Toronto has changed quite a bit since I was a kid in the 80s. For one, the Eaton Centre used to have an Eaton's department store in it. I actually catch myself doing the 'when I was a kid' bit these days. For reasons of sheer vanity, this is frightening. Amusing to think there was a time when I thought none of my experiences in the country of my birth even mattered.
For anybody brought up in the 80s/90s, jump into the 'way back' machine with me for a moment! Does anybody remember... walking home from school in January and thawing at the front door... not understanding what Consumers Distributing was but reading the toy section of its catalogue like it was a sacred text around Christmas time... thinking that the Olivia Newton John song 'Let's Get Physical' was about working out... Thundercats, Transformers and The Smurfs cartoons... anybody remember Woolco? Writing your school assignments on foolscap paper?
What about jumping the fence at Caribana to dance behind 'the big truck'? Not quite getting the concept of having an extra house called a cottage? Anyone ever try to get good reception of the Buffalo R&B/Soul radio station?
Not all of these ringing your 'oh yeah' bell? Fret not; that's what makes this country so cool: cottage country and Caribana are both organic Canadian experiences. It has taken me years to get that. Growing up in the 80s/90s in the GTA to Guyanese parentage much was idyllic, but there were challenges to being a part of a black community comprising less than 2% of its country's population. Your home life and values were imported, while beyond your home was a big country with menopausal weather patterns that both you and your parents were getting to know.
Your parents spoke of their country of birth with longing and fondness, as they negotiated their loyalty to the new and old country. You heard countless, "back home" references. In certain ways you adopted that duality, sometimes forgetting that Scarborough, Toronto and Brampton were your only 'back home'. The only problem was that outside of your house, your 'back home' had virtually no traces in popular culture of images of people who looked like you, making it hard to believe this place valued you.
To add to the internal debate, Canada has a rather influential neighbour. One whose media and national pride was always evident, even from people who looked like me. They referred to themselves as a melting pot; for a long time I found that fascinating. The debate ended for me when I got older and travelled. I developed perspective.
Now, were I to give Canada's cultural landscape a culinary designation, I would say we are an enviable hors d'oeuvres platter.
We've got all kinds of distinct 'flavours', palate sensations complimenting each other beautifully. By its nature, an hors d'oeuvres platter represents the whole as much as the individual, for the more textured and prepared the 'crab cakes' and 'samosas' are the more likely the guest will walk away thinking, "Wow, the hors d'oeuvres were wicked!"
I would submit that the biggest threat to our platter's harmony would be people's whose immigrant experience is not so new (for all but First Nations citizens are imports); people who expect their experiences to be considered by all to be the quintessence of Canadian culture; that once new citizens arrive they must adopt a 'when in Rome' modus operandi, with which I would agree, but only to a point. After that point, the new citizen should be permitted the same luxury this nation has afforded everyone: a chance to explore it and valued it themselves.
I would further submit to those who grumble about upholding tradition that they may wish to consider that what they perceive as resistance to Canadian customs is actually resistance to myopic posturings, nothing more. We would do well to take a page from their thin books though. We must allow ourselves to feel as relevant to the cultural landscape of this nation as they do.
As the Canadian profile ever evolves, we'll all continue to witness things that rattle our sense of normalcy. However, it should make all Canadians smile to think that every day (born or naturalized) someone is falling in love with this country.
And for those of you who have always known, without benefit of perspective that we're fortunate to call this place home, please congratulate me on catching up to you.
Okay just a couple more before we leave the way back machine: who remembers summer baseball games using a tennis ball... what about being in a snow snowball fight and being hit with a ball that has ice in the centre? Ah, the good old days...