I’m barely 19 and fortunately my identity crisis, a psychological crisis that begins during adolescence and that sometimes extends into adult life, has quickly passed. For a good part of my life I did not know who I was, partly because I’m “exotic.” By “exotic,” I am referring to the fact that I have ethnic origins that make me a visible minority in Canada. When I was younger I wanted to be like Barbie, not because she was fabulous, but because she was Caucasian. For me, at that time, being a Caucasian, regardless of sex, meant being a successful person in life, someone who is seductive, as well as privileged, and being a Canadian meant being Caucasian. Although I was born here in Vancouver, I did not feel Canadian at all during my childhood because of my foreign name and especially because of my dark skin. I identified with my ethnic heritage rather than with the culture of my native country.
Being the daughter of two immigrants from different countries, I found it difficult to fulfill the traditions of both cultures. I always wondered why I had to have mixed ancestry. I wanted to be either of one culture or the other, but not both of them at the same time. Yet, despite the complexity of being of two different ethnic origins, I always preferred to introduce myself to people as an Iranian and a Salvadoran rather than a Canadian. I felt very uncomfortable in my own country. For some unknown reason, I felt that Canada belonged only to whites and that we, people of colour, were not true Canadians. This thought probably originated in me because, as a child, I experienced traumatic moments in Vancouver related to racism. I will never forget the intimidation I suffered in this city, which is supposedly hospitable to people of colour. That’s why at the age of 15 I begged my parents to change my legal given name to a less foreign one: Leyla. I thought that doing that would make me feel more Canadian, but I was wrong. Changing my given name did not change my features.
Over the years, I realized that there was no way to escape my cultural identity. That’s why I learned to cherish it. Whatever I do it will always follow me – that foreign aura that distinguishes me from other people. I am unique because of my ethnic background and now that I am a little older, I realize that Vancouver is cosmopolitan and there are other mixed race people like me here. I happily realized that Caucasians are, like me, descendants of immigrants.
Vancouverites are always interested in knowing my heritage and are fascinated by it. I am proud to tell them that I am half Persian, half Spanish-speaking and that I speak French fluently in an English-speaking province, in addition to my three mother tongues. I am an amalgam of cultures, and I am very happy to have been born in Vancouver where exoticism is celebrated and where not all people are racist like the ones I met a long time ago. The whole province is multicultural and diverse, even among Caucasian communities. Being Canadian is not about having light eyes or white skin, but rather about being open-minded and proud of our ethnic origins and Canadian nationality.