"Jamaican? Ghanaian?...What are you?"
That was one lady's response to me, after attempts to introduce my cultural background to her had failed. By no means, was this type of remark a first-time occurrence.
I grew up in Canada, and am a second-generation child of immigrant parents; my mother from Jamaica, and my father from Ghana. I was not taught the language of either though, so I cannot converse in broken-down English; Patois nor can I speak twi. I can't fry up a dumpling dish, and vaguely understand the food chemistry behind fufu and banku. And all I can do is give an aloof smile in response to the insider cultural jokes of both lands.
Many of my father's family especially, had a somewhat "sink or swim" mentality when it came to teaching me the ways of the land. They would spout out full-blown twi and expect me to understand. Only to realize by my baffled face that I did not speak their dialect, and then they would feign utter shock and displeasure.
Living in North America, I would get teased often by others who would call me a "fake African", or say I was a "Canadian-born."
When I entered into my young adult phase, I had a longing to connect more with roots. That's why in the year of 2014, I made the decision to leave my full-time job and travel with my father to the "mother-land." The yearning desire I had to visit could not be explained. But stepping foot onto West African soil started to make things clearer for me. Upon arriving, I was instantly overcome with the feeling that I was home. I had last visited Ghana as a child many years ago, but the people, the culture, the way of life, even the very smell, brought up feelings of nostalgia.
During my time in Ghana, I became eager to take in as much of the culture that I could. When in the city marketplace, I darted through the maze of people, as I strove to keep hot on my aunt and father's trail. Local city people in Accra walked right into incoming traffic, without shame. The impudent drivers honked loudly in response. My first time riding the minibus or the "tro-tro", became a bit like riding the ferris wheel at Centreville as a kid: I couldn't resist the urge to ooh and aah at the many "wonders." I was impressed by the fact that everyone instantly knew where they were going. This despite the fact that there are no signs on the buses, and no automated "Siri" sound-alike voice to inform you of upcoming stops en route.
Living in North America, I would get teased often by others who would call me a "fake African", or say I was a "Canadian-born." (This would offend me especially when in the midst of pure Africans; I wanted to be just like them). I don't deny that I understand little about West African culture; it is all strange and new to me. This manifested itself in many ways when I was in Ghana: My poorly timed questions; my rambling English tongue and awkwardness with twi phonetics and my overly exaggerated looks at the women in the market who balance products on their head. Even my sheer love of privacy, and lack of understanding of what community really means. Still, somewhere deep within, there is a part of me that does resonate with the culture, and seeks to understand it.
Culture is a story that doesn't stop simply because you put down the book.
A large part of self-identity is connected with culture, which is part of the reason I may have struggled with this growing up. But when it comes to multiculturalism today in Canada, it is imperative we learn how to see culture as a form of integration, not separation. Unity can be reflected in diversity.
Our population has over 36 million people; 1 in 5 identify as a visible minority. There are over 200 ethnic groups represented here, and the ethnic diversity is constantly growing. With this comes the importance of having a system in place that addresses the various cultural needs. It goes beyond enacting a policy; there needs to be a desire and appreciation for other's cultures that comes with an atmosphere welcoming of all kinds of people, no matter where they are from.
After my trip to Ghana, I grew to have more of a love for the country than ever before. When out on the streets of Toronto, I tote a brightly-coloured kente backpack that seems to attract attention from fellow West Africans; there are others that I sometimes catch giving a curious eye. Though I do not speak the language of my homeland, I have chosen to identify with it.
Culture is a story that doesn't stop simply because you put down the book. It lives on through the lives of the people who tell it. It is the duty of the generations before, to tell the story. But it is equally important, that the generations following be willing to ask. Then, it is up to our society to support the various peoples that reside here. Learning all languages should be encouraged, and not just the official languages of English and French. Ethnic foods and clothing should be easily accessible and we as a people should seek to understand any culture not of its own.
Any land that practices these values is a place I would be proud to call home.
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