Mistaken Identity: The Day I Became Venezuelan

A tiny boarding school in the middle of Candiana small town, was not my ideal or even natural habitat. I had no idea how to be Canadian, between the hockey, the winter, and the weird conversation about the weather. I was lost, and my only solace was how well I could put up a wall and become invisible.

Half way through the year, we became aware of the boarding school marketing plan, the school had decided to market it’s diversity and international student population in a small town Canadiana culture. It was a beautiful strategy from a marketing perspective. It diminished all of its students and identified them from where they came from, whether it was Canadian, Native-Canadian, Chinese (there were 4 from Hong Kong), to visible minorities, even if they were Canadian… I read the breakdown, and there it was Venezuelan – 1 Student. I knew all 201 students in the school, there was no other Spanish-speaking student who had even stepped foot in Venezuela, or had any remote 7 degrees of separation from Venezuela, unless they counted me as part of that 7 degrees.

I was shocked that I was part of the international stat. You think after years of living abroad, I would have been happy to be identified as Venezuelan, but it hurt. My identity was called into question, was I seen as a marketing ploy to the school, were they using the fact that my parents happened to be living in Venezuela to gain in the International Marketing strategy, or did they just not think about it.

I sat on it for days, upset, and angry. My identity had always been as a Diplomatic Kid, I was Canadian, but no one had ever blatantly called me anything other than Canadian, even if I didn’t identify with the small town Canadiana culture. My heart-felt broken, I didn’t feel valued as a person, I had been born in Canada, my Father had been representing his country for years, and my citizenship had never been questioned. Struggling with my own identity, and the clash of cultures I always had, but never had anyone blatantly lie about my identity to gain in marketing points. It just seemed wrong, dirty, and complete disregard for my feelings.

I decided to go to the head of admissions and confront him. He was a sleazy ass, who wore Bermuda shorts with knee socks, and a preppy blazer, he looked like an overgrown British school boy, who belonged back in 1958. I showed him where it said Venezuela, and told him that there were a great deal of inconsistencies with the marketing strategy, I broke down his visible minority report, and our so called “International” student body, which consisted of 198 of white privileged kids, and 3 visible privileged minority kids. Basically, we were a visible WASP school. Why would he lie and put all of the diplomatic kids as Venezuelan, Japanese, German, and Saudi Arabian? He became visible annoyed, but decided to put on his toothy charm. His explanation, was were International kids, we didn’t identify with being Canadian, so why did it matter if he embellished the truth?

I was horrified. At 17, I had no idea how to express that he was the problem, we didn’t identify with being Canadian, but it was not for him to pick our citizenship for us, basically stripping us with feeling welcome in a school where all we wanted was to feel we belonged. That is all we ever wanted, was to feel a belonging, and this stunt made us feel shunned in a way that he could never comprehend.

I decided to call my Father. I remember laying it out for my Father, he sat silently on the other end. I had no idea what he was thinking, but just telling him, made me feel better. I got off the phone, and forgot about my new found citizenship, and decided to stay clear of the head of recruiting.

I went home to Venezuela for spring break, hugged my parents, cuddled with my dog, and did some laundry. On a warm early Sunday morning, my Father sat with a coffee, and  asked “so, are you still Venezuelan according to the school?”

I must have looked confused because my Father went on “That little ass of an admission’s officer is nothing but a weasel. I called every single other diplomat in that school to share with them what the school had done, no one was impressed. I believe he had a few memorable phone conversations, including from me.”

My Father turned to me and said “You kids didn’t ask for this mobile life, you can choose whatever culture, religion or lifestyle you want, but no one, and I mean no one, should ever decide your citizenship for you, you were born in Canada, and as far as your passport is concerned, you are Canadian, don’t ever forget that.”

 

Last Call – The Hip

For those readers who aren’t Canadian, let me echo what a couple of generations are feeling today, like the light is slowly going out. You know eventually the light of any artists will fade, eventually, but as a Canadian, you never thought it would happen like this, or this soon. Tonight, no one will be answering their phone, their texts, will be on the road. Every Canadian who isn’t in Kingston, Ontario, will be watching the Tragically Hip Live for their final concert.

The Tragically Hip, was my first introduction to being Canadian.

I have tried wrapping my head around what makes the Tragically Hip so special, I mean, there are other bands, and other Countries, surely since I have lived in so many countries there has to be another band that bottles up a countries sentiment and culture? I couldn’t find one, not one single band.

The Tragically Hip – AKA – The Hip, is a Kingston band, but they aren’t just a band, they are Canadian Artists and Icons. What started as a University band in 1984, in Kingston,  would morph into music that mixed blues and rock, and set the stage for music that gave rise to a couple of generations of Canadians. They might not have hit the big time outside of our borders, but no other band can pack a house like the Hip. Every Hip song will bring back memories of a first kiss, first slow dance, first song you sang to your baby (guilty as charged), first song to play on the radio after you get your licence, first song to play in a bar when you become legal. Our firsts are intrinsically attached to a Hip song, simply because our blood beats through our veins to Hip songs.

My first few months in a Canadian small town boarding school was painful, I was a U2 loving DocMartin loving teenager, who truly didn’t understand small town, hockey and beer loving Canada. I cried, I spent all hours of the night with my Walkman in the bathroom. It was very difficult for me to connect, I pretended as best as I could, but being a third culture kid in the a small town boarding school, was like being a whale in a show swimming in circles and being convinced you are really just a performer.

2 months in, we had our first dance. I can remember perfectly that one dance, that music pumping through. It was courage

Every single student in that gym sang along. I had never heard of the band, and I didn’t feel a connection to the song, I just knew that anytime that song came on, everyone would sing along. I had never experienced anything so intimate before.

Fast forward, the summer my Father passed away, I was convinced by a friend to check out a music festival, she felt music would heal my broken heart, or at least open my up to grieving. It was this song, Ahead by a Century, that spoke to me

It was at that pivotal moment, while watching a couple thousand people outside, sing along to this song, that I felt a part of a country. Over the years, I ended up seeing The Tragically Hip 10x in various venues. My favourite, was seeing them with my husband at the Blues Fest in Ottawa. When the Hip came on, there wasn’t screaming, or craziness, a whole crowd of people waited patiently, with complete awe and admiration, the Hip belonged to the people, the Hip played our anthems, the Hip represented everything that is intelligent, thoughtful, charismatic, quiet, insightful and strong about Canada.

It was this song, that my husband and I sang together under the stars, at a cottage, alone in the woods. The perfect Canadian experience, had by a third culture kid. I may never feel completely Canadian, but the Hip always made me feel included. Wheat Kings…

The Hip always brought to light social injustices, political moments that we wanted a voice to. They told the stories through song, they put words to events the rest of us couldn’t.

I thought that I would be able to share the Hip with my son live when he was old enough to experience his first concert, but when the news that Gord Downie the lead singer was diagnosed Terminal Brain Cancer. I knew, that I had to share tonight’s last performance with my son. Tonight, Canada will be unavailable to the world. For many of us, we will be sitting in backyards on chairs watching the live broadcast of the very last concert on a big screen, with neighbours and friends, under the stars, saying goodbye in the most beautiful Canadian way.