by Osman Shah
Originally published: March 23, 2017
It's 1989 and my family and I have landed back in Canada after a few years in Pakistan. I'm five. I'm ready to start school. I don't speak a word of English, let alone French. But because my parents learned from their citizenship test that French was the official second language of the country, I'm enrolled in French Immersion anyways. And since we are in Alberta, I am bound to learn English. This is the reasoning my mother often gives -- it's the effort they put in to make sure I would understand what it meant to be Canadian.
In 1988, the year prior to our return, the Canadian Multiculturalism Act took effect, recognizing the cultural and racial diversity of the country and acknowledging the freedom of all Canadians to preserve and share their cultural heritage. We are a proud multicultural society, and we wear it as a badge of honour.
So what does that make me? A French speaking-first generation Western Canadian-Pakistani? I don't imagine anybody identifies this way in his or her day-to-day life. I don't imagine anybody has to. I didn't identify this way because I never felt like I had too either. And for the longest time, I chose not to. I was Ozman or Oz (both of which are nowhere near the pronunciation of my name, Osman). Maybe this was naïve of me. Maybe I knew it was wrong, but I willfully ignored it. I don't know.