It Happened to Me

Almost 30 years later, and I still don’t belong

Winter 1975, Eaton’s College Park:

Mom: Which jacket do you want?
Me: This one. With the Canadian flag on it.

Summer 1978, shortly after the swearing-in ceremony:

Mom: Son, you will always have to work harder and do better than everyone else, because no matter how long you’ve lived here, no matter that we’re citizens now, there will always be people who will look at your Filipino features and say that you are not “Canadian”.

Summer 1980, following family friend and local historian Mike Filey around town:

Mike: This is Spadina Avenue. The word “Spah-dee-nah” is an Indian word meaning “hill”…

January 1993, speaking as a special guest lecturer in front of computer science students at the Polytechnic University of the Philippines:

Student: Do you consider yourself a Canadian, or a Filipino?
Me: Both.

Before you answer back, hear me out. Who said you had to be only one or the other? Does being a computer scientist rule out the possibility that you have other skills? Maybe as a businessman, or artist or musician? Can you not be a son, brother, father and friend all at once?

Even computer science says you can have it both ways. Computers are von Neumann machines — the numbers they juggle can either be data or instructions.

I am Filipino by birth and at least part of my upbringing is in the Filipino tradition. I’m polite to elders and parents, I get twitchy if
I haven’t had rice in a week and I can play a musical instrument and tell jokes in front of an audience at a moment’s notice.

(laughter from class)

But I am also Canadian. I’ve lived there most of my life, since I was seven. My parents went there to make a better life for us, and I hope
in return, we’ve made Canada a little bit better too. Even though it’s on the other side of the world from where I was born and several
degrees colder half the year, it’s home. It’s a good place, with all sorts of good people, and if you have a chance to visit, I would highly
recommend it.

October 1998, while visiting an English school in Sanda, Japan:

Student: You are from Canada? You look Japanese.
Me: Watashi-wa firipin-ji des [I’m a Filipino]. But yes, I’m from Canada. A Canadian.
Student: Is Canada a nice place? Do you like it there?
Me: It’s a great place, and yes, I do like it there. Here, let me show you some pictures…

Spring 1999, during the “Worst Date Ever”:

Me: You know where the word “Spadina” comes from?
The Waitress: No.
Me: It’s from an old native word, “Spah-dee-nah”, meaning “hill”…

September 1999, USA vs. Canada desert floor hockey match, Burning Man, Black Rock Desert, Nevada:

Referee: And now, the Accordion Guy will play the Canadian anthem of your choice — O Canada or Ren and Stimpy’s Royal Canadian Kilted Yaksmen
Crowd: Yaks-MEN! Yaks-MEN!
Me (singing and playing accordion): Our country reeks of trees / Our yaks are really large…

December 31st, 1999, Zamek Roztez Castle, an hour outside Prague:

Cute Czech Czick: You Western guys…you’re all so crazy.
Me: Hmmm…I’ve been called many things before, but “Western”? This could be the first time. I like the sound of it.
Cute Czech Czick: Are all you Canadians so charming?
Me: Yeah, all of us. You know, in Canada, we have this tradition of kissing at the very start of the New Year…

July 2000, DefCon, Las Vegas, in front of the ABC News cameras:

Me and several people from Hack Canada: CANADA 0WNZ!!!1!!!

(Breaks into Nine Inch Nails’ “Head Like a Hole”)

October 2000, showing the girlfriend from New York around town:

Me: “Spadina” comes from the native word for “hill”…

c|Net Radio interview, February 2001

Interviewer: So you’re from San Francisco?
Me: No, but we have an office here. I’d like to point out that we’re a Canadian company, following in Canada’s great tradition of computers and telecommunications…Waterloo, Seagate, Zero Knowledge, Nortel, the Blackberry, a lot of gaming companies, computer animators…

[Nortel was semi-respectable even then]

From this blog, nine months ago:

December 5, 2003, Pearson International Airport:

Me, to The Redhead: Welcome to Canada! Let me show you around.

December 6, 2003, chez Accordion Guy:

The Redhead: I like Canada.

Later that afternoon, walking around my neighbourhood:

Me: “Spadina” comes from “Spah-dee-nah”, a native word for hill…

Last month, before the National Anthem session at BloggerCon 2:

Me (to BloggerCon’s founder, Dave Winer): Hey Dave, is there any way I could also play the Canadian national anthem?

