Random Thoughts

Rant: What Culture means to me

Its been really rewarding taking some refresher classes in French.  I used to take mandatory classes up to grade 10, but stopped.  It wasn’t until I was in University that I think I found a true appreciation for learning multiple languages.  My father’s background is Portuguese.  He was born there, but moved to Canada when he was a boy.  His mother – my grandmother also speaks fluent Portuguese, so I’m going to learn that next.

It’s a funny thing about older Europeans.  In my experience, they have a need to ‘push’ their culture onto other people – linguistically, musically, historically.  My grandmother is no exception, but I’ve noticed it amongst almost every European culture in Canada.  Even many first generation Canadians, born here back in post-war years, identify as their parents culture.  They say “my background is  ____” or “I am ____”

I find that very sad.

Growing up in Canada has given me an freedom to pick and choose cultures to learn about, enjoy, meet people from, revel in, and maybe partially absorb into my own culture.  I am Canadian – what does that mean to me?  It means Caribana in the summer, it means Dim Sum on Sundays, it means Hakka food late at night, it means my friend’s mother nearly force feeding me fresh Samosa because Im too skinny.  It means Cottaging, beaches, Bacon and Eggs, Salsa dancing, Whale watching in Karnar Brook bai, Jazz fest downtown, amazing Peruvian food downtown, the Highland games in Fall.  Being Canadian means, at least to me and many in my generation, being not multicultural, but having a singular culture of many flavours.

That being my background, I have a hard time accepting other people happily state their cultural ignorance.

‘I am ___”
“That’s great!  Where were you born?”
“Hamilton”
“….then what excuse have you for ignoring the world around you?”

There are people who are born here, who may even have only a single parent who immigrated here, and yet they identify as some flavour of European.  Im not saying drop your cultural identity, but Im saying living in Canada is a gift, culturally.  Just open your eyes to it.  Stop speaking only your mother tongue, or worse yet, forcing others to have to speak your cultural language, and learn theirs.  Speak 8 languages.  Speak them all if you can.  Why continue to revel in your song and dance festivals every year – go do something else.  Enjoy the world that is your oyster.  Stop cooking the same family dinner every year and try Italian, French, Lebanese, Bannock, Hakka etc etc.

Instead of forcing everyone else to inhabit your world, share your culture, absorb theirs and build a new, better, multi faceted life for everyone.

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Richard James Lee is a Canadian-born Writer, Chef and Entrepreneur. He is the Editor in Chief of Ions and Chef of Kayak SmokeHouse in Toronto. His Printed Works include Dark City Streets and White.

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