What Being Canadian Means to Me

June 24, 2019

 

The following article was written by Roshaan, a Pathways to Education alum and an immigrant to Canada. Roshaan shared her thoughts on what being Canadian means to her, and we are proud to join Roshaan in celebrating all that makes our country great.

 

I immigrated to Canada from Pakistan in 2006, when I was just 11 years old. My parents sacrificed the life they knew so that my sisters and I could have access to more opportunities. Moving to Canada was exciting, but it was also very scary. At the time, it was a big adjustment for a young girl.

I still remember my first day of Grade 6. I was nervous, but eager to prove myself. Seeing the classroom with all of the students and our class pets (a tank full colourful guppies) seemed like a dream. It was like something I’d seen in the movies. I didn’t know if I would fit in.

Right away, I noticed differences. In Pakistan, when a teacher asks you a question in class, you must stand up to answer. So when my teacher asked a question on that first day of school in Canada, I thought to myself: this is it, this is your chance. With a deep breath, I raised my hand and, when the teacher called my name, I stood up. I still remember the laughter and snide comments that followed. I smile when I think about it now, but at the time, as a kid, it was a big deal for me.

That one small moment really made me question whether I truly belonged in Canada. Did I fit in? Could I fit in? That first day of school, and similar moments that followed, set the tone for an elongated culture shock. During that time, I really struggled with my cultural identity.

I felt like I had to erase the Pakistani part of me to be fully Canadian. There wasn’t really a soft landing for me when I entered Canadian society. It was like hitting the ground running without a moment to catch my breath or a chance to understand my surroundings. To add to the challenge, I thought I was alone in my cultural struggles.

It wasn’t until years later, when I entered Grade 9, that I had the opportunity to connect with other newcomers in my community through the help of Pathways to Education.

Through Pathways, I was able to connect with other students like me who had faced similar situations in and out of the classroom—experiences that made them question whether they truly belonged in their community. Together, we were able to share our experiences, learn from each other, and find out that we weren’t alone.

That connection, which I am forever grateful for, helped me find a sense of community and realize that being Pakistani and being Canadian aren’t mutually exclusive. It helped me understand that it is okay for me to be proud of both.

That pride in my dual identity is what I celebrate on Canada Day. I feel very privileged to hold onto a dynamic cultural identity that changes with every new experience I have.

And just as I’m proud of my both of my Pakistani and Canadian identities, I am also grateful for the multiculturalism of Canada, because newcomer and first-generation communities are important and deserve to be celebrated.

That’s why Canada Day should be taken as an opportunity to learn more about all of the people and cultures we share our country with. This also means recognizing that being Canadian may mean different things to different people. For some, being Canadian may mean having been born and raised in Canada. For others, being Canadian may mean moving to a new community and becoming acclimated to a new home. Being Canadian may also mean facing the trauma of oppression, displacement, and disenfranchisement. Being Canadian may mean all of these things or none of these things, but it most definitely means coming together as a country and listening to the voices of everyone.

I’m grateful for this opportunity to recognize and celebrate all the people of Canada, and I encourage you, as my fellow Canadians, to do the same. Talk to your friends, neighbours, and colleagues, or participate in conversations online about what it means to be Canadian. Let’s learn from one another and the diversity of our experiences because, after all, our people are what make this country so great.