Last Saturday, in the Globe and Mail:

Canada is well represented with strong pieces by Toronto blogger Joey de Villa, better known as Accordian [sic] Guy…

From Enter Stage Right, two days ago:

The heroic efforts of Canadians during the Boer War, the two World Wars, and the Korean conflict, where their fighting spirit was much praised and appreciated, as at Vimy Ridge and during the Normandy campaign, seemed to have (ironically) only weakened the country, by the loss of its bravest and most courageous men. The English-Canadians of those days certainly did not fight with the image of a multicultural Toronto of the 1990s — where their male descendants would be subject to formal discrimination in employment, and be the victims of constant jibes in the mass-culture — in their hearts and minds. Nor, one doubts, even today, would Canadian troops (the overwhelming majority of whom are either English or French) be willing to die for the sake of all of Canada becoming another region of the Third World.

The heterogeneous populations of the megapolitan areas — with a few rare exceptions — have no knowledge or affection for the old Canada, in either their hearts or minds. They are effectively dead to the stone and wood relics in their midst, and to whatever old writings, paintings, or other records of the prior period exist. The “discourse” of the old Canada has no meaning for them.

Me, after reading that article:

Fuck you, eh.

I should kick your ass down the Spah-dee-nah.


I doubt anyone will actually want to use this button, but go ahead.

51 replies on “Almost 30 years later, and I still don’t belong”

Don’t let the People’s Republic of Cambridge fool yer, down in the [ahem] “melting pot” it’s the same deal. Speaking of “both,” my twin girls are half-white. When I take them out with me (the all-white dad) I will sometimes get the question, “Where are they from?” The first time I got that question it took me a while to figure out what they were asking. Anyhow, I’m always thinking up smart-ass answers to that question, but I usually just give the straight answer: [with a suitably puzzled look on my face] “Uh…my wife?” I think it really bothers some people that my kids can’t be pegged as one race or another. It upsets their whole worldview. “It just aint natural, I tell ya!” “Well, uh, actually, they came about quite naturally…” 😉

This guy is pining for a Canada that hasn’t existed since before 1968 – if it even existed then. The ‘lost’ Canada wore a white face, a dark suit and probably worked in a bank.
New Canada: My Canada includes ________
Old Canada: My Canada excludes ________
Keith from Ottawa

What a great post, Joey. I happen to love being Canadian, and it’s sad when people don’t understand what it means exactly to be so. Our nationalistic goals are quite different from any other country I know, simply because we value people’s individuality, and allow them to be whatever they want, without prejudice. At least, that’s my opinion, and as a Canadian, I’m allowed to have it! And yes, my Canada includes Accordian Guy! 😀
Dawn from Halifax. (

Hi Joey,
I’m a filipino-born french guy and a fervent parisian. I have family in Toronto and for u and them I have put up your sticker on my blog 😉
Cheers !

Hi Joey,
I’m a filipino-born french guy and a fervent parisian. I have family in Toronto and for u and them I have put up your sticker on my blog 😉
Cheers !

We love you Joey, and are very pride of you. Thank you for making Canada a better place.

My Canada definitely includes Accordian Guy. For the record, it also includes Mark Wegierski, but mostly just as a snowball target until he apologizes for his bone-brained article. He deserves to get his ass kicked down Spadina. Now that we’ve settled that, I’m off to Tim’s for a coffee.
Al from Winnipeg

From what I’ve read at their website, ESR writers are pretty much deranged.
My Dad was born to a Filipino and a Hungarian in the US, and my Mum is from England, where I was born. I have dual US/UK citizenship, and now live in Denmark with a dual Danish/US girlfriend. I’m with you 100% on the “I am not just my country” issue. Wegierski has completely overlooked the discourse between a nation, its culture and its citizens, whatever their ethnic background, and that discourse is exciting, dynamic and restless.
Daen, Denmark

“The English-Canadians of those days certainly did not fight with the image of a multicultural Toronto of the 1990s” [emphasis added]
Wow, this guy’s Canada doesn’t even include Quebec. But why am I not surprised?

Perhaps you should suggest to the numbskull that he move to America, where xenophobia posing as “heritage” has been a national pastime for ages.
— hamstak

Wondering what the hell this guy means by “the old Canada”…?
Context first of all: I’m a Paddy, raised in England, moved to Toronto eight years ago. My three kids are Canadian born. I’m also, incidentally, white; which is completely beside the point, of course

Damn. I thought this “us vs. them” crap hadn’t gone north of the border, but I guess I was wrong.
And even though I’m not Canadian, I’m putting the button on my weblog. So there, ESR!

