As someone who was born in Vancouver, I’m rarely identified as so. Upon first meeting people, they often stare quizzically at me when I say I’m Canadian. “Can’t be so,” they say, “you look too ethnic!”
My Russian heritage is prominent enough that many guess I was born in Russia. Yet, my Slavic looks are not the only factor confusing strangers upon a first meeting.
Many of my good friends are from countries in the Middle East, Latin America, or Europe. Thus, I can most often be seen walking with people whose accents and dramatic body language often differentiate our group from the more subdued gestures of a Vancouverite.
Newcomers to the group will guess as to where we’re all from, and rarely am I labeled a Canadian at first attempt.
My activities confuse those guessing my nationality as well. As someone passionate about dance, I love to throw myself into classes with new styles, especially those with influences from other countries. At some of these events, such as Salsa or Bachata nights, I’m automatically assumed to be from Latin America.
Whether it’s my ethnic look, my tourist friends, or my interests in diverse activities, people don’t view me as a Canadian. Perhaps identifying a Canadian is hard to do, or perhaps our culture is too difficult to define.
Yet maybe this is exactly what defines Canadians in Vancouver. Our city is full of tourists and immigrants. Many of us are first or second generation Canadians and have friends from various areas of the world. Our prominent ethnic backgrounds and our ability to connect with those from different cultures mark us as an open and non-judgmental culture. Embracing different activities such as Latin dance, Chinese dragon boat races, or Celtic Festivals define who we are.
This is not to say that we don’t have our own cultural activities inherent to Vancouver. We are graced with the mountains and ocean, side by side, and our beautiful landscape inspires people to be active and outdoors. International visitors have often remarked to me how active we are compared to other cities.
Many Vancouverites also love their morning cup of Timmies and, of course, are passionate about hockey.
These are some commonalities between the people of Vancouver, but they fall short in representing the city on their own.
For example, by considering the influence the Asian community has on our culture, we can tie in other trends such as our obsession with sushi, or our trips to the Richmond Night Market.
Vancouver is a kaleidoscope filled with pieces from other cultures that are presented through a multicultural lens. We can’t define the depth of our city’s culture without first looking at the integration of cultures.
Why is it difficult for others to see the interwoven fabric of Vancouver? Perhaps we don’t work hard enough to promote our image to others.
My boyfriend is from Mexico, and some of his family members don’t even consider Vancouver to have a culture. I can imagine that those from such a passionate and proud culture would wonder how Vancouverites define themselves.
At one family dinner, I was tempted to defend my culture after a passing comment from one of his family members, but my attempts to jump into the conversation were fruitless.
The fast paced chatter overwhelmed me, and the next pause in the conversation only served to change the topic. Not only that, I lost time planning my response in my mind to make sure my words didn’t offend anyone. So polite, and so very Canadian.
In our efforts to accommodate other cultures, sometimes I wonder if we allow ourselves to take enough pride in our Canadian identity. Do we take the time to reflect on how residing in Vancouver shapes our lives?
Culture is inherent to every area, every city. Within each city are many subcultures, one of the smallest being the habits and values of a family unit.
In order to help others understand the diversity of our city, perhaps we need to start by finding the words to shape and define our own experience. Others might struggle to guess my identity because of my connection with various other cultures.
However, in order to fully understand how living in Vancouver shapes each individual, perhaps we need to account for the density of cultural connections we have, and reflect upon how our network transforms Vancouver’s culture into an evolving and diverse city.