I figured will be a good idea to begin by making evident my social position in the world. I have to begin saying that I’m from Mexico, and even though I considered myself as ‘white’, the White people don’t see me as one of them. They see me as latin, latino, brown, south american, central american, in sum, not White. For a very long time I considered myself white, because, within the latin context, I’m white, my skin colour is not that brown, my eyes are green, and my facial features are inclined towards the spaniard/european context. For the longest time, I was situated within the latin ‘white supremacy’. Not anymore.
Since my arrival to Montreal in 2004, I have experienced something very odd: people staring at me as I’m walking on the street, running errands, catching the bus, etc. People would extend their glance-at-me, let’s say for probably 2 or 3 seconds more than average. It means that as I establish eye contact with people, meanwhile walking or something, most of the time, they will prolong their eye contact more than usual. Now, I thought it was because of the colour of my eyes, as they are kinda unusual, however, it took me some years to figured out that it wasn’t the colour of my eyes. It was racism.
It is a socially accepted practice for White people to ask us about our race/country background. For example, as we engaged in small talk about the weather meanwhile waiting the bus, they would smoothly ask: I imagine that from where you came you don’t have this much snow, ehh.??. In order to follow the flow of the conversation we must reveal our country/race of origin, and most of the time, for how long we have lived in Canada. On top of that, as White people usually don’t have good sensibility for descifrying others nationality, their first guest is that I’m arab, or from morocco, or something like that. We are talking post 9/11. Arabs -at least in Canada- are not very well regarded. Now I know that when White people stare at me, they take me as an arab. They are trying to figure out what kind of arab I am, and if I’m safe to be around. In a matter of years my self consciousness shifted drastically.
I’m writing this in 2012 and the political situation in Quebec has been, to say the least, rough. Uprising of many activists movements, government corruption, drastic immigration changes in its policy, and the ascension to power of the PQ (party quebecois) -the separatist/White supreme/racist/francophone party by excellence-. Here in Quebec, the word separatist conveys many meanings. It is for sure a word that expresses social anger and resentment. Our new prime, Pauline Marois, is pushing forward many reforms encouraging racism and White supremacy. In the next years Quebec is gonna experience turbulent times. In a very well articulated letter published at the montreal gazette, a stay-at-home mom said that ‘When my son was told he wasn’t a Québécois, it was a moment that will help define him, as a man and as a Quebecer. It will forever shape his voice and the colour of his vote once he comes of age’. This letter expresses the deep disagreement against the racist politics of our new prime. Later on, I read an article published at the newest cultmontreal, also written by a White canadian saying ‘That’s my story, but it’s just one of a million that describe the efforts of non-francophones to make Quebec their home. We don’t do it because we have to. We do it because we choose to’. These two examples perfectly embody my feelings about being an immigrant in Canada. I have choose to make of Montreal my new home, but I have also encountered the negation to my own belonging. In the next weeks, the government of Canada is gonna make me officially Canadian. I will have a formal ceremony where I would solemnly pledge respect to the Queen. In that moment, I will become a Canadian. I’m gonna hold a Canadian passport forever.
Questions come along with my new Canadian citizenship. My son Leonardo was born here. Also here in Montreal is where I met my wife. Here I have found my new home. I’m making my professional career in Montreal dedicating months of graduate research to local issues with social politics and issues of sovereignty. I wonder what else do I need to do to be considered a real Canadian??. I have wondered since the moment I knew my wife was pregnant about the ways our kid is gonna experience its own sense of belonging and citizenship?. Nancy Houston writes in the book lives in translation: bilingual writers on identity and creativity, ‘A person who decides, voluntarily, as an adult, unconstrained by outside circumstances, to leave her native land and adopt a hitherto unfamiliar language and culture must face the fact that for the rest of her life she will be involved in theatre, imitation, make-believe‘. If, according to Houston, from now on my social persona is a facade, a mask, then I guess I will just have to wait for the disappearance of racial profiling and intolerance to re-enact my own self again.