As British identity atrophies even in Britain…
….and this is the precise point at which the article loses all semblance of credibility. Even if we can’t always see our own culture clearly enough to distinguish its collective identity, it’s clear enough that the British still have one.
Not really caring whose birthday we’re celebrating on Victoria Day has been a solid tradition in Canadian culture since at least 15 years ago when I spent the long weekend sitting on the beach drinking beer with most of the rest of the teenage population of the very non-metropolitan, non-heterogenous town in which I grew up.
The “discourse” of the old Canada has no meaning for them.
No meaning for almost anyone then, if this article is representative of that discourse. Welcome to the New Canada.

Hey Joey. Im first generation Canadian on my Mom’s side, and second on my Dad’s. I’d love to see this bugger go up against ANY of my family on the grounds that we arent true Canadians.

Mr “Exit Stage Right” small hearted understanding of Canadian’s British Heritage almost makes me embarrassed, but mostly I feel pity for such a small minded Ebenezer Scrooge pin head.
Canada has always been about people (and people’s) coming together to form a new and greater community, and although we have made a few missteps on the way, it has resulted in a wonderful place.
My Canada includes AccordionGuy, and we are lucky to have him and his family.

Hi there. I’m first generation canadian and I’m white but I really hate biggotry and prejudice. I also happen to be autistic and a single parent and my kids were bi racial. My son hasn’t got the “oh are you canadian or are you chinese” comments. But I’ve delt with racsim in the culture here on both sides. My response to the chinese doing it was to start speaking chinese with my son same was my response infront of whites doing the same. I got the whites shutting up and the chinese saying “oh your chinese is pretty good how do you know it?” I explain my son is 1/2 chinese and they get embarassed even more as to what comments they were saying. I got mad on a bus one day as well some idiot told the driver to go back to packistan and called him a terrorist for no reason. I pointed out the driver was just as much canadian as any of the rest of us. We all came from somewhere and diversity is a beautiful thing we should embrace.
If you’d asked my dad if he was a brit or a canadian he’d of said canadian. He came here when he was 7. If you asked some aquaintances I know from kenya if they are kenyan, east indian or canadian they will say they are canadian. Yes there are ties to lands of birth but also ties to lands that we call home. The persons attitude from what you’ve pasted reminds me of the attitude of people when japanese got put in camps in WWII because people didn’t trust them to fight. They figured they’d betray us for japan. They were canadians and they’d of fought for canada.
Anyways that article writer is archaic… makes me wonder if he wears a pointy hat and has a fetish for lite religious items. Sick puppy…
– Celticess

Greetings Joey,

If I was remotely Canadian I would post that banner everywhere…

I’m not.

But I’ll probably post that banner everywhere!

Did the idiot who wrote that article actually think about what he wrote? As a native born Scot , currently living in the US, I thought that Canada was full of Scots and French rather than the English… Now, however, I am much more aware of the Canadian multi-cultural past…

Nobody so far has mentioned the Metis so I will.


My Canada (I lived there when we emigrated from England in the mid 60s) includes the first black people I ever saw (they lived next door). It includes the young surly looking pubk my wife and I saw in Ottawa who despite outward appearances wasn’t about to cross a deserted street against the “Walk” signal. It also includes my sister, her partner, and my niece.
What a maroon . . . . . Canada’s heritage is misunderstood enough without colonial twits like that rewriting it.

Bigots are everywhere; why feed them by paying attention to them?
[Although it doesn’t seem like you apologize enough to be like the Canadians we usually see here in the People’s Republic..]

Breathtaking post.
A Torontonian ex-pat living in Los Angeles since age 10. I loved the Hamstack comment you got about the states celebrating xenophobia. NO KIDDING!
My ex is from Japan, and my son is a lovely hapa 11-year-kid with American AND Canadian citizenship. 🙂 I had someone accuse me of him not being mine when we were in a McDonald’s once.
And you are a developer – I am so excited. My SO is also a developer. Was supposed to be at Tech-Ed this week but something else called him out-of-state. I wonder if I can get your RSS feed in LJ. I’ll have to check it out.
Shannon Ahern

Well, since you ARE Canadian, you’re one of the guys I should ask “Hey, when the Religious Right takes control of the USA a la The Handmaid’s Tale or whatever, would it be okay with you if this currently American totally non-swarthy guy defects to your icy wasteland? Please? I swear I’ll be a really really really upstanding citizen. “

I can’t speak for all of us, but as a Canadian, I say yes, so long as you leave the NASCAR and associated brewed water behind.

