I thought I lowkeyed American all weekend in French Canada and avoided anything awkward until I got in the Uber to go to Trudeau Airport.
Guy is chatty and asks, “Why are you leaving town with the good weather?” Apparently it’s been a miserable chilly Canadian summer. I reply, “Well, I was just here for the weekend and am going back to New York.”
Game immediately recognizes game, and we get into one of those overly personal and political conversations that only two strangers from a diaspora would suddenly have without hesitation. He immediately brings up how he and his buddies use to like to go to NYC for the weekend, but Canadians don’t travel down as much anymore, especially him because he has North African heritage. He doesn’t want to deal with being harassed at the airport. He talks about how even his White Canadian friend got harassed by Customs Border Patrol for three hours. They made her give her Snapchat and Facebook passwords because she wouldn’t give her opinion about Trump.
He talked about how in Canada you can’t get away with saying all the racist things that people say in America. That after the mosque shooting months ago, Canadians didn’t let people get away with being so hateful. There’s a pride in it, but I can tell it doesn’t salve everything. He’s sharing this undertone of distress with me because in a weird way we’re all in this together. He explicitly says he won’t let people say bad things about “people from China, Japan, and Black people, etc.”
This turns into a conversation about his cousins in France, one of course who is married to a White French woman who said “All these Arabs are savages” despite being married into a family of them who have extended extreme generosity to her.
He explains, “All the news on TV poisoned her mind. She’s out of touch with reality.”
We all know what it’s like to have one of those in our close circles. We agree that minorities have it worst in France out of the Western countries, and how laughable France attributes so many problems to immigrants given how few of them there are when you compare it to Canada and the United States. We talk about how France calls them “2nd generation immigrants.” Neither of us would tolerate such a laughable label, we’re both native borns, not immigrants. 2nd generation Canadians and Americans, yes, but we’re not immigrants. And regardless, you should treat immigrants like people and let them contribute. He says, “Yes, there are bad people who want to cheat the system,” but counters the net contribution to countries far exceeds that and are not the roots of the social ills in the places we live.
We talk about how people were brought over because all these countries needed immigrant labor, and now they don’t want us anymore now that they’re not doing so well. He told me a story of how he drove a “racist American type” who was proud Tesla was Made-In-America (fuck yeah?). He totally destroyed that guy’s day by showing him Google search and informing him that Elon Musk holds Canadian citizenship and came from South Africa to Canada before going to America. He talked about how America’s toxic nationalism reminded him of France sometimes, he doesn’t like to travel to France and America and I suspect outside of Canada much these days.
At some point his phone rings, I see an image of lady in a headscarf with that sensible not-over-the-top-like-Americans smile I notice Canadians do and a cute kid. It occurs to me he totally reminds me of the Cantonese and Filipino guys in another life in SF. Culturally rooted and responsible, a Morrocan-Canadian Daly City dude. Aspirational and hardworking, but with that slight unease of figuring out how to be man in between two cultures probably telling him very different things. The kind of guy who will talk about his feelings to woman like me because he knows I don’t judge and get it. If I wasn’t so obsessed with airplanes and moving around, I’d have ended up with someone like him in another Cali life and be the picture that flashes on the phone in another anxiety filled diaspora conversation in another life.
I talk about who I am, and how I hang onto a Taiwanese identity, though we both have that vague unspoken anxiety knowing he doesn’t speak Berber that well, and I don’t speak Chinese as much anymore these days either, but feel our place and that of people similar to us are in a precarious position, where we’re at, and in places like the UK, France, Australia, and beyond. We’re mutually stewing in our unease about our relative and conditional privilege. Way early into this conversation, we’ve dropped our “proper North American English” speaking voices, him speaking in what I can only call Drake-music-video-Canadian-English with a touch of French accent, and me with dripping with a non-White Cali enunciation.
We end up in a conversation about crab mentalities, bad homies, and good homies. The fucked up things that happen when you try to stay loyal to people in your crew and your small community. It’s overly personal, platonic, and calm at the same time, the only conversation two diaspora folks living in this time could have. He talks about how he wants to get into real estate, but his friend was trying to sabotage his success, and how Canadians don’t travel that much because taxes are so high. I talk about how Americans don’t travel because a lot of them are too poor to do it at all because it costs so much to do out outside the coasts. He mentions even though Canadians don’t travel, they don’t share our insularity because they aren’t so nationalistic. I talk about how much I hate everything happening, that two countries exist in mine, but he knows all that already.
It occurs to me in this short window of time, I’ve probably had a more personal conversation with him than White people I’ve known for years. You only talk like this with the ‘special White friends’ (google Special White Friend Americanah) and Facebook posts to spare yourself the emotions of possibly having someone discount the convo or reveal to you they basically think your culture is backwards.
When I get out of the car, he says, “You’re welcome back anytime to Canada.” It breaks my fucking heart, because I know I can’t say the same, even though we’re weirdly all in this together. Fuck the fucking Le Pens and Farages of the world. I tell him we’re trying to get of Trump, but I know that isn’t happening in the near future. This is what it is now.
At least in some moments, we have each other.