( – promoted by buhdydharma )
Unlike many immigrants to the United States, I had no dreams to drive me. I came on a TN Visa, married an American, and ended up staying. Nothing interesting. Nothing dramatic.
But a curious metamorphosis has engaged me…. I am neither. My attachment to concepts of nationalism and national identity has dwindled. I was always highly suspicious about the darker implications of nationalism. When I go home to visit friends and family in southern Ontario, they often irk me with their knee jerk nationalism that is composed almost entirely of smug anti-Americanism. It has no substance, no real history or meaning just a sense of relief that they are not American. It isn’t even an anti-Americanism that can be salvaged and made into something more promising, no roots in international brotherhood peace and good will. Never mind that southern Ontario stretching from the Niagara region to the GTA is full of suburbs that are indistinguishable from American suburbs, never mind that the malls are full of chain stores from the United States, never mind that Canadians watch American TV and movies. Never mind that the United States is Canada’s largest trading partner and vice versa. Without Toronto, southern Ontario would be a suburb of the United States, although it now looks vastly different from the area I grew up in.
Canadians like to think they are better informed, more aware of the international community, more in tune with the world that is not American. The problem is when I test this thesis out by trying to discuss international events with family and friends they often wave me off by saying,”Well, the Americans fucked that up.” But they can’t discuss content. They are not better informed than Americans, maybe slightly but not enough to be making any lofty claims. I am often assaulted when I visit home to “explain” Americans as if I am an unpaid anthropologist coming to make annual reports. What they want me to tell they of course is that Americans are stupid and/or crazy. The minute I suggest many Americans aren’t supportive of the regime and that there are some pretty interesting blogs where one can engage and discuss, I get waved off. Canadians, or at least the ones I know, want to coddle their stereotypes. They want to be morally superior without any of the responsibility. They want to be the good guys without putting forth much effort. They don’t want to talk about their own national faults and weaknesses and when they do they sound curiously like Americans. Activist native groups challenging the government of Ontario are troublemakers suddenly. When I point out that Canadians elected Stephen Harper, they grumble and deflect.
I come home after a visit home and am torn between wishing it would be easier to movie back and realizing that I miss my friends and family but my identity is very mutable.
When I am here in the United States, I am constantly frustrated by Americans deep and rooted lack of curiosity about anybody other than themselves. They don’t particularly dislike Mexicans and Canadians, and don’t mind the whole continent sharing thing but the minute either country causes annoyance, perceived harm, or simply fails to absolutely and unconditionally support every single US policy designation they become problematic. Then I become Canadian. I become Canadian when I explain that Canada is not yet under American rule, that it has provinces and a parliament. In order to irritate people, I have agreed with the statement that “Canada is a communist/socialist country” and that people prefer it that way, even though that is a deliberate untruth. Irritating people who are not well informed can be an entertaining sport for a few moments, but it ultimately feels hollow.
Even though my family and friends claim I “sound more American”, in other words, I do not sound like them any longer, I don’t feel any more connected to the concept of America today than I did when I arrived. I keep waiting for it to happen, so I have a substitute for my waning Canadian identity. I realize I have become North American and perhaps it does me no harm not to identify strongly and uniquely with a country. In the same way we keep telling ourselves that identifying with a candidate is less useful than the ideas he or she represents, I have arrived at that point with nationalism. It no longer serves me. I am not even sure it serves those who claim to espouse it, except to convince them that they are a part of something greater, something to be justified even in the face of damming results, something to make themselves feel good and connected to stave off doubt and emptiness.
Canadians have a reflexive fear of being inhaled by the United States. Americans have a reflexive fear of losing their dominant status in the world. I am not sure I want to base my nationalism on fear, on what I am not, on smugness, on empty myths and truisms. So…. I won’t. I am not choosing. I am choosing in the sense that right now I am in the United States but beyond that I am not undecided or afraid to commit. I just can’t inhale the paradigm of nationalism itself, and the particular brands of nationalism I see practiced by Canadians and Americans.