I won’t be able to finish this blog tonight, but I think it was a long one in the making. Here’s the story. I am the child of two immigrants. They come from India. I was born and raised in Canada. Am I Indian, or am I Canadian? What do those terms even mean? I consider myself Canadian through and through.
What makes me Indian? Well, my parents are Indian, and my grandparents were Indian, and so were my great grand parents, and since my ancestry is Indian, then I am Indian too. How then does this Indianness transmit to me? There are only two possible answers: nature and nurture. Let’s start with nature.
I am Indian because of my brown skin, my bone structure, my facial features, my DNA, things like that. Things that I can’t control, things that I was born with. For nurture, you could make a case that I am Indian because my parents are culturally Indian, and so while I might have been raised in Canada, I was raised by my parents, who also raised me, and they imbued Indian culture into the way I live and see the world.
What then makes me Canadian? For a long time, I thought that because I was born in Canada, I was Canadian. But then I met someone who was also born in Canada, but who moved away shortly after and was raised in the US. I wouldn’t consider him a Canadian. So then it became born and raised. But then I exclude people who come to Canada later in their life. Who am I to say they’re not Canadian? It’s not like being Canadian is a certain “race“. So then what? I guess from here it boils down to how I sound: I have an accent, like everyone else in the world relative to each other, and that accent identifies me as Canadian. But it sounds so similar to an American accent, and even worse, the accent changes depending on which part of Canada you’re from. But then you could group all those Canadian accents together and then say if you have one of those, then you’re Canadian. But you still have the Canadian immigrant problem.
At the very least, I can say that I feel most comfortable with other Canadians: people who have been raised in Canada. I don’t think it’s the case that identifying yourself as Canadian comes from having particular characteristics, I think it comes from having a story. And the Canadian narrative is a long time ago, or maybe recently, or maybe it’s even yourself, your relatives came to Canada for a better life, and they tried to fit in. That’s what makes you Canadian.
Because then it splits up into the individual: no individual ever feels like they’re completely integrated or accepted. They just are, and they try to fit into the cookie cutter mould in order to fit in. That’s what you learn to do in public school. So I guess my conclusion is that I need to work on being an individual, because in the end, that’s what matters.
It doesn’t just matter a little bit, it matters a lot. There are some people who live who change the fabric of a nation itself. A really good example of a person like this is Naruto. In the beginning of the anime, he was a complete outcast, and he was completely marginalized. By the end of it, the nation is defined by him. He and the Hidden Leaf village are identical because he leads them and they are led by him. They’re one and the same. The point that Naruto makes is that the way you become the leader of your culture is to have a dream, a singular dream, and you do everything you can to reach that dream, and then you become that dream.
A real life example would be Pierre Trudeau. He was certainly idiosyncratic, and he had identity problems as well. But he eventually became Prime Minister, and ushered in a new age of government for Canada. Instead of trying to fit in, everyone ended up moulding to how he stood out, and this is what I think I should strive for. Those who try to fit in simply become who the leaders of yesterday were. Those who try to become who they could be are the ones who change the nation.
But to go back to my identity question, I do not think I’m Indian because I’ve met Indians, and I’m not like them. Sure we have the same DNA and stuff like that, but that’s not nurture, and I think culture is almost all nurture. The different expressions of culture built on biological substrates are nurture at least. I do not want to claim that I am Indian because that’s my blood because I do not want to believe that a person’s culture comes through their blood. That seems to imply that they can’t change things about their culture, and that seems wrong. I think that individuals can, do, and should, change things about culture.
Can I claim that I’m Indian culturally? I don’t think so, and here’s why. Like I said in the last paragraph, I’ve met Indians, and I don’t seem to be like them. Firstly, India is such a diverse place; there’s a reason it’s called a subcontinent. Before the British Raj came in, India was like Italy with its warring city states. Each group was isolated from the other. With India, there’s a sense of shared history among every Indian, along with the socialization of public school and stuff like that. I am not a part of that at all because I don’t identify with other people in India. I could just identify with my own ancestral home, which is Goa, but I’ve never even been there. How can I call it home?
The second reason I cannot claim that I’m Indian is because my parents are so idiosyncratic that they can’t be said to represent India. They can pass on idiosyncracies, but I’m not sure which of those are Indian, and which of those are not. To solve this problem, I’m happy to just say all of them are idiosyncracies, and I adopt some of them, and others I do not.
But clinging to the nebulous idea that I’m “Canadian” doesn’t help either, because it is after all, nebulous. As I explored before, there is no one, single, distinct, Canadian identity. So my stroke of insight was that you shouldn’t worry about your nationality, or your ethnicity. You should focus on doing you, and your culture will mould to fit you, if you’re a light on this world. Because cultures only live through individuals, and so individuals decide what the culture is.