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move over

a little earlier today, dom sent me this video with an unhappy emoticon and a lot of swearing.



if you're judging us for using emoticons and swearing to express a reaction to that news story, i would suggest:

a. that you run away from this blog as fast as your fingers will carry you, because it's roughly indicative of the level of sensitivity i display at all times.

b. that you understand that we've had to develop a sort of shorthand for dealing with the eruption of thoughts and feelings that these things evoke, because if we didn't, we'd spend the entire day talking of nothing else.

clearly, the spectacle of anyone in north america telling immigrants to "go back where they came from" is ridiculous and hypocritical. even the most "canadian" white person likely can't go back more than two or three generations without losing at least part of their "canadian-ness" and even those who can point to a few genetic strands that have been bound to canadian soil for hundreds of years have to admit that their culture didn't exactly evolve here. [like a lot of canadians, i fall into both categories, with some relatively recent arrivals and others who were some of the first ones desperate enough to set up shop when the british government declared the continent open for business.]

so a caucasian canadian telling someone to "go back where they came from" is sort of like a guy who shows up for dinner an hour late chewing out the guy who arrives ten minutes later. [really, it's more like the guy who shows up to dinner an hour late, murders the host, chews out the guy who gets there ten minutes later then tells him that he has to make dinner and clean up the murder scene.]

but the fact is, i don't consider it a more intelligent statement coming from europeans, even though they can at least claim that the geographical region has been in their possession a lot longer. [and many of them do, with increasing vehemence.] first of all, if people like those in the video above, think it's important that cultures stay unified and that immigration corrupts culture, i hope they've got some spare bedrooms, because there's about 300 million of us who'll be home for the holidays. but that's not the only issue either, because "europe" isn't a unified culture by any stretch of the imagination. not even the most fervent pro-e.c. fanatic would utter such a thing out loud.

so it's not like we new worlders can just go anywhere in europe. ask people in western europe how they feel about folks from from the former eastern bloc countries moving in and you'll find out exactly how far pan-european sentiment gets you. we're supposed to go to the place where we have the greatest cultural ties. which puts us in the tricky position of having to come up with a workable definition of culture. or we could be lazy and use wikipedia's. yeah, let's do that. specifically, let's look at this passage:

Some aspects of human behavior, such as language, social practices such as kinship, gender and marriage, expressive forms such as art, music, dance, ritual, religion, and technologies such as cooking, shelter, clothing are said to be cultural universals, found in all human societies.

that seems like a decent list of things that can be considered "cultural" without causing too many problems. i'll use myself as an example, but anyone can do this.

in terms of language, i am clearly a product of english-speaking culture. that puts me anywhere within the british isles. in terms of "social practices" i am culturally christian, more specifically protestant. as for cultural technologies, i am solely a product of the time in which i live. i don't have the faintest idea what would constitute my cultural leanings in this regard, since those things are determined as much by climate and natural resources as anything else.

on the question of kinship, my family identifies primarily as scottish on one side and welsh on the other. seems reasonable, right? well, not really. both sides start off scottish and welsh, but once you scratch the surface, there's a lot more english in me than anything else. but that's ok, since that fits with the english language thing. except that it really, really doesn't.

the only reason that my scottish family ended up here in canada to begin with was because they were hounded out of britain for their opposition to england and protestantism. yes, that's right, my english-speaking, protestant-churching background is a lie. i mean, the english-speaking is still ok, although a lot of my scottish family likely spoke both english and gaelic, not necessarily in that order, but the protestant bit was foisted on that part of the family in my grandparents' generation. before that, they had been catholic for centuries. and if you're a christian, that's a pretty big difference.

but since i personally don't speak gaelic and my knowledge of catholicism is limited to their architecture, it's a stretch for me to identify as scottish, even though it's been the part of my heritage i've identified with most closely since childhood. then again, there are lots of scottish protestants and they all speak english now, so maybe it doesn't matter whether i move back to scotland or england, since they're basically the same thing. [i dare you to stand up in a pub in glasgow and yell that out on a saturday night.]

