew in America or the opportunities afforded us there, as much as could be afforded anywhere, given the economic crisis otherwise known as the 1980’s. Despite that, however, and for whatever reason, I was always keenly aware that I was not American. Other family members seemed to blend in more seamlessly than I had and again, while this did not bother me as such, I always knew even at that young age, I would never be whatever indefinable thing it was to be American.
Perhaps I simply had a predisposition to be different. Maybe I was one of those rare people who actually did see the subtle though very real differences between Americans and Canadians. Whatever it was, and whether I had consciously decided it or not, I was indefinably Canadian. And yet, I had no idea what that actually meant. Growing up in the United States for all those years, Canadian history was never taught in school except for our involvement in the War of 1812 (sorry we burnt down your first White House but I’m guessing it would have needed renos at some point regardless, so you’re welcome for that little push in the right direction) and there was some mention of us being allies during World War II. Aside from that, and for obvious reasons, I had learned only about American history until our return to Canada in 1985. Everything else I had learned about Canada and what it was to be Canadian was taught to me by my parents who, at that point, had spent the last 20 years or so of their own lives in the United States.
In fact, it wasn’t until Alex Baumann and his teammates from Canada came along for the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles that I suddenly realized that being Canadian was not only okay, it was downright cool. Here was a 20-year-old swimmer whose family were new immigrants to Canada themselves, their son representing a country which was not his by birth, but who was leading his new countrymen to the heights of national pride through the simple act of swimming in a pool. I was captivated by this person who, like most swimmers, was elegantly built with fine features and…a tattoo. Not just any tattoo but a Canadian maple leaf tattoo on his chest, right above his heart.
Canadian symbols are generally not ostentatious and pale greatly in comparison to the unabashedly proud symbols of our friends to the south. They, like many of the Canadian people, are quiet and understated, not seeking attention or praise, and quite often go unnoticed while they go about and attach themselves to what have been many heroic tasks. Yet that maple leaf tattoo called out to me as if being broadcast by a bull-horn, and it still does twenty-eight years later. To me, it spoke volumes about what it was to be Canadian, the great things we could achieve, all the while maintaining that quality of quiet stillness so like everything I had come to know about Canada. Baumann, for instance, owned 38 Canadian swimming records and the world record by the time he was 17 years of age. Yet few of us were aware of this until he completed the 400- and 200-metre medleys swimming at the ’84 Olympics, winning two gold medals and in the process bringing Canada to the forefront of the world, for once getting the attention and admiration of everyone. And yet he did so with dignity and grace, making his countrymen ever the more proud for all his humbleness, qualities which we Canadians hold dear.
As for myself, it is with those early memories of Canada which I obtained from the United States of America, that I have realized that all the best things in my life have happened to me because I am Canadian: my family, my friends, my husband, my LIFE. While we often travel to the United States, and I maintain family and friendships there, I bristle somewhat when I am mistaken for an American and am very quick to point out that while I sometimes walk and talk like an American duck, my quack is entirely different and unmistakable. Though I try to be polite in explaining this, just the same.
I don’t even identify myself as a Canadian from a particular region or province of Canada, unless prodded to do so. Essentially, I am Canadian. That’s it. I don’t feel it requires any additional definition, though there are vast and wonderful differences between each region and province of this magnificent country, I, like many Canadians feel it is sufficient to identify the country itself as my home and my identity, whatever it encompasses.
As so, on July 4, 2012, I decided to celebrate my Canadian Independence on the American holiday of the same name by getting a Canadian maple leaf tattoo. Thank you, Alex. And thank you, Canada. No more will there ever be any question where my allegiance truly lies; it lies with you and all you represent.
To illustrate many things which neither Canadians nor Americans ever realized or thought about Canada, please watch this lovely video put forth by Tom Brokaw: http://youtu.be/bV_041oYDjg