This morning, over coffee in Cafe Bellagio on Hornby Street, I read articles about Canada’s national identity. And articles about the reality of America versus the long-held fantasies. And I began to wonder how a national identity is constructed.
From where I sit, there is no national identity in the U.S. None. Nada. Zilch. We are a conglomeration of very different, inward-focused people with a sense of entitlement and superiority for being American. Plain as day. And maybe we deserve it. Or maybe we don’t.
Don’t get me wrong – I am quite proud of and thankful for my American citizenship. Hands-down, my nationality entitles me to carte blanche protection and open doors in most parts of the world. I’ve just spent a week in Canada and did not formally change my dollars into loonies and toonies not even once. Because my currency is universal.
Still. We are in quite the pickle in America these days. One Globe and Mail article speculated on the impact of new American frugality and a saving-money trend that may well forestall global economic recovery. How can it be a bad thing for Americans to start saving money? It’s something we should’ve been doing all along.
Another article lamented the lack of local diners and charming shops in rural America and spotlightedhow urban blight has turned into open fields with wildlife running through it. My city perhaps a prime example – months ago, in my father’s car on a driving tour of his childhood memories, we found two of his formative homes still standing but one completely wiped away except from memory – and all that was left was a vacant plot with wildflowers swaying in a rapid breeze.
And so a national identity for Canadians involves a canoe and the versatility of surviving in and near the Arctic freeze. It also involves looking south to determine long-term fate.
Walking Vancouver’s streets, I’ve noticed a multiracial melting pot with a multicultural inflection. Fifty-five percent of this city’s population is Asian. In one quick meeting, I encountered a woman from east Africa, an Iranian woman, an Italian girl and a woman who hailed from Germany. Working together in a common shop.
Not where I come from. Diversity is stratified and segregated in Detroit. Always has been. Here live the Jews, here live the WASPs, there live the Polish, and over there, yet another identity altogether. Never the twain shall meet? What do we see if we stare only at others who resemble us so closely?
Today my children are walking familiar streets to synagogue, in what I’m told is oppressively hot weather. Sudden summer come on strong. Today I board a plane to return to life-as-I-know-it and life-as-I-prefer-it. Vacation is only good because it is a world away from the diurnal. From the familiar.
Their little voices on the phone, their plaintive pleas, my baby’s almost-wail of, “I love you too.” I’ve had a good run this trip. I’ve kayaked in ocean waters against 25 km winds and scaled sheer rock faces. I’ve looked ahead, looked behind, tasted the sea, slept uninterrupted.
And now, I am going home.