If you look at my face, though, you will see something other than what we normally associate with Americans even up to now – that is, being of European descent. My parents are, in fact, from the Philippines.
I visit relatives in Vancouver regularly, and I have been all over both Canada and the United States. These experiences have led me to ask myself constantly an interesting question: where am I a foreigner, and where am I not?
I often hear people say that Canada and the U.S. are different. My experience is that the two countries seem to have more differences within themselves than between each other. As many of us know, California’s urban areas are often quite liberal and multicultural – including many people of Filipino and other Asian background – so I don’t stick out. Now, between going to Vancouver and going to some state in the Midwestern or southern United States, where am I a foreigner, and where am I a “homeboy”?
As many of us also know, Vancouver also has a tolerant and multicultural atmosphere, including a LARGE Asian element. At the same time, the Midwestern and southern regions of the United States have much fewer Asians, are not very multicultural in many areas, and tend to be quite conservative.
So according to my passport, I am a foreigner in Vancouver, but a homeboy in Illinois, Indiana, Wyoming, or Mississippi. Yet, if I walk around Vancouver, virtually nothing about me sticks out: I look like one of the locals, talk very much like one of them, and I more likely think like one of them. In many U.S. states on the other hand, I stick out in almost every way.
The story would likely be the same for my relatives in Vancouver: they regularly take day trips to Seattle, and visit us every now-and-then in the San Francisco Bay Area. Even if their passports say that they are foreigners, they do not feel like they are.
On the other hand, what if they went to Quebec City or rural Quebec, where virtually everyone is white, French-speaking, and holds to relatively conservative French Canadian traditions? Their passport says that they are not foreigners, but because they do not speak the language or follow the same culture as the locals, they would not feel any sense of belonging. They may as well be foreigners. I can make a similar comparison to how they would probably feel if they were to go to Newfoundland or Nunavut.
Are we so different? Within ourselves we are. In reality, I see more similarities across the border than within the borders. And due to my background, I’m sure I end up seeing the two countries differently from the majority of people in either country.