from another perspective, i could simply label myself as culturally celtic. after all, i have scottish blood from the western highlands and the isles welsh blood from the south [carmarthenshire and pembrokeshire, although my closest welsh relatives are actually from the borderlands in denbighshire and wrexham up north], and irish blood from the northern part of the island. that's three of the six celtic nations right there. and those ties go back well before the norman invasion. and there is a consistency there because most of my family were forced out of britain because, like a lot of those from celtic groups, they were greatly disenfranchised.

but if we're going back that far, then i have to look at the whole "english" thing. because the vast majority of my englishness is actually norman. there is part of me that is english all the way back to the time when they spelled it with an "a" [angle-land], but of the bits i can trace back anything near as far as the celtic parts of me come from normandy, which would make me culturally french. sort of. the normans were french, but the idea of "france" at that time was a little tenuous, and what was more important was what province or duchy you came from. so, normandy then, which is now part of france, but which at the time was a sort of blend of french and germanic [not german, because germany didn't exist until much, much later] cultures. but normandy now is in france and has been for a long time and while i speak french, it would be a stretch to say that i am culturally french. and although my family, well, parts of it, were planted in normandy for some time, they tended to come more from the germanic parts. lots of them came from the area around li├Ęge, which actually isn't in france or germany, but belgium. does that make me belgian?

as it happens, there's other parts of europe that have at least as good a claim to me, although it wouldn't be obvious at first. that would be spain. spain? i'm not saying they're relatives i knew personally, but they're considerably more recent than the pre-invasion normans or belgians. at one point an english relative married a spaniard, which means that all those genes are still alive in me [and a lot of other people] today. but i'm mistaken when i say "spanish", because spain was sort of a fluid concept for a long while. and, though there were certainly people from groups who would primarily identify as "spanish" today, the majority of the blood i have from the area that is part of modern-day spain is basque. those people aren't overly fond of being referred to as spanish.

but if you're including them, you sort of have to include a lot of burgundians, which brings us back to france, even though it's difficult to talk about medieval normandy and burgundy as being the same country. more members of the same fraternity.

for that matter, a significant number of norwegians married into the scottish branch of the family and that came well after the normans had left their homes on the coast of france. and modern norway seems to be a natural fit for many of my world views. so maybe i should consider repatriating myself to norway.

and much more recently than any of that, part of the welsh-lancastrian side of the family is romani- gypsy- probably from hungary. and when i say "more recent" i mean at least as recent as a lot of my english family ties.

i don't know, this isn't my argument. you'd have to ask the right-wingers stomping around my homeland candidate belgium about this, about where one decides to draw a line to determine the boundaries of one's culture. because, as with any historical analysis, it's arbitrary. you can say that the english canadian culture of which i am a part is derived from british culture of the 16th-19th centuries, but that's useful for the purposes of anthropology, not the purposes of "repatriating" large numbers of individuals. you want to argue that people should stay in the country in which they were born? what year does that go into effect? is a child born in france to recent immigrant senegalese parents french or senegalese? what about a child born to english parents in portugal? these things happen. i know at least a few people who were born in one country to parents from another country who have spent the majority of their lives in a third country. the sort of broad strokes invoked when we talk about "culture" are difficult at best to pin down. but you can't make laws to deport people without specificity.

and just before winding this exercise in frustration up, allow me to return to a moment to that group of cultural markers that i found so problematic before- the "technologies" and "expressive forms". i was fibbing a little when i said that i didn't know where i fit, culturally in terms of those things. what i should have said is that i don't identify with a particular nationality for those things. culturally, i am a product of modern cities with relatively high standards of living, with significant space for secular views, high literacy rates and advanced communications structures. and everything about me individually is linked much more closely with that 'culture' than anything else. i'm more likely to have things in common with a secular-minded, university-educated, artistically-inclined person in singapore than i am with someone living in the countryside or in a small village three hours in any direction from my house.

those who say that immigrants should go "back where they came from" miss the point entirely: you cannot ascribe the culture of an individual person to one country, one ethnicity, one religion or one historical period. culture is [and must be] a living, moving, changing thing, a tension between experience and environment.

i may at some point move to another country. i may move to another place within this country. maybe i'll be able to connect that place to something from my family history, directly or indirectly. or maybe i won't, but it'll be a place where i feel "culturally comfortable". but the only sense in which i am going "back where i came from" is that right now it is getting late, i am tired and so i am going back to the bedroom i came out from this morning. 

Comments

Martin Rouge said…
Je suis Montreal.

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