Canada 2017·What's Your Story

How 'Cangelenos' like me stay Canadian in L.A.

Canadians expats understand the constant tug of war that happens when you love two places, says Albertan-turned-Californian Jolene Latimer.

'Token Canadians develop an eye for each other.'

Can you tell this Californian is really an Albertan? In L.A., a fellow Canadian probably could. (Jolene Latimer)

There are millions of Canadians living abroad, and the vast majority of them now call the U.S. home. So, do they get homesick? Even in sunny California? 

Throughout 2017, we're asking Canadians, "What's your story?" Jolene Latimer, an Edmonton transplant now living in L.A., shares hers.

My mom is the Canadian version of the dad in My Big Fat Greek Wedding. It's not just that she favours odd, homespun cures (like Windexing everything), but also that she's convinced that her country is simply one of the best on the planet.

Now — imagine how she felt when I moved to the United States.

When I was 21, I wanted to get caught up in the glistening lights of Hollywood; so I transferred to the University of Southern California and moved to L.A.

My mom hugged me on the sidewalk outside of my new home.

"You're going to marry an American," she said between sobs. "I just know it."

In that moment, she could imagine a fate no worse — her charming Canadian daughter caught up with some Yankee in the ol' U.S. of A.

I didn't bother telling her that Americans are great kissers. Instead, I made a vow.

"I won't mom," I said. "I promise you I won't marry an American."

Latimer and her mom at the University of Southern California, the L.A. campus that first lured her away from Canada. (Jolene Latimer)

Of course, I didn't take the vow too seriously.

I'm sure she'd be able and willing to initiate anyone I should choose — American or otherwise — into the ways of Canadians. My parents have a long driveway they don't enjoy shovelling in the winter.

The token Canadian

I see a lot to enjoy about American men generally, and L.A. natives (Angelenos) specifically, but there's no denying that I've also been drawn to Cangelenos.

'Finding Canadians in L.A. and representing Canada here has defined for me what being Canadian really is.' (Jolene Latimer)

That's the word for Canadians who live in L.A.

There's a rumour us Cangelenos like to believe — that we're the fourth largest Canadian city by population. (Don't fact check us on that.) There are a lot of us here in L.A., and I've become adept at spotting us.

Somehow I can always pinpoint the other person in the room who has grown up with the taste of all-dressed chips on their lips, who has woken up many an early morning for hockey practice or who has internalized the beauty of the Canadian wilderness.

It's probably because if you're a Canadian in L.A., you become the token Canadian — expected to answer all sorts of questions about parts of the country you've never been, and expected to know, in detail, the story behind any Canadian fact of your conversation partner's choosing.

Most conversations start like this:

"Where from in Canada?"

"Alberta," I say — which is usually met with a blank stare.

"It's on top of Montana," I clarify.

"Oh. I have family in… Windsor?"

"Yes, that's to the right."

Against this backdrop, token Canadians develop an eye for each other.

Once I began finding more, I couldn't stop. One would lead me to another, then another — at one point most of my friends in the city were somehow linked to the True North.

In times of great homesickness, they have been a needed taste of home.

Between home and here

'Nothing is as sweet as a long prairie summer day, the smell of freshly cut hay rolling over the fields, or a Double Double from Tim Hortons.' (Jolene Latimer)

When you're in a foreign country, it's natural to gravitate toward people who know the place where you grew up. There's something in the way you can relate to each other that can't be replicated or replaced.

A Cangeleno is someone to watch Hockey Night in Canada with (if you find the right one, they'll have the hockey package and can actually get the full broadcast). They know the words to the Log Driver's Waltz should you ever forget (but why would you?). They can give you tips on where to find poutine in the city and how to get ingredients to make Nanaimo bars (you need to go to a special import store). They can be counted on to sit around your table at Thanksgiving (not the American one).

They're also the only ones who truly understand the constant tug of war that happens when you love two places — home and here.

Because no matter where I am or who my friends are, Canada is home.

I think this is what my mom wanted me to guarantee on that hot August day when she stood sobbing on the sidewalk, letting me go into the wild world of L.A.

We couldn't have known it then, but it's clear now that no matter what I do or who I become, there will always be a Canadian girl inside of me — something any partner will have to understand.

You just can't take Canada out of the girl.

And whether I end up marrying an Angeleno, Cangeleno or someone else entirely, one thing is for sure — he'd better get ready for a big, fat, Canadian wedding.

Latimer, seen her visiting her beloved prairie wheat fields, still admires her home country from afar. (Jolene Latimer)