A Twist of Fake

( – 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.  

43 comments

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  1. I tend to get more criticism from my Canuck friends when I talk this talk, they feel I am betraying them.

    • pfiore8 on January 2, 2008 at 5:16 pm

    over the great title… just had to mention it!!!

  2. I enjoy your essay as it describes a Canadian thing that I have witnessed before but not understood until someone explained it to me right now.  The American problem….ugh…I yam who I yam and I’m grateful that I had one grandmother who drug me around to a couple of places before she left us.  Growing up an avid reader helped also to understand that America is not all that and a bag of chips.  I often find my nation a bit vulgar and mindlessly wasteful.  I remember hearing different soldiers say different totally ignorant and stupid things packing up for the Iraq invasion and feeling deeply ashamed that we are so damned ignorant and disrespectful of the whole big wide real world that really does not need us and will continue to exist even if we genocide our Ugly American selves.  My favorite letter from my husband during his first Iraq tour was his first lament.  It read something like, “Almost all of these people are just like me.  They just want a roof over their heads and to be able to raise, feed, and love their children.”

  3. that have a space for ‘race’

    I write human.

    As humans, we all struggle a bit to find our unique identity. Nationalism is sort of forced on us as part of that, and then reinforced throughout our childhood, when we are vulnerable to that sort of thing. But what geographic region, ruled by what system or government, your Mom happened to be in when you popped out is a relatively speaking a pretty crappy category to hang your identity on or build it around.

    Any category of identity that is exclusionary is actually, nationality, religion, skin color (as it is currently used)…but in the current state of the human mass psyche, belonging to any group is …exclusionary. It is just the way things are structured …for now!

    Nationality is and identity that is forced on us by history. We need to all join the group ‘human’ and try to leave as much of the rest of the baggage of mankind’s bloody history that we grew up with behind.

    We are humans dammit, earthlings! And we all need to work together….and if those Alpha Centaurian bastards ever attack our Homeland, we will give them bloody hell!

    • pfiore8 on January 2, 2008 at 5:56 pm

    is not lump us all in one word. There are people who live in America and Canada who don’t get it… aren’t curious. But I wouldn’t say Americans or Canadians, as a blanket, aren’t curious about the world at large.

    what strikes me as important about your essay is that the incredibly fundamental point of how to express ourselves, the 300 million of us, politically and through laws/governance and interaction with our neighbors, other countries, creatures, and the planet at large. we’re so focused on issues like healthcare that we forget it’s more basic than that.

    because we don’t see how social forces like the “prayer in school” types will gobble up all energy for these types of issues and not give it to healthcare and education… we have to deal with the fundamentals and my vote, of course, is a bullet-proof secularism. of course that’s an idiot’s dream, but one i have often. but when we are distracted like that, the BushCo types can steal our souls and assets.

    good essay ucc.

  4. was the son of Swiss immigrants from the Lake Como area and a firm believer in the potential danger of nationalism. Fascism seems a close cousin. What a strange concept it is when we are constantly being told that Globalism is inevitable, yet urged on with the tribal calls of exceptionalism, fake patriotism , and hatred of ‘other’. Heartland, Homeland Security, and other weird nationalistic phrases are hair raising to me. Freedom fries anyone?    

  5. ..I think nationalism is under pressure everywhere.  It just doesn’t do in explaining a world where so damn many people die with nothing at all every day.  

    I think we get some gifts from our national identity, some fairly subtle and some just informational — hey look, people can actually live together and cooperate in a sensible way, on one hand, and oh crap, this is how it all goes bad, on the other.  One thing you didn’t mention directly — and it would have been slightly off topic in any event lol– is changing wealth.  While the US is about to become, perhaps, much poorer, Canada (at the cost of, oh, Alberta) is about to become one of the world’s great oil producing nations.  

  6. I took the liberty of moving some of your fine essay below the fold when I promoted it….feel free to slap ME with a wet fish!

    Note to all Dharmaniacs! Since we have the most liberal policy of Front Page promotions in the entire goshdarn blogosphere, I encourage you all to think of formatting for the FP when posting your essays! You never know when you could be next!!!

    • documel on January 2, 2008 at 8:41 pm

    After the 2004 debacle, some blue staters wanted to merge with Canada to form the United States of Canada–as a hockey fan, sounded like a good idea.  I have friends that falsely claim Canadian citizenship when abroad–say it insures better hospitality.

    Someone mentions that nationalism can lead to Fascism–o so true.  I fear the 2008 elections will be “delayed” because of threats to our security–and Fascist Bush shall “save” us.  Pakistan is the new New Haven for tryouts (Broadway reference).

  7. It brought to mind this quote from the amazing  Arundhati Roy:

    Flags are bits of colored cloth that governments use first to shrink-wrap people’s brains and then as ceremonial shrouds to bury the dead.

     

    • Alma on January 3, 2008 at 3:30 am

    The new passport laws have stiffled a lot of USA/Canadian interaction.

    Living not far from the Ambassador Bridge, and tunnel, we used to have a lot of Canadian visitors, and vice versa.  (Ever been to Dannys?) Not so much anymore, not even on the water.

    I have noticed the Canadian jokes about the USA are harsher than the USA jokes about Canada, which is surprising because (IMO) USA people are brasher, and do have an “We are better” mentallity.  I’m not talking about any of us here.  More the pro war crowd that thinks anything the USA does is for the best.

    If only people would communicate on the level that we are all people, and work together to make things better.

    Fantastic essay by the way.  🙂

    • Faber on January 3, 2008 at 6:35 am

    It was to come up with the best completion of the phrase “As Canadian as…”

    If I recall, the winner was “As Canadian as possible under the circumstances.”  

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