Voices from our true north: Canucks on campus

091609_features_canadaRecalling the days when I was a fresh-off-the-boat, “eh”-saying, hockey-playing freshman at an upstate New York high school, I can distinctly remember thinking that I was the center of an enormous hoax – that all my new classmates in Global Studies had conspired to play a cruel joke on me. Sitting in that haphazard classroom, fielding questions ranging from, “Did you live in an igloo?” to “What’s it like having a king?”, I slowly discerned that my classmates were in fact partially serious. My family had moved a mere four hours south from the metropolis of Montreal, Canada, to Troy, N.Y. (otherwise known as the “Armpit of America”), and I was swallowing my first force-fed taste of America’s favorite leisure activity: “Canadia” bashing.

While many international students at the College bask in the rightful and deserved recognition of their unique national backgrounds, one nationality seems to always be on the “wrong side of the loony.” We salute a flag adorned with a scarlet maple leaf, speak in a vernacular littered by curious “eh’s” and are proud to recognize the beaver as our national animal.

Ridiculed by some, trivialized by nearly all and outright ignored by a fair sum, Canadian citizens at the College, a demographic to which I proudly belong, have long been subjected to varying degrees of belittling and denationalization at the unrelentingly teasing hands of our campus peers.

“Canadians at Williams are just seen as being comical because of our accents and naive, trusting nature,” said Norman Walczak ’12, a Vancouver native. “Therefore, saying Canada has a ‘presence’ at the College is like saying Big Bird has a ‘presence’ in Congress. It’s lucky that we’re not bitter or anything.”

In an attempt to find my own place within this struggle of identity, I discovered that I was not alone, but rather that I was only one of the dozens of Canuck voices yearning to be recognized, respected or at the bare minimum, perhaps acknowledged, by my “neighbours” to the south.

“As long as I’ve been here at Williams, there have been Canadians,” said Dick Nesbitt, director of Admission. “They are often stereotyped as mindless hockey players, but in reality they’re really hard-working and tend to have very solid prep for college.”

Nevertheless, Ephs of Canadian citizenship are continuously made into the butt of practical jokes by residents of the U.S., a land which we in Canada grow up jokingly referring to as Canada’s beard. As a natural continuation of such a trend, Canadians living in the U.S. often find themselves taking added honor in their national identity.

“As a Canadian on the Williams campus, I definitely feel like I take a considerable amount of pride in my cultural and national identity,” said Tarjinder Singh ’12, a Canuck who hails from the Toronto area. “That being said, I often feel as if I’m forced to define myself against America.” Singh went on to punctuate this thoughtful sentence with the accurate but underhand quip, “Oh yeah, by the way, Social Security sucks.”

While many Americans tend to take immense pleasure in the downplaying of Canada’s unique cultural heritage by singing such songs as “Blame Canada” or glorifying such movies as Canadian Bacon, such banter is not without significant and persistent hurt to the Canadian sense of self.

“As a Canadian, I often feel like a sort of ‘joke’ international student here at Williams,” said Sarah Tory ’11, who also hails from Toronto. “I would love for more people at Williams to realize that Canada is not just some offshoot of America, that it is culturally diverse and very unique from the U.S. in many ways.”

Before dismissing Tory’s objection as unjustified grumbling from America’s otherwise subservient semi-state to the north, perhaps a brief glance at the traits that set America’s largest trading partner apart from other countries might be of service to us all.

“First of all there is Canada’s universal healthcare, of course,” Singh eagerly said. “While it is apparently the most contentious source of debate within American government, it’s something we’ve long been guaranteed by our ultra-liberal leaders.”

Should universal health care not be enough to convince you of Canada’s true, northern glory, perhaps our low crime rates, relaxed drug laws, reasonable drinking regulations and staunch support of multiculturalism will be enough to persuade you. Oh, and let’s not forget that the last time our countries met on the battlefield (War of 1812), Canada left the U.S. with a trouncing reminiscent of nearly every time the two countries have ever competed athletically on ice.

For those of you out there who still insist on stubbornly thinking of Canada as nothing other than that elusive 51st state, I urge you to take the words I’ve written to heart. While Canada, as the second largest landmass in the world, may not exercise all of the geopolitical or military sway of our southern “neighbour,” we must never fail to recall the age-old adage, “It isn’t what you do with it, it’s the size that counts.”