My name is Nathan Kabuya. I am a second-year student in the psychology profile at Dawson. I have always been known by my peers as a strong advocate against issues of discrimination and racism. As a person of colour myself, facing such issues yet learning how to be proud about my cultural heritage made me a very resilient person. This reality inspired my writing for my personal essay “My Truth” and allowed me to share a reality that is, in my opinion, rarely talked about. I am a very social and dynamic person who enjoys dancing, fashion, discussing and debating with people. I plan on pursuing my university studies in public relations and making an impactful change in my community.
By Nathan Kabuya
Having a bicultural identity is, in my opinion, both a blessing and a curse. It allows me to have a different perspective on many issues and it allows me to fit into different groups, but it prevents me from feeling completely comfortable. I get called out for being too “this” and not enough of “that”. I get celebrated for contributing to the diversity of Quebec, then blamed for different social problems in this province. My two identities sometimes battle each other and raise conflict inside of me. In this essay, I will share my experience as a young Black Quebecer of Haitian and Congolese descent.
I was born in Montreal and was raised here in Canada, yet I do not always feel at home. Different politics, governments and racist experiences have made me question whether I totally belong in Quebec. Growing up, whenever a teacher would refer to Québécois students, their comment would only imply Caucasian French-Canadian individuals. Minority students would only be referred to when mentioned by their ethnic background (i.e., Haitian, Italian, Algerian). This subliminal discrimination I’ve witnessed from a young age contributed to my ideas of exclusion. One of these, as expressed in Joseph Kertes’ “Second Country”, is that there is “the Other”, an outsider who will never be totally integrated into a society. Not only did my teachers’ choice of vocabulary shape me, but the lack of representation of minorities in French media also affected me. Few movies and TV shows from here expressed the reality of minorities, and Quebec’s history courses neglected to acknowledge their contribution. Minorities would only be addressed as immigrants, which is problematic because many different ethnicities have been living in this province for centuries. Some of us have immigrated recently to this province and others, like me, are second-generation immigrants. Furthermore, the lack of cultural distinction within various political bills makes our reality very difficult. Consequently, laws and regulations are either made for “Quebecers” or for “Immigrants”. But what about the people who stand directly in this gap? What about the people who are proud of having a different ethnic background, yet still want to be a part of Quebec?
In my experience, it is very difficult to have a bicultural identity in Montreal, and it gets even more complex when adding racial factors to the equation. I am a Black man. It is the first thing that people notice when I walk into a convenience store or when I introduce myself in a job interview. I am proud of my skin’s complexion; however, I am still aware of the negative connotations associated with my race. Many people assume that Black men are aggressive and violent. I have witnessed from a young age situations where young boys of color were accused of being disruptive or violent, yet these same behaviours, when done by Caucasian children, were tolerated. Adults in my family taught me how to avoid being profiled by preventing me from listening to hip hop, sagging my pants or braiding my hair. Consequently, having Black friends in school became a source of comfort for me. I realized that my reality was not isolated, but was experienced by many people of color (Jamaican, Haitian, Nigerian etc.). This explains the complexity of my bicultural identity, as I not only view myself as Haitian-Congolese and Canadian, but also as a Black person because of collective history and shared culture. I, therefore, understand the shock felt by Neil Bissoondath as described in his text “Selling Illusions”. When entering the segregated cafeteria at York University, he noticed that to approach any of these tables was to intrude on a clannish exclusivity. It was to challenge the unofficially designated territory of tables parceled out so that each group, whether racially, culturally or religiously defined could enjoy its little enclave, its own little ‘homeland’, so to speak, protected by unspoken prerogatives. (Bissoondath 21)
As a new immigrant from a Black country, he probably did not understand the sense of belonging felt by Black people in the cafeteria and the congregating of ethnic groups.
Now that I am older, I’ve learned to accept my identity as a part of a minority. My skin will always be black regardless of my integration into Quebecois society. I am proud of my parents’ cultural heritage, yet I strongly embrace my Canadian rights and identity. This particularity makes me what Kim Thuy calls in Ru, a “hybrid”, which is “half this, half that, nothing at all and everything at once” (Thuy 143). I relate to this, because even though I criticize the province of Quebec and its treatment of ethnic minorities, it is my only home. If I were to live in Haiti or Congo, I would feel overwhelmed and disorientated since it is not where I was raised. My western upbringing would contrast with that of these societies where I would be perceived as “an outsider”. Even after a year in Canada, Neil Bissoondath explains that when he “returned to Trinidad to visit my parents. It wasn’t long before I was impatient to get back to Toronto.” Even though he loved and respected his home country, the man still felt attached to Canada, his adoptive country. This showcases the fact that immigration causes individuals to become hybrids within their new realities. Roots are traced back to your country of origin, but the plants flourish in your adopted society.
To conclude, I am grateful for the process of acceptance that my bicultural identity has given me. Jhumpa Lahiri explained in “My Two Lives” that “a bicultural upbringing is a rich but imperfect thing” (4). People will always manage to exclude or blame individuals for having a bicultural identity, but I believe that it is something that should be embraced. Being at Dawson, a multicultural, unique and diverse environment forces me to analyze myself and decide who I want to be, regardless of people’s judgment or cultural pressure. This experience fulfils me and pushes me to embrace my “rich yet imperfect” identity.
Bissoondath, Neil. Selling Illusions: The Cult of Multiculturalism in Canada. Toronto: Penguin Books, 1994. Print.
Lahiri, Jhumpa. “My Two Lives.” English 103: Immigration, compiled by Sarah
Gilbert, Dawson College, 2018, pp. 3-4.
Thúy, Kim., and Sheila Fischman. Ru. Toronto: Random House Canada, 2012.