Unlike many of my pageant sisters, I wasn’t always “Canadian”. To my eight-year-old self who just immigrated to Vancouver with her family, Canada was a new adventure. But to my present sixteen-year-old self, who plans to venture into new territory for university and beyond, Canada will always feel like home.
That’s a transition, for sure. Well, Canada has a way of doing it to you.
On my first day of school in Canada, I was immediately welcomed into that grade 4 classroom. This formulated my first impression of Canadians – that we are always nice and unbelievably kind – which should be a fact, in my opinion. The teacher held my hand as she warmly introduced me to the class; the children enthusiastically sang a chorus of “Hii Shirleyyy” as they looked up from their books, some still sitting on the carpet on the window side of the room, while others rushed up to me and introduced themselves. As you can imagine, I immediately started liking Canada – and especially, Vancouver.
Track and field team in grade 4: excuse my expression haha (I’m smiling on the inside)
Friday nights of grade 4 and 5 were dedicated to Youth Nights at my local chapel: we played various games, had rounds of Secret Santa during the Christmas holidays, and enjoyed pool with pizza. I learned what “faith” is – can you imagine the patience it took those Youth Night leaders to explain “faith” to me, when I barely knew English and hardly had any previous exposure to religion? But Abigail and Amy did it over time, with, again, such care and kindness.
At the same chapel, I was also in their children’s choir. This was grade 5, during our Kiwanis or Whistler trip. Would have never had this experience if I didn’t live in Canada!
But this inclusiveness of immigrants and acceptance of diversity that famously characterize Canadians today was not always the case. When Canada began receiving immigrants, especially during the period before and during the Great War and the World War 2, Canada was the complete opposite of the multiculturalist nation it is today. The Canadian government exercised institutionalized racism, marginalized the cultural and land needs of the Aboriginal peoples, brought about assimilation by forcing young Aboriginal girls into residential schools, closed its doors to the SS St Louis Jewish refugees, put head taxes on the Chinese, and wrongly accused and interned Japanese-Canadians.
Assessing through a diversity lens, it is obvious that Canada was not always the “greatest”. And probably, many Canadians today are shocked by, or feel uncomfortable with, the fact that we were such a racist nation.
But, I think what makes Canada great – and what makes me proud to be Canadian today – is the fact that we are a nation that is willing to learn, adapt, and advance – and does. As I grew up since first arriving here in grade 4, I found Canada’s evolving identity throughout its history so fascinating to learn. Especially in the post-WW2 era, we grew into an inclusive nation with a relaxed, colour-blind immigration policy. On the topic of inclusiveness and equality, proposals were made to the Criminal Code to relax laws against homosexuality (“there’s no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation”); Canada became a bilingual country to recognize our French-Canadians. Women started to receive equal opportunity for employment, “equal pay for work of equal value” through the Human Rights Act of 1978, and maternity leave, contraception, and abortion rights. Most significantly of all, Trudeau’s government established the Constitutional Act of 1982, of which the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms was a defining element. Many rights and freedoms we take for granted, from the freedom of speech, freedom of religion, to the right to life, liberty, and security, and the right not to be arbitrarily detained or imprisioned, would not be guaranteed and embedded in the Constitution for Canadians to enjoy if it weren’t for this document.
I took this on a small cruise from Granville Island last month. Vancouver is just beautiful.
Today, the freedom to retain and celebrate our unique identities and backgrounds without being persecuted for them seems inherent in Canadian culture. Of course, there are many aspects of life that families are in contact with everyday that make us proud and appreciative of what our country offers. For example, our policies on cradle-to-grave social security, good education from our public school system, universal and accessible health care, and old age pension plans. On a community level, there are many non-profit organizations and free programs in community centres and neighbourhood houses here in Canada to support newcomers, women, seniors, new mothers, unemployed individuals, children, and more. Our public libraries are always open to those thirsty for knowledge, and our beautiful parks and recreations are always available to those looking to spend some time with nature. For weekend leisure, in Vancouver especially, we can enjoy spending time at the beach, the forests, the mountains, and in downtown.
Vancouver Canada = beaches, forests, and everything one could ask for. On the beach – photo taken by Emily!
On the beach – photo taken by Emily!
Volunteering during a festival at my local community centre in grade 6 I think – there are so many amazing programs to support everyone in the community here!
In three words, Canada is great.
Happy Wednesday everyone, and cheers to the beginning of a new day in this great nation!
Miss Teen Vancouver 2015