The X Page: A Storytelling Workshop

I Am Canadian

by Denisha Naidoo


Golden fields of wheat flank the highway and the sky is a brilliant blue. My dad is driving my mom, my sister, our dog, and me in our dark green Peugeot 404 with the orangey-brown leather seats across the flatlands of the prairies. The vibration of the tires on the road has lulled my mom and sister to sleep.

I lean forward between the front seats to talk to my dad and to watch the endless Trans-Canada highway disappear into the horizon. To pass the time, we play a game of adding up the numbers on the license plates of the few cars that pass us by.

Suddenly, the road disappears behind a shroud of white feathers, a flock of birds fly in front of the car. We drive through them, all those white birds, some hit the grill with a sickening thump. This memory will lock my dad and I together forever. I am four years old.

We are traveling across Canada, our new home, so that we can see it firsthand. The same way that my sister and I take French lessons so that we can call ourselves Canadian. We do all of this so that we can fit in, naïve to the lifelong struggle that lay ahead. Even though we will traverse the country from one coast to the other, camping along the way. Even though we travel by helicopter and then bombadeer across the frozen river in winter as far north as Moose Factory so that my dad, a paediatrician, can help the Moose Cree First Nation, who accept us as we are. Even for all of that, we will forever be asked, “where are you from?” And when I say, “South Africa,” they will inevitably say, “no, where are you really from?” Or “if you’re from Africa, why do your features look like that?” And when I work in Newfoundland and Labrador as a family doctor—not because I have to, but because I choose to, the nurses will say, “you speak English really well.” To which I will reply, “yes, they speak English in Ontario.”

But in those early days and for many decades, I will think I am Canadian, unaware that I am any different. The days when my dad creates a makeshift bed, a magical space, on the back seat of the car with sleeping bags and foam mattresses for my sister and me to play on as we cross the landscape of our new home. It is in this moment, before my sister and mom have drifted off to sleep, before hundreds of white wings blot out the brilliant blue sky, before anyone questions where I am from, that I am Canadian.