Cultural Duality

Caught adrift between tradition and assimilation

Naomi Kim lounges in her home on Saturday, Sept. 24, 2016. Kim is a second generation Canadian, her parents are South Korean, and she lives caught between two cultures. (Photo by Nikolai Cuthill/SAIT)

Naomi Kim lounges in her home on Saturday, Sept. 24, 2016. Kim is a second generation Canadian, her parents are South Korean, and she lives caught between two cultures. (Photo by Nikolai Cuthill/SAIT)

Canada prides itself on being a cultural mosaic, where new immigrants bring a piece of their culture with them as they arrive.

As these newcomers arrive on our strange shores, they seek familiarity among members of their own culture—so as not to be swept away in a tide of Canadiana.

In doing so, they form communities, which, by their very nature, define themselves as being different from “normal” Canadians.

Who could begrudge them such a small comfort after such a long journey? In fact, I believe it is noble to try to preserve your traditions.

But, eventually, they have children. And each generation becomes more Canadian than the last.

What of those born along this river, as it flows towards assimilation? On the one hand, their parents fit comfortably in their communities of “otherness,” while I sit down at the river’s mouth, as Canadian as poutine and wasted votes.

Gazelle Farhady, a first-year student of SAIT’s electrical engineering technology program, and second-generation immigrant, said she struggles with her cultural identity.

“You end up being a sort of outsider with both cultures,” said Farhady, whose parents immigrated to Canada from Iran.

“There’s this uncrossable line that you draw for yourself.”

This line is largely something that we invent for ourselves, although Farhady admits that there are some more concrete barriers.

The language can be tough, especially when you can’t practise with your friends, and the people are often quite different.

“Iranians are probably the most hospitable people in the world.”

When Farhady landed at the airport in Tehran on her trip last year, nearly her whole family was waiting for her at the airport. Of the roughly 15 of them, she knew maybe two.

She spent her trip being fought over. Everybody wanted her to visit and to stay for dinner.

“It was actually somewhat suffocating.”

Farhady’s family is from a small town, and is very traditional. As a woman, she was mostly told what to do, and had to wear a headscarf from the moment her airplane landed.

Two weeks later though, she was back, a freer and more independent woman.

“I like to think that I take the best of both cultures, but Canada is my home,” said Farhady.

Others, however, have found themselves hindered by borrowing from two disparate cultures.

Naomi Kim, who was born in Seoul, South Korea, but raised in Three Hills, Alta., said that most of the racism that she faces day-to-day comes from other Asians.

“My experience with the Korean community hasn’t been all that great, especially in Canada,” said Kim, who considers herself culturally Canadian.

Although Kim keeps up with some of the more general Korean traditions, she finds herself being unfairly judged for not being “Korean enough.”

There is a level of gossip and xenophobia that is normally associated with high school cliques, except it has followed Kim into her adult life.

“I know that it’s not only Koreans who do that, but I find that it’s just much more toxic and happens more often in the Korean community.”

Conversely, Kim has found first generation immigrants and those who still live in Korea to be more welcoming.

“They tend to just think ‘oh she’s westernised’ and kind of just accept me as I am.”

Having grown up in a small town, Kim did not have a very strong Asian influence. And, as a result, she grew up not much differently from any girl who grows up in small town Alberta.

Unlike most small town girls, she grew up feeling as though the way she looked contradicted who she was.

She thought like a Canadian, but she looked like a Korean, and she resented herself for it.

“I don’t fit in anywhere completely. It was difficult for me to wrap my head around that for a while,” said Kim.

“I am different, and I’m okay with that.”

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