• Nia May

My Identity as a Second-generation Canadian

I was born in Canada, but neither of my parents were. My dad was born in Guyana, a country in the West-Indies. My mom was born on the Caribbean island of Jamaica. This makes me a second-generation Canadian. Both of my parents emigrated from their home countries as children and so they have both now lived in this country longer than they lived in their respective home countries. This is what formed the basis of my identity: a black Canadian with Jamaican and Guyanese heritage. My identity is not overly complex, nor are my roots unique to me, but I do consider them very special. In the region I have grown up in, being a second-generation Canadian is not unusual. I feel incredibly fortunate to have been raised in the GTA which is often considered a ‘melting pot’ of ethnicities and cultures. To have benefited from, and contributed to, such an environment is educational and inspiring. Growing up, I was exposed to a number of different cultures and befriended people with parents who immigrated from all over the world, but I felt I lacked a complete understanding of my own cultural identity.


As a child, it was always a joy for me to learn about where my parents come from. I poured over photo albums with my mother, carefully observing photographs of her in the sun or on the sand and I sat at my father’s feet listening to his childhood memories of a place so foreign to me.


I was eight years old the first time I went to Jamaica. Being surrounded by so many voices that carried my grandparents’ accent was a delight I had not yet known; and never had I felt so at home yet so foreign. I learned so much about the dialect and enjoyed discovering the origins of some Jamaican traditions and recipes that I was already familiar with. The waterfalls and beaches were stunning, but I enjoyed meeting people in local areas the most because it reminded me of the stories I had been told and made me feel involved in the lifestyle of an island to which I belong.


I was twelve years old the first time I visited Guyana. It was like nothing I had ever experienced to see the places that my dad had always told me about, to watch his stories come alive before me. I saw the Stabroek Market in Georgetown and visited my father’s elementary school. Meeting family members, eating local foods and celebrating Guyana’s Independence Day during my visit was all so thrilling. Having the opportunity to be immersed in the Guyanese and Jamaican cultures helped to solidify my cultural identity and mended the disconnection that I felt between my identity as a Canadian and my ethnicity.


My identity as a second-generation Canadian took time for me to fully understand and adore. It is a daily journey for me to honour my ancestry and culture while living in a western culture that I identify with as well. Each day, I learn about my background and embrace it ever-tightly. I am a proud Jamaican, Guyanese Canadian with a beautiful culture and an understanding of the blessing that it is.

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