by Imane Semaine from Edmonton, AB
A few weeks ago, I received an invitation from the Algerian Embassy in Canada. The Aglerian Ambassador was coming to Edmonton and my family was invited. I was eager to attend the event, as an excuse to meet all the other Canadian Algerians living here.
I had always longed for a community to call my own. Growing up I felt lonely as all my relatives lived overseas, and my parents did not have many Algerian friends. When I was younger, I would get jealous when classmates would talk about how their aunts and uncles spoiled them, or how they had cousins to play with, or friends of the same ethnicity that they could relate to.
Although I had siblings and parents that loved me, I wanted to know what it was like to belly dance with other Algerians or attend a Berber wedding. I wanted to feel like I belonged. I even longed to know what it felt like to have my own Algerian pavilion during
Heritage Days, Edmonton's annual celebration of multiculturalism in the city. I often imagined having a tent that would smell like traditional couscous with el ham, and loubia h'dersa, while
rai music by Cheb Mami and Khaled blasted in the background.
Even now, at the age of twenty-two, I feel this desire.
So I walked with my family toward the event, I was brimming with optimisim. I felt the day I had been waiting for had finally arrived.
My expectations were crushed the second I entered the meeting room.
The simply decorated room was barely full, and those who were present were old and unfriendly.
To make matters worse, they were all speaking French, or Arabic, or some combination of both. I sat down quietly with my sisters, and stared hopefully at the door for someone my age, or at least someone who spoke English, to enter.
Eventually, people stopped trickling into the room. And there I was, surrounded by dozens of other Algerians, and yet I never felt
I left that day feeling miserable. As I drove home, I thought about my identity. My whole life I had convinced myself that I wasn’t really Canadian. For the first time, that day, I asked myself why.
I remembered a distant memory that inconspicuously lurked in the back of my mind. When I was seven years old, I had gone shopping with my mom at the local Zellers. As usual, I sat in the shopping cart as my mom scrutinized the aisles for bargains and other must-have-red-ticket deals. As she walked down the shoe aisle, a Caucasian couple carne out of nowhere and crashed their cart into ours. At first my mom thought it was an accident, but then they kept going. They continually smashed their cart into ours.
Terrified by what was happening, I began to cry. The couple kept going and they screamed words that I could never forget. They looked at my mother and I and said"go back to where you came from, nobody wants you here."
The manager of the store asked the man and woman to leave, and they did. But their words stayed with me, for years.
Remembering that day at Zellers, I finally realized why I never allowed myself to be defined as simply "Canadian."
I have always secretly believed that I wasn't worthy enough, or white enough. to be "Canadian," and I found solace in my distant Algerian background. Sitting amongst those other Algerians that day, I finally discovered that I was Canadian before anything else. It doesn’t matter that my hair is black or that my skin tone is olive. I have spent my whole life in Canada: my grade four social studies report was on Louis Riel,I watch "Comer Gas"every week, and I have surprising patience when it comes to waiting in line for a Tim Hortons double double. Looking out the window as my family and I drove home, I realized that I didn't need to keep searching anymore.