Foreign is the adjective which best describes the ambiguous feeling that came over me after the first rush of adrenaline faded. Add “er” and you have foreigner, which is what I am every time I enter a new country. I did not know that this one would become what I now call home, ten years after arrival. My inner identity remains hidden, an irresistible force makes me suppress my foreign accent; a force which leads me to be like everyone else. But at what cost? Each strand of our DNA provides our own particular ethno-cultural identity
that can belong to no one else. To live in Vancouver only highlights this reality, don’t you think?
I am a Francophile Filipina-Canadian, born in Makati – one of the sixteen cities that make up Metro Manila in the Philippines. I spent the first twelve years of my life in the nearby town of Parañaque. At the age of 3 I was attending an international Christian school where I grew up in an environment that embraced different nationalities; I formed a social network while discovering numerous other cultures. Like most of my peers I grew up speaking two languages: Tagalog at home as well as English at school. One might say, “It’s nothing special”, being bilingual in such a diverse multicultural community. Not until the age of 12 did I start learning French after finding out my family had decided to move to Canada. After getting a glimpse of Canadian history I learned that there isn’t just one but two official languages in Canada. This realization was the driving force for me to become fluent. Setting the bar ever higher, I enrolled in the French Cohort Program, a multidisciplinary program at the Office of Francophone and Francophile Affairs at Simon Fraser University where I was given the opportunity to study in Quebec and France. I have therefore been able to quench my thirst for all things Francophone. Upon reflection it appears I was aiming for an academic and linguistic strategy to bridge the gap between Canadians and myself, the foreigner. Smiling no longer sufficed, words were necessary to express myself. For a young twelve-year-old girl, the program seemed to be the only conceivable way to integrate into my new community.
At first glance Vancouver was not what I envisioned, but the city’s multiculturalism intrigued me and its cultural harmony sparked my curiosity. Travelling from Chinatown on Pender Street to Little Italy on Commercial Drive showcases the diversity that Vancouver possesses. Given the richness of this community it is only fair to take full advantage. So how did I do it?
Have the guts to be true to yourself. A sense of belonging is not something to be sought out but rather to be created with our differences. Language is not just about communication but a reaching out to everything outside of our comfort zone. It is about discovering what makes us unique within this world of diversity, sometimes this could mean being proud of our foreign accent. Given the cultural plurality that surrounds us in this beautiful city, we can no longer be, after all, considered foreigners.
Translation Barry Brisebois