Anyone ever read the book where Ireland saved all of civilization? I’m not kidding, it’s true…

If the armed forces are mostly English- and French-Canadian, is the percentage in the forces representative of the percentage in the Canadian population?

ESR obviously hasn’t seen AG”s desk – the only guy I know that has a patio umbrella with an honest-to-goodness bright red maple leaf on a white background on it shading his cubicle.

I am born Romanian, raised French and on my way to becoming a proud Canadian! I also wrote a similar post earlier this month and your button’s found his right place on my weblog! Cheers, Irina.

Joey, I’m not going to pile on to the lovefest here because, well, I just don’t do that sort of thing. You know by now, I think, that My Canada Includes yadda yadda yadda so let’s just exchange a manly handshake and avoid that whole hugging thing, dude.
So let me just try to defend ESR’s rant for what it is – an intensely emotional, defensive reaction to watching the contribution of your ancestors denigrated either purposefully or by implication. You got mad when some prick assumed you weren’t Canadian? This guy got mad when he heard one person too many invoke the “white=evil” stereotype.
For all I know some of the folks here are guilt of just that – I’ve been reading a lot of “Evil Fundamentalist Amerikkka” tripe here so far, and I don’t think the ESR even mentioned the U.S. I just don’t have time for that sort of thing anymore, so let’s just skip it, please?
Hey – as a 40-year old 3rd gen Canadian of Irish descent, I can say that the old Canada didn’t treat my people too well. The old Toronto, full of Orange Lodges, certainly didn’t. And I’m old enough to remember when pizza was exotic food, wine was procured like prescription drugs, and you could fire a cannon down a major street on Sundays. I don’t miss the old Presbyterian/Methodist/Anglican version of Canada at all, but it’s our past, and a lot of people draw their roots from it.
And they

Awesome post =)
Ironically, people often think I am Canadian, even though I’m really not. I’m not even a resident, I’m just here on a study permit.
But I’ve had random people all over the world assume I am Canadian, from old Chinese tourists in Germany (“Hello! You must be Canadian!”) to actual honest to goodness Canadians IN Toronto at a Dutch party where I was dressed in the Dutch national colours. He said “Are you really Dutch? But then you were BORN in Canada, right?”
My impression of Canadians is that they’re funny, intelligent and friendly, and usually born in Asia.
So you’re very, very Canadian =D

Oh, and I’m going to tell people about Spah-dee-nah. I always wondered where the name came from…

Man, you deserve some kind of most-valuable-player award. Probably more, but nothing less. Maybe a most-valuable-accordion-player subprize, too.

It’s probably close to it.
I think people living in Canada’s most metropolitan areas sometimes get a skewed impression of the extent of ethnic diversity (or at least, that of visible minorities) in the rest of country. Outside of Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, it still remains a very “white” country. According to the 2001 Census, less than 14% of the total population identified itself as a visible minority.
With respect to military service, I wonder how many Canadians are aware that Prime Minister Mackenzie King vigorously blocked Chinese Canadians from entering the Canadian Armed Forces during WWII for the very reason that he feared it would legitimize their claim to full franchise as citizens (which until that time precluded them from certain land/business ownership, professional occupations, immigration and mobility (eg. head tax – Chinese Exclusion Acts, right to vote in provincial and federal elections etc.).
Mackenzie King only relented under pressure from Great Britain, which required ethnic Asians from the Commonwealth for Special Operation Executive (SOE) – saboteurs, spies, and commandos who could move behind enemy lines and more readily mix in with native rebel groups in the Pacific campaign.

