Being Canadian, Part 1 & 2

The Next Generation: Sun-Kyung Yi with her siblings and their children

The Next Generation: Sun-Kyung Yi with her siblings and their children

Ideas, stories, and reflections on being Canadian: who we are, what we are, and what it means to be a citizen of Canada today. From east to west, public intellectuals and private citizens (both new and old Canadians), tell film-maker Sun-Kyung (Sunny) Yi about the concerns, the questions, and the challenges of living together in a multicultural and diverse society.  Co-written and produced by Sara Wolch.

Listen to Being Canadian, Part 1

Listen to Being Canadian, Part 2

My family on my sister Sue's Gr. 8 graduation day at McLurg School,  Regina. My parents were beaming with pride that day because Sue, a  straight A student, was also the class valedictorian.

The first time I took the citizenship oath, back in 1979, I was 12 years old. My family had been in Canada for only a few years and we were living in Regina. The ceremony was in a big beige building on Victoria Street. And everyone in the family was very nervous.

My mom made us get "dressed up" in our very best outfits. They were so uncomfortable that my sisters Yu-Kyung and Hi-Kyung, and my little brother Ung-So and I were all fidgeting.

My dad kept saying (over and over): "This is a Very Important Occasion. When we come home today we'll be Canadian."

I had no idea what he meant: would we stop eating rice? Stop using our Korean names? Stop being ... Korean??? And when I looked around the room, things got even more confusing. Everyone was white, except for us. As far as I knew, white people were already Canadian. So what were they doing here?

Suddenly, my Mother nudged me - it was time to stand up and take the oath.

I raised my left hand, instead of my right, swore allegiance to Canada, but in my mind - stayed loyal to Canada AND Korea.

This time, 31 years later, I did it right. As I stood there with all the new Canadians in the crowd, I was as happy and proud - as they were.

My parents' engagement -- Tae-Sik Yi and Chung-Hae Yi. It was an arranged marriage. Years later, my mom told me Dad was happier with the 'arrangement' than she was!

When my parents decided to leave Korea, and bring us to Canada in 1976, they knew "next-to-nothing" about life here.

They didn't have any relatives or friends in Canada. They didn't know where we'd live, or if there was work, or that Canada was multicultural.

The only thing that mattered to them, was their children's future: good education, opportunities, and security - all the things Canada had - that Korea didn't, the old clich├ęs about North America that my parents had heard. And so we moved to Regina, Saskatchewan - because the Canadian government encouraged us to settle there.

It was a typical Immigrant story. And as we all know, Canada is a "Land of Opportunity" and a "Land of Immigrants". I even learned that in my "English as a Second Language" class.

Me with the perpetual frown, my sisters Sue and Irene, our mom and our baby brother Sam on Irene's birthday.

For the first few years I did my very best to help my parents become Canadian.

Everyday, after school in Regina, I'd tell them what I learned - and my parents would listen, especially when I told them about Canadian troops who fought in the Korean War and that no Canadian prime minister ever - had been assassinated or imprisoned or exiled... ever.

I was their Interpreter, their Secretary, and their Messenger. I helped them with their banking; made telephone calls on their behalf; and best of all, I went to parent-teacher interviews - without them!

My parents of course also played their part in becoming Canadian, but it was a slow process.

Sun-Kyung (Sunny) Yi

Sun-Kyung (Sunny) Yi is a critically-acclaimed documentary filmmaker, journalist and author. She has contributed several hours of radio documentaries for Ideas over the years, and has produced and directed more than a dozen films that have garnered both national and international awards and have broadcast in more than 30 countries. In 2009, Yi founded and created the Documentary Filmmaking Institute at Toronto's Seneca College.
For more information about Sunny's work, please visit her website.


Suggested Reading

Bloemraad, Irene. Becoming a Citizen: Incorporating Immigrants and Refugees in the United States and Canada (University of California Press, Berkeley, 2006).

Bumsted, J.M. A History of the Canadian Peoples (Oxford University Press, 2003).

Byers, Michael. Intent for a Nation: What is Canada for? A relentlessly optimistic manifesto for Canada's role in the world. (Douglas & McIntyre, Vancouver/Toronto, 2007).

Canadian Immigration Policy for the 21st Century. Eds. Charles M. Beach, Alan G. Green and Jeffrey G. Reitz (John Deutsch Institute for the Study of Economic Policy, Queen's University, 2003).

Granatstein, Jack L. Who Killed Canadian History? (HarperCollins Publishers Ltd.)

Grant, George. Lament for a Nation: The Defeat of Canadian Nationalism (Gage Publishing Ltd., in association with the Institute of Canadian Studies at Carleton University, 1965).

Griffiths, Rudyard. Who We Are: A Citizen's Manifesto (Douglas & McIntyre, Vancouver/Toronto, 2009).

Hoerder, Dirk. Creating Societies: Immigrant Lives in Canada (McGill-Queen's University Press, 1999).

Immigration and Integration in Canada in the Twenty-first Century. Eds. John Biles, Meyer Burstein, and James Frideres (School of Policy Studies, Queen's University, 2008).

Jedwab, Jack. Dually Divided? The risks of linking debates over citizenship to attachment to Canada (63 International Journal 65, Winter 2007/08).

Kelley, Ninette and Michael Trebilcock. The Making of the Mosaic: A History of Canadian Immigration Policy (University of Toronto Press, Toronto, 1998).

Kymlicka, Will. Multicultural Odysseys: Navigating the New International Politics of Diversity (Oxford University Press, 2007).

Multiculturalism and Social Cohesion: Potentials and Challenges of Diversity, eds., Jeffrey G. Reitz, Raymond Breton, Karen K. Dion, Kenneth L. Dion. (Springer, 2009).

Saul, John Ralston. Reflections of a Siamese Twin: Canada at the End of the Twentieth Century (Viking, 1997).

Taylor, Charles. Multiculturalism: Examining the Politics of Recognition (Princeton University Press, 1994).

Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Submission Policy

Note: The CBC does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comments, you acknowledge that CBC has the right to reproduce, broadcast and publicize those comments or any part thereof in any manner whatsoever. Please note that comments are moderated and published according to our submission guidelines.