Brian Anonymous
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Asking Someone About Their Ancestry

Why is this such a big deal for some. Should it be?

I recently had a conversation with a friend that had come back to Canada from working overseas. I had asked him what are some differences that he noticed when he came back to Canada after being away from the country so long. He replied that Canadians are too sensitive when it comes to asking about our backgrounds, especially when they look foreign. I looked back in curiosity. Please elaborate for me.

So you have to understand he's been working overseas at some resort where there are tons of different nationalities that visit all the time. It's common for him to go to people asking where they're from and what are they doing there, etc. This was his job to be friendly with the clients. Here, it's a little different—people aren't visiting. They've lived here their whole lives. I also had to explain to him that there are other issues as well.

A person might not like being asked where they're "originally" from because they grew up in this country trying to fit in all their lives. They've been taught to be ashamed of their culture, language, and have tried all their lives to assimilate into the Canadian culture so that they can fit in. After years of this, someone coming up to them asking where they're from simply indicates that they didn't do a good enough job.

I can see the other side of things, though. No one would be asking "where are you originally from," if they weren't genuinely interested in you. Being insulted and offended over such a simple question closes yourself to making a new friend, or starting conversation and developing understanding. This can be a tough issue for certain minorities because they can't hide the fact that they'll always look like outsiders.

The second comment my friend mentioned was interesting. He said that people here are easily insulted or offended when he finds out about their culture and then starts talking about their culture or starts speaking in their language.

I go back to the statement that some people have assimilated themselves into the culture. In doing so, they may have lost their own culture and lost their cultural identity by not speaking their mother tongue or follow certain traditions. It happens. So when someone not of their family culture comes to them talking about their culture or speaks the language, that individual can feel terribly embarrassed. I don't know if they are offended but more ashamed and embarrassed to talk about those things. I, for one, fall into this category.

I know that I need to learn more about my own culture and language but my own mind gets in my way. I'm sure there are tons of people that fall into the same situation. It's too late to learn, or the embarrassment of trying when you've already branded yourself after all these years to be a certain way. It's stubbornness and this is something we have to get over.

It was great because I learned more things that I need to work on myself and for him to understand how certain people think when he does ask them those type of questions. I think that more of these conversations need to be made with one another so that we can understand where each of us are coming from. Having conversations with one another shouldn't be about finding out who's right or wrong. Understand each other so that you have a better idea of what others are thinking. Let them understand where you're coming from and see how to make each other better from it.

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Asking Someone About Their Ancestry
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