Today, July 1, is Canada Day. I am Canadian. (I have an uneasy feeling that rights to that sentence may be owned by a beer company, but I’ll take my chances with litigation.) As a Canadian, I feel that I should care about Canada Day, or, at the very least, check out what’s going on and be a part of it.
Wandering around my neighbourhood, I see a lot of people out in the snazzy red duds they bought for the Olympics a few months ago. Fair enough: get their money’s worth. As much as I love the colour red, I didn’t buy any of that stuff myself. Somehow clothes made in China, based on stolen First Nations designs and sold by an American-owned company didn’t really inspire warm feelings of nationalistic pride in my cold little heart.
Spirits are high today, although not much really seems to be going on. Some music and face-painting, mostly. It’s still a fun atmosphere though. I think the prospect of something going on is what draws people out, and even if there’s not a lot happening, the volume of people makes it an event anyway . There might have been a parade this morning. If so, I missed it.
In my experience, Canadians are pretty relaxed in their celebration of Canada Day. Generally the day involves barbeques, beer and fireworks. I think people are mostly just happy to have a day off work in the summer, even if I can’t actually remember whether the weather has ever been decent on this holiday.
Every year on Canada Day, I give some thought to what it means to me to be Canadian. I’m still pretty unclear on that one. It might be partly because I’ve spent most of my adult years in other countries, but then again it was being in other countries that made me think about what being Canadian meant at all.
To be honest, I’ve always felt a bit iffy about the concept of patriotism. I do feel lucky to have been born here. I have a lot of freedom, I got a decent free education, and most people here believe that access to health care is a basic human right. These are advantageous aspects of having been born Canadian. But pride in my country? I’m not so sure. I was born here. But that was chance. I could have been born anywhere. What right does it give me to be proud of anything? I didn’t write the constitution. I haven’t even passed a bill. I haven’t fought for anything this country has to offer. I vote, but I didn’t vote for the guy who leads us (who, for that matter, inspires in me more embarrassment than pride anyway.) There was a time when Canada did some good things abroad — I think that time is mostly over now, but it did exist. Some people feel pride in that, but I just don’t see what I had to do with it.
A lot of what seems to pass for Canadian patriotism revolves around the following two things:
- Our sports teams, hockey in particular of course.
- That we are separate from the United States.
To me, the first is a weak reason for pride to begin with and the second is basically racism — or at least the result of it — though somehow a socially acceptable form. I get why Canadians want to differentiate themselves from the US. For one thing, it’s just a matter of accuracy. For another, it is sad but true that in my travels, my welcome was warmer when people found out I was Canadian and not American. That doesn’t seem right to me.
I know that I would rather be judged on my actions and words than on the flag sewn on my bag. (I speak metaphorically — I refuse to sew a flag on my bag.) If anyone chooses to think less of me because they are under the mistaken impression that I’m American, then I probably don’t care what they think anyway. I think the right to feel pride (or shame, for that matter) is something that you earn as an individual, not something that you are born to.
So another Canada Day is almost over. I am Canadian. I still don’t really know what that means; maybe I’ll get it figured out next year.