By Renée Sylvestre-Williams
Canada is made up of immigrants, some here earlier than others. It’s become a bit of a game to see who’s from here – as in their family has lived in Canada for a few generations – and who may not be from here as often experienced by Canadians of colour despite being born and raised in the country.
It tends to follow a pattern. You’re talking to someone when the Question comes up, “Where are you from?”
“No, where are you really from?”
And so on.
So we did a quick and non-scientific straw poll to find the best answers to the Question. Here are our top ten:
1. “My mother’s tummy”
2. “From a galaxy far, far away”
4. “King and Bathurst”
5. Me: “India.” Commuter: “No way! I thought you were from Guyana!” Me: “And where do you think they came from?”
6. “Toronto. No, seriously I was born in Toronto.”
7. “I was created the night my parents were murdered in an alley. I was eight. It was that night I vowed revenge.”
8. “Yonge and Eglinton” “But where are you really from?” “Toronto” (I do this until they’re flustered and stop asking. Usually I only have to get to the province before they give up.)
9. “Didn’t your mother ever tell you it’s rude to ask such personal questions?”
10. “I never answer that question. I know who I am and where I’m from. I don’t care if other people don’t.”
By Denise Balkissoon
10. It used to make me mental when my parents pronounced my name the Trini way, DEN-eeez. I would prissily inform them it was duh-NEECE. Now I wish they would pronounce it their way. I miss it. Also I wish I could properly pronounce it the French way.
9. My brothers’ middle names are Imran and Hakim. Mine is Camille.
8. My parents don’t speak French.
7. When I was in high school, my Chinese boss made my Chinese co-worker pick an English name to use at work. This, in a very Chinese neighbourhood. Someone needs to make a clever t-shirt slogan about keeping your internalized racism off of me, thanks.
6. I’m very interested to know which of the GTA’s current immigrant waves are and aren’t assimilating their names. I tried to write a story about this, but the province would only give me last name trends, or first name trends. First-and-last was an invasion of privacy. Fair enough, but I wish I could get at least anecdotal evidence among, say, Tamils, a group of relative newcomers who have seriously non-Anglo names. Thai people have crazy funky names, too, but there aren’t as many around here. Anyway, if you have ideas how I might write this, let me know. Also, if you have an unwieldy ethnic name, keep it. Or don’t.
5. Last year I worked at the Star and there were four – count ‘em, four – brown female reporters. And our names were mixed up on a semi-regular basis. Generally by men.
4. My dad’s mom apparently gave me a Hindi name when I was born, but no one remembers it. This makes me a little sad.
3. I love how names can tell you so much about where and when a person is from. I was recently talking with a pregnant friend of mine about trendy old-fashioned names, and we joked about some that would never come back, and what she might name her son. “Heathcliff Wong!” she laughed. “That’s a real estate agent in Vancouver.”
2. I’m not too fussed about mispronouncing people’s names once or twice, or having them mispronounce mine.
1. That said, why do white people always say “Balkinson”? Hooked on Phonics worked for me!