I must admit, the title of this series, "Born and Raised," made me feel a bit excluded when I first came across it. I've really enjoyed relating to the stories from other children of immigrants, and love the goal of the series, but the word "born" made me feel different from the other writers.
Unlike the second-gen kids sharing their stories here, I wasn't born in Canada. I was born in El Salvador and immigrated to Canada when I was just over one year old, with my mom, dad, sister and abuelita. This past Thanksgiving, my family celebrated our 25th anniversary of moving here.
My parents decided to leave El Salvador shortly after I was born, seeking what most immigrants do: a better life for their children, putting our success, safety and happiness ahead of their own. El Salvador has a turbulent history, with a civil war that lasted over 12 years, ending in 1992, just one year after we arrived in Canada. Now, despite the signed peace agreement, El Salvador and its capital San Salvador still have some of the highest murder rates in the world, as a result of rampant gang violence.
Being two cultures, and neither at the same time, requires negotiating your identity internally, and among different groups, and sometimes feeling guilty among both.
Although I've lived essentially my whole life here and received my Canadian citizenship in kindergarten, not having a Canadian birth certificate separates me from second-gen Canadians. At the same time, I don't have vivid memories of growing up anywhere else, like my parents and other first-gen Canadians. Sometimes, I feel like generation 1.5.
My parents speak wistfully and achingly of their lives in El Salvador before and during the war. The only memories I have of the country are when I finally visited at 15, experiencing huge culture shock because I had never been outside of North America. Visiting El Salvador as a sometimes ungrateful teenager meant that I felt inconvenienced by some of the experiences, instead of appreciating them how I would now.
Being two cultures, and neither at the same time, requires negotiating your identity internally, and among different groups, and sometimes feeling guilty among both. In El Salvador, I felt guilty for being too canadiense and, in Canada, I wasn't Canadian enough. Among the white majority in my hometown of Kitchener, Ontario, I felt the need to blend in as much as possible.
I so strongly wanted to assimilate that I often felt I was losing my original culture. I surrounded myself with so many white friends, I would feel more different among other Salvadorans and Latinxs. Although my first language was Spanish and I learned English by watching Sesame Street, I pushed myself to be a great student, thanks in large part to the encouragement of my supportive parents.
We spoke Spanish, or Spanglish, almost exclusively at home, even in front of my English-speaking friends.
In doing so, I faced jokes about being "whitewashed," or as one high school friend put it, a "Jos Louis," brown on the outside, white on the inside. Or, friends would speak disparagingly of other people of colour or immigrants around me, thinking of me as "just white."
(Friends, as much as you may think calling someone white is a compliment, please refrain from calling your non-white friends, "whitewashed." People of colour in a white dominant society are tackling enough without you contributing your unsolicited perceptions of their race or lack thereof.)
Despite my longing to fit in at school, my parents raised me to be proud of our culture and our language. We spoke Spanish, or Spanglish, almost exclusively at home, even in front of my English-speaking friends. And I would happily explain my cultural food or traditions to anyone who asked. I would invite my friends over for our national food of pupusas (tortillas stuffed with a combination of beans, pork and cheese) or bring semita (a pineapple filled pastry) to school.
That isn't to say I didn't face prejudice along the way. Common experiences include others blanketing all Latinxs as Mexicans, commenting me on my "tan" or "dark knees," using the word immigrant disparagingly, or referring to me as just "brown" because they couldn't be bothered to learn where I'm actually from.
Growing up, I remember being asked what "kind" of immigrant I was, and if I was a citizen yet, especially with the narrative surrounding "illegal" or "alien" Latinx immigrants in the U.S. -- two terms we should never use to describe human beings (a better one would be undocumented). This rhetoric trickles up north, in addition to the refugee headlines. I once was asked by a teacher if I was a refugee because he knew someone else from El Salvador who was. Being a refugee is nothing to be ashamed of, but a person's status is also no one else's concern, especially an entire grade five class.
When more immigrants tell their stories, it helps others become more compassionate and empathetic towards our experiences.
Even in the comments section of these posts, and other stories dealing with race, there is a lot of judgement towards immigrants and how they choose (or not) to assimilate. Some think immigrants should only speak English everywhere, even at home. Others call immigrants who have lost their mother tongue lazy for never learning or not practicing enough.
When more immigrants tell their stories, it helps others become more compassionate and empathetic towards our experiences. It isn't up to anyone else to decide what a "good immigrant" looks like or who is "Canadian enough." It's up to each individual to determine the combination of their cultures that makes them feel comfortable and uniquely Canadian.
Throughout the immigrant journey, we go through many highs and lows of assimilation and acceptance. Only recently have I started to acknowledge and appreciate my own experiences and perspectives as an "other."
Born And Raised is an ongoing series by The Huffington Post Canada that shares the experiences of second-generation Canadians. Part reflection, part storytelling, this series on the children of immigrants explores what it means to be born and raised in Canada. We want to hear your stories -- join the conversation on Twitter at #BornandRaised or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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