My Identity Struggle as an Immigrant

When I was four years old, I came to Canada from Colombia and have lived here ever since. For the majority of my life, I told people I was Canadian before telling them I was Colombian because I grew up here and had adopted more of a Canadian lifestyle. Despite me saying this to people and myself, I always felt a little different. I knew my home life was different, not only because my parents wanted to keep Colombian traditions alive, but most importantly, because I was also Colombian, not just Canadian!

I would often forget this when I was in school because I was trying to impose being Canadian on myself so much. Going back to Colombia, I also felt very much out of place. I was not used to certain traditional sayings or the culture. My cousins and uncles would mock me and say I was "white-washed". Naturally, I also lead most of my life speaking most of the time and thinking in English. Being in Colombia, where Spanish is all there is, it usually took me at least a day in a half to adjust to the change of language in my head, creating a little bit of a language barrier. I remember being in elementary school and people judging me because of the infamous Pablo Escobar, but then also purposely calling me Mexican because apparently that is where all South Americans come from. I hated it. I did not know with which nationality to identify with while I saw all of my blonde and blue-eyed friends celebrate Canada Day. I eventually embraced my Canadian culture and identified mainly with that, only telling people I was Colombian if they asked.

It was not until recently that I decided to scrap that idea. I thought to myself: "I am Colombian, why am I not embracing it?". To be honest, I don’t even know when this decision came upon me. I did notice that I started talking more about my experiences in Colombia, stories that my parents had told me, and I realized how much I loved going there. Even though I decided to become more vocal about being Colombian, and having an added piece to my identity, I still feel that Canada is home. Whenever I travel, whether it’s to the United States or Colombia, whenever we touch down at Toronto Pearson Airport, I have a huge sigh of relief. There was one summer I spent all three months in Colombia with my family, and I had a blast! It was hard leaving Colombia, because all of my extended family is there, but I remember being a little bit excited to come back for the Tim Hortons, and the tranquility I feel being here. I remember stepping into the airport and being so happy, seeing the diversity, the English and French signs, and feeling like this is where I belonged.

I was recently talking to a girl who I work with, who is from El Salvador. When I told her how I felt, she said that while she was growing up she had felt the same way! Of course, her story was a little different in that she grew up in a different city within the GTA, and she was also born here, so her identity crisis was sometimes harder for her. This made me realize that although we do not consider Canada to be a "melting pot" per say as the United States, we pressure ourselves into conformity.  

I am only 20 years old, so I am obviously still young, but it feels like I wasted my teenage years trying to be someone I was not. I know by talking to my other friends, we all kind of hated ourselves during that awkward 12-year-old phase. We thought we knew it all, we had it all figured out and if someone told us anything different, they were wrong, not us. Obviously, I think that is the process of growing up and maturing, realizing that life is not a movie, or a set plan.

I think being in such a diverse country, and having the possibility of being anyone, is sometimes hard when trying to choose an identity. But I think that is the greatness of this country: possibilities are endless, and it is never too late!