Sunday, August 31, 2008

My Canada Includes Americans.

Having been born and raised in Canada, I've experienced my fair share of anti-American-ism. We live in the shadow of the elephant, and we resent it. No one pays attention to us. Other countries think we are part of the US. We are mistaken for Americans when we travel.

There are plenty of negative stereotypes of Americans (Americans are fat and obnoxious!), and we help perpetuate them. Yet we know they are false. Canadians express disapproval/dislike/disgust for things American, but when pressed, we usually admit it is the American government we dislike, not the people. Hell - like many Canadians, I have relatives and many friends in the US (even a former boyfriend), and the people we know tend to be far removed from the stereotypes. The more people you meet, the more you realize that stereotypes are bullshit.

Lately, this phenomenon has been reinforced in spades. I've met quite a number of Americans who have chosen to immigrate to Canada. Some have come of necessity - to escape the gay-persecution coming from religious fundamentalists and George Bush (the religious fundamentalist). Others simply don't like where their country is heading, and/or like what they see here (better health care, more than two political choices, more tolerance for diversity, etc.). These people were ostracized for criticizing the US when they were living there: "If you don't like it, then leave". (Oddly, the same people who told them to leave now call them "cowards" and "traitors" for leaving. Tell you what: how about you get your thoughts on the same page and then get back to us.)

The US's loss is Canada's gain. These people are far from cowards; they have packed up all of their belongings and savings, left dear friends and family behind, and moved to a new country, many facing a job hunt and an uncertain future. Because many are moving for reasons of political ideology, they tend to be intelligent, progressive, outside-the-box thinkers. They show a strong commitment to making this move work. As a lifelong resident of Canada, I fear they will learn about all the problems we have, and once the honeymoon is over, pick up and go back. Yet many of them express how happy they are here; one after another, they tell me: "You don't know how bad things are there."

One important subset of this group is the war resisters, who are not only refusing to participate in the illegal and immoral war in Iraq, but in publicizing their cause they are teaching Canadians about the realities of the conflict and about the Bush administration's actions and motives. Too bad more Canadians aren't listening. Although the majority of Canadians support them, as do a majority in the House of Commons, Harper is running our government as a dictatorship and refusing to honour his obligation to let them stay in Canada. You can bet those of us involved in or supporting the campaign will be screaming loudly about this during the upcoming election.

Anyway. I think about my life in Toronto, and how many people of diverse backgrounds and lifestyles I know. Chinese-Canadians, British-Canadians, Pakistani-Canadians. Add to that American-Canadians. We don't tend to think of those from the US as hyphenated Canadians. When they become citizens, we simply think of them as Canadians. Yet they are not the same as us, and their background and history should not be taken for granted or forgotten. Because of my new friendships, I am being forced to re-evaluate my prejudices, and pay more attention to that tenuous Canadian/American relationship that will always be a part of our lives. I continue to learn. And unless things in the US take a quick change for the better, I have a feeling we are going to be meeting many more American immigrants in the months and years to come.

A big welcome to those who are just arriving. Also, happy anniversary to wmtc, celebrating 3 years here!


mkt3000 said...

This is the first time I've come across your blog, and I wanted to applaud your entry. I am a US citizen who is going through the process of attempting to immigrate to Canada (which as I've discovered, is not the easiest thing to do legally), and your blog entry makes me feel like I will be welcomed when this process is over with and I am living in Canada.

I find it sad that my ancestors came to the new world to escape the persecution of the old, only for me to have to follow in their footsteps once more. I hope that my descendants are spared yet another trip.

Kim_in_TO said...

Thanks for posting! If you haven't seen the links on my blog, please take a look at wmtc and Canadian Hope. They are just a couple of "US to Canada" blogs written by people who have gone through the Canadian immigration process. Follow the links on their pages to others (such as Canadian Boomdiada) who have just arrived or are still working through it. They can provide you with some tips and insight as to what to do (or not) and what to expect, especially in terms of how long things take. Good luck, and by all means, make contact with people on these blogs so that you'll already know people when you land!

Tom said...

Thanks Kim. You made me feel so proud tonight.

We're lucky to have such great Canadians for friends, especially you.

mkt3000 said...

Thanks for the links Kim :) I've got a lot of reading to do.

Right now I'm trying to get in through a Provincial Nominee Program (ie- Fasttrack) If I decide to go that way, I'm basically limited to BC, as that's the only province with a shortage in my field (Creative, Illustrator & Graphic Designer)... but if I opt go to straight for permanent residency, I can go to Ontario/Quebec, which is more convenient for me, as I have family closest on the US side of the border there.

If I go to BC, I my closest family is in San Diego, CA. A little bit far.. lol.

ok, it's 520am here in Puerto Rico. Time to sleep.

Thanks again for the links and great read :)

L-girl said...

Thank you, my friend.

I saw this post earlier, but hadn't had a chance to read it. And then I find myself (or my blog) mentioned!

Stereotypes of all people abound. I guess we all have to work to see people as individuals.

Really nice post, thank you.

mmfjr61 said...

I always enjoy reading your posts. This one was a little closer to home. Ten years ago, when moving was a real thought, the political realities were much different here, and obtaining a resident visa looked nearly impossible.

But now, as bad as it is, I feel like I can do a lot more to effect change by being here.

Fortunately I have never felt persecuted or been ostracized for who I am.

Kim_in_TO said...

Thanks for posting. It's good to hear you haven't experienced persecution. For those whose partners are immigrants, a lot of the issues get forced. The anti-gay agenda becomes clearer.

There's an anti-gay agenda up here too. But it's kinder and gentler.


Rufus said...

Hello, I just became a resident, although honestly, I came here for romantic reasons. But the rightward tilt of the US made the choice a lot easier.

It's funny- I will say that I am looking forward to getting involved in Canadian issues, but also a bit timid about criticizing anything in Canada yet. I still feel a bit like a visitor.

L-girl said...

but also a bit timid about criticizing anything in Canada yet.

I was like that for a long time. And I've spoken to many other "political defectors" from the US who felt the same way.

As I got past that, I realized it meant I was feeling more and more at home.

Kim_in_TO said...

I don't think the situation is different than it would be, immigrating to any other country. You'd want to be cautious before criticizing a lot of things, at least until you are well versed in history, cultural differences, etc. I don't mean history as in what is taught in school about how the country was settled; I mean understanding the dynamics of local politics and current events.

Of course, we all have the right to criticize, and it's not something you have to earn. But there is a perception that outsiders may be ignorant of the facts; for that reason, the same criticism coming from a long-time resident might be accepted, while from a newcomer it might offend. It takes time to get to know what is universally criticized and what is more likely to spur debate.

Rufus: you know you can criticize Harper any time, right?