Month: February 2014

The Art of Assimilation: From the Voice of a Canadian-American

The twitter-sphere is reeling after Coke aired an ad during the Super Bowl that reflects America’s beautiful diversity and multi-culturalism.  We all have our own unique storyline of what makes us who we are: hometown, our parent’s culture, your sub-culture, the culture you are met with when you move somewhere else, and the culture you wish to incorporate by choice in your adult life.  Identity is a precious concept that no one should take away -or force- onto you.  I hold onto mine for dear life.

The world is smaller than most people dare to know.  Assimilation may be a bad thing (how one must give up their own culture in order to adopt the culture of the country that they immigrate too), though I now see it in a different light.  It is a mere addition to the person you already are.  It’s a method of survival in a strange land (i.e., when I moved to the South, I stopped using the word “damn,” [which was never a big deal in Alberta] as every time I said it, people froze).  How much of America is lost when immigrants do not assimilate?  How much of a person is lost when they do assimilate?

Satu Runa
…this was the toned-down version of my metal self (me circa 2005)

Moving from Canada to the American South, you would think assimilation was easy.  However; it was the most difficult transition of my life (second only to the culture shock of moving to Los Angeles from New York!).  For a time, I silenced my political beliefs (as this was the most foreign quality I had) and I didn’t speak about religion too much (I was raised without religion – this was the most “offensive” thing about me).   I couldn’t give up my skin color.  Coming from Canada, I couldn’t hide my slight accent.  All in all, it was my acceptance of the new world around me that was difficult- not their acceptance of me.  The acceptance of my circumstance is what kept me up at night.  What was more of an identity crusher: later on in life, in order to find acting work, I had to visibly give up the strong sub-culture that found me (metal), sustained me, and allowed me to assimilate and build a strong identity (or ego) to protect myself from the horrors of an ultra-conservative society.

Satu Runa

Walking in a winter wonderland in Central Park

What people have to remember is that while being multi-cultural is okay, a lot of us are still guests of this country, and what we offer is to add flavor to the recipe that already exists.  The USA is a rich broth full of ingredients from around the world.  We are merely adding spices to the pot as time goes on.  But that pot has been here longer than you.

If you move to a country with one national language, you should learn it.  It’s a survival thing.  I also believe that it’s arrogant to expect people to learn any other language in this country.  I admire multi-linguists (I myself know French), but Americans shouldn’t be expected to learn Spanish (even though it’s a sexier language, and people are always better off knowing more than one).  Until this country officially becomes bilingual, forget it.  Even in Canada (which is officially bilingual) hardly anyone knows or speaks French out west because they don’t have to.

Holding onto one’s culture and identity is a ferocious sport in a changing world.  It’s why Quebec wants a separation.  It’s why I love hockey, Tim Hortons, and winter SO much.  It’s the part of this country that embraces tidbits of my Canadian heritage that keeps me going.  It’s all that I have to hold onto.  It’s why I feel compelled to cheer for Team Canada but not Team USA (though I do root for specific US athletes if I’ve been following their story, and of course, if they are cute).  I would never let anyone take my heritage away from me.  Though I did not move the to United States by choice, it’s my choice to stay, and I am doing my best to respect the country that I have grudgingly adapted to.  I focus on the good things (rock n’ roll, art, poetry, barbecue/beer/bonfires, San Francisco, New York, my friends) and surround myself with like-minded individuals who want to make this country more exciting.  I don’t have to be anything but who I want to be.  Isn’t that part of the American dream of freedom?

While the message in the Superbowl Coke ad (and most liberal blogs) is “tolerance,” both sides of the debate are worth hearing.  What makes America beautiful is the acceptance of different people and the amazingly unique American culture that has been born from a history of immigration.  The world is changing and it cannot wait for you to change with it.  Be yourself.  It’s what freedom is all about.  But be prepared for the battle field that is the acceptance of society, because they will come barking.