Comments like those from ESR really bother me. You see, my uncles, fought in WW2, My great uncles, in WW1, my father joined an organization to help support the war effort even though he wasn’t old enough to fight. They were willing to lay down their lives for their country. The thing is, they were Germans. They served in the Luftwaffe, the SS and the Hitler Youth. They fought for people who believed that nationalism had one face, one history and one race. You know it strikes me as great irony that such people invoke the memory of those who fought against these views in support of them.
To me as a first generation Canadian, what makes this country great, is even though my parents were at war with those of my neighbours, we have the same chance to grow, learn and prosper. One of the greatest sources of pride I have in the city of Toronto, is the ethnic diversity it holds, not the watered down melting pot diversity, but the vibrant mosaic that lets me hear, see, smell, taste and touch the history and diversity of those who surround me. It is an essential part of the fabric that makes up Canada, and in my own experience it is from this diversity, that a quiet, resolved national pride arises, while it is not the flag waving unthinking patriotism of the United States, it is every bit as strong, and quite possibly more resilient.
Never doubt for one moment that my Canada includes Accordion Guy.

Greg – why do you think American patriotism is “unthinking”? Why does America’s robust and – though no one seems to like admittting it – intensely inclusive patriotism inevitably move Canadians to act like our own version – impossible to define as it seems to be – is so much better? Why are we obsessed with counting coup against the U.S.? Why does is always sound so pathetically insecure to me?

Rant away, Rick. As long as it’s reasonable, it’s welcome here; that’s what this space is for.
I don’t buy into the “blame whitey / blame America” thing either — after all, I have roots in County Cork, Ireland and blonde-haired blue-eyed blood kin in Dayton, Ohio. Not to mention this cute Jewish girlfriend in Boston. Ferris Bueller is my role model — I get along with everybody, save for crusty high school principals.

I must say, “unthinking” is likely the wrong word, but I was struggling to express the difference in the two types of patriotism. It seems to me that there is a knee jerk reaction in the US, towards the idea that “the country is right”. For example, a not insignificant portion of the US population originally backed the War in Iraq, not because of any of the initial conditions surrounding it, but rather, because the president had chosen this course. I am not sure if this clarifies what I meant originally, but the term “unthinking” was not intended as a derogatory remark. My mother was American and a large portion of my extended family is as well. The subject of the difference in the types patriotism, is one much discussed at family dinner tables.
One thing I think is important as a matter of context is to realize that almost since its inception, Canada’s national Identity, has been informed by a large, and expansionistic neighbour to the south. Manifest Destiny is something that leaves little room for doubt as to a country

First of all, Greg, I have to say that going from the War of 1812 to Cancon regulations is a hell of a leap – there’s a big difference between the brute realities of war in the Napoleonic age and cultural legislation meant to please special interests. Invasion is a reality in the first, a metaphor in the second.
As for Manifest Destiny, I don’t buy the argument that it’s the imperial monster at the heart of American motives. Expressed in 19th century terms, that’s what it sounds like, but it’s hardly the foundation of modern America – to state that it is seems like fishing.
I find it hard to call an immigrant country “Imperial” for some reason – for whatever entanglements America has gotten into, wisely or not, it’s been invaded more by outsiders than it’s invaded anyone else, continuously and for its whole history. America, like Canada, is built on a fluid identity, so pulling out Manifest Destiny in an attempt to define it is like saying that the British North America Act or the Family Compact is all you need to know about Canada.
America is not, and has not been for many generations, our enemy. I find attempts to insinuate that enmity and mistrust defines our relationship sort of absurd – perhaps we’d stand a better chance of defining Canada in the long run if the whole project didn’t begin with “Well, we sure aren’t America.”
Blindfold someone and drop them on the main intersection of any major Canadian or American city (except L.A. or New York – practically countries on their own), and the differences would seem minimal. You can’t say the same thing about two other neighbouring countries anywhere else in the world.
I admire American patriotism, that sense of belief in the American project above all else. The world comes to America – you don’t find Americans emigrating in massive numbers to go elsewhere. Surely this is a sign that they’ve got something essential right? I wish that Canadians could do the same thing without referring to America – usually in sniggering or derogatory terms. It makes us look like children.

I’m sure Natives in Canada have a similar opinion. Canada was a great place to live until a bunch of dumbass British and French people showed up and brought disease, alcohol and white bread.
People like this should come to Japan where ‘gaijin’ meaning outside person are not so welcome.
There are bars in Hokkaido that only serve Japanese and the last time I moved it took a week to see if I could live there or not because I’m of British decent. Nothing gets rid of rascism faster than experiencing it yourself.

So many kind, reasonable, and open-minded people here – people not panicking for the fact that one person can have more than one mind and more than one heart or soul. Reading a discussion thread like this one inspires hope that our world is a good place after all and can get even better – in Canada and elsewhere.
Jossi, from Germany

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