christopher patrick bruton

A little less Canadian every year

July 5, 2021

The first week of July, with Canada Day on July 1st and Independence Day on July 4th, always makes me reflect on my two national identities. What does it mean to be Canadian? What does it mean to be American?

I feel a little less Canadian every year. I moved to the USA about 12 years ago, and the first few years I kept a close connection to my home country—I closely followed Canadian news and politics, I visited multiple times per year, I hosted Canada Day celebrations, and hung a framed photo of the Queen on the wall. I was a full time graduate student on a student visa—by definition a temporary visitor to the US. I suppose it made sense to proactively maintain my Canadian identity, because I’d be moving back home in a few short years.

Things started to consciously change about 3 years in, when I started a full time job. At this point, my stay in the US shifted from temporary to indefinite. Legally I was still a a visitor on a work visa, but this was when I started to feel like an immigrant.

My accent and vocabulary changed. Most anglo-Canadians, who have neither studied linguistics nor lived in the US, don’t really realize that they have a different accent than the big-city “standard American” English promulgated by Hollywood. But during my first few years in the US, any native speaker of American English could identify me instantly as a Canadian if I opened my mouth for more than about 30 seconds.

Now, I pass as a native speaker of American English myself, to all but the most astute listeners. I could probably write a whole article about this transition. I find it fascinating.

What gave me some pause this year were protests on Canada Day that included toppling statues of Queen Victoria, Queen Elizabeth II, and Captain James Cook. The colonialist and genocidal pasts of America and Canada alike have been pushed to the forefront in recent years, reckonings for which are going to take a long time. What surprised me was the visceral, emotional reaction I had when I saw the videos from Canada.

Toppling statues is a highly visible and symbolic form of protest, but I never had a strong emotional reaction to similar protests in America. But when I saw Canadian protestors toppling Canadian statues in anger at Canadian genocide, it surfaced emotions, conflicts, and complexities that I hadn’t expected to feel.

What this says to me is that I haven’t and probably never will erase my Canadian identity. Maybe I don’t closely follow Canadian news and politics anymore, but still maintain an emotional connection to my home country. I’m now in the process of immigrating to America, and will be a US citizen in 4-5 years if all goes well, but that US passport isn’t going to automatically make me have complex emotions about statues of, say, Christopher Columbus.

Indeed, I may feel a little less Canadian every year, but that’s really just the surficial things—the accent, the holiday traditions, the news I follow. At my core, I think I will always be Canadian, with all the complexities that entails.