To my American friends…”I’m sorry”

I am Canadian. I’m a Canadian girl who is married to a dual citizen Mexican-Canadian man and I have a 5-year-old little girl who also has dual citizenship. We proudly consider both Toronto, Canada (my hometown) and Cancun, Mexico (my husband’s hometown) home. We have always felt extremely fortunate to have the privilege of having home bases in two such amazing countries offering our daughter the best of both worlds. Suddenly now with an emotionally charged & messy presidential election in the USA, the COVID situation there & such disgusting racism issues coming to the forefront we also feel relief we aren’t American…& just like the true Canadian girl I am I’ll be honest that I feel really, really bad about that.

I grew up in Toronto which is only 1.5 hours from the Canada-U.S. border and we crossed that border fairly often when I was a kid. I grew up doing cross-border shopping trips with my mom, sister & grandmother on a regular basis. We used to spend weekends away in Buffalo, New York and vacationed as a family to tons of different U.S. locations we’ve loved like New York, Boston, Florida, Hawaii, Las Vegas, New Orleans & California. My daughter was born in Canada and it seemed perfectly normal to us that she first visited the U.S. at just 4 weeks old followed by a flight to Mexico when she was only 2 months old. Our little trips all kind of rounded out our North American adventure seeking lives between 3 countries we love fluidly crossing between Canada, USA & Mexico on a regular basis. Overall I’ve flown, cruised & driven to 13 different American states when so many of my Americans friends have never even set foot in Canada or haven’t ever ventured off a resort in Mexico! I miss travelling around the world and I miss thinking about which American city we want to visit next.

I grew up Canadian but with the added insight of also learning about the U.S. I’m not sure how many people know this but Canadian children grow up with double the knowledge! We grow up knowing Americans spell things differently, that they measure distance & temperature in a different unit of measurement than we do in Canada (or most of the world), Canadian kids know our currencies look different easily able to point them out and I was also fully aware the U.S. had states (most can even name an impressively long list of states) instead of provinces like we do in Canada and America has a president instead of a Prime Minister. We also all know when many American holidays take place like Independence Day & American Thanksgiving despite them not being our holidays. There are all kinds of little things I was surprised to learn are not common knowledge for even American adults to know about Canada and Canadians. Canadian kids are just raised to know about all of those differences above. Not in any kind of negative way, just more as facts and tiny pieces of knowledge Canadian children are privileged to have. Despite the differences, growing up I still thought Canadians & Americans were pretty much the same as everything else about our countries in my young innocent eyes as a child seemed similar.

It’s impossible for me to deny now there is a huge disconnect happening between Canadians and Americans all of a sudden that wasn’t there before. President Trump may be building a wall between the U.S. and Mexico but I almost feel over the last six months an even bigger and stronger imaginary divide has been created between Canada and the USA.

I have tons of American friends I wouldn’t ever want to trade in as I love them to pieces and I also have a very long list of amazing American clients & colleagues we’ve been fortunate enough to work with. The thing is suddenly I feel bad for them. It doesn’t even matter if anyone is asking for sympathy or prayers…most of us on the outside looking in can just tell things aren’t the way they should be and there are a lot of people struggling with all of the uncertainty & hate. I cringe every time I see social media fights, bullying, attacks on viewpoints, name calling & strange deflecting comments straying off topic and arguing about a totally different situation. I feel terrible every time I’ve had an American friend contact me about wanting advice how they can move to either Mexico or Canada because they so desperately dislike the situation in their own country.

Over the last seven months I have watched the news, social media posts and comments from my American friends (& their friends) regarding the COVID-19 pandemic. In some cases it seems as if there’s a huge portion of Americans who don’t even believe in the pandemic or at the very least don’t believe it effects them…despite the USA being ranked in the number one position for the most COVID cases & deaths running neck and neck in numbers with India which is still considered a 3rd world country. Canadians have been left scratching their heads at our neighbours to the south wondering why so many fellow North Americans have chosen not to believe in it. As Canadians we’ve started to take offence to the “it’s all political” comments referring to an idea the pandemic is a well orchestrated plan for the U.S. government to control its people or make the current president in power look bad. I think personally what I find disheartening about those comments is it feels as if there is little to no regard or consideration about any other nation or people outside of their own country. I actually haven’t seen one single Plandemic believing American comment on the fact that COVID has effected more than what’s happening within their own country. The entire world has been brought to its knees by a global pandemic…not just the U.S.!

I think the pandemic is just the tip of the North American segregating iceberg. Canadians have also watched with broken hearts as each horrific racially charged event has unfolded in the USA and has been brought to light. With each breaking news story we have all kept on top of American news stories in disbelief. There sadly is racism everywhere around the world including Canada and often various levels of overt colourism even in Mexico against their own people based on skin tone but this has all felt much different & it’s scary! We aren’t talking about feeling out of place in social settings or being passed over for a job…Americans are killing their own in all kinds of racially charged situations and it’s terrifying. I have become saddened knowing just how deeply rooted racism lives in the U.S.

I’d be lying if I didn’t admit my darker skinned Mexican husband and I have thought twice about visiting some U.S. cities or states together out of fear he’d be on the receiving end of any kind of hate when that same conversation wouldn’t happen if we were travelling across Canada. I’ve experienced a taste of some of that built up American racial tension myself once when I flew to New Orleans. I had just landed in the U.S. about 2 hours earlier and couldn’t have been on the street out front of my hotel for more than 10 minutes before someone ran up to myself and my friend (who is also white with blonde hair) and screamed right in our faces “I f#%king hate white people”. The sad thing is we shrugged our shoulders, shook our heads, laughed and sarcastically said “Welcome to America” and carried on. It was an unsettling moment but sadly felt expected in some weird way…which is not ok!

I have an American friend named Maureen who just wrote a blog post about her biracial family’s experience with racism in Kansas City where they moved to in August and I’ve been near traumatized to hear her personal day to day stories ranging from racial slurs being yelled at them from people driving by to rude gestures towards her family (which includes her toddler children) from their new neighbours or while shopping in stores. Her post has gone viral and when I’ve shared it with my Canadian friends they weren’t too shocked which is horribly wrong. We shouldn’t think behaviour like that is the norm in any country because so many Canadians have sadly started painting Americans with a terribly judgmental brush.

I have felt the growing tension from my fellow Canadians towards Americans. As I write this the Canadian border is still closed to Americans due to the extremely high number of COVID-19 cases and most Canadians are ecstatic about the decision. I’ve heard the comments meant to be comments of relief from my family and friends all saying things like “good…keep them in their own country”, “if they don’t want to believe in COVID let them just keep spreading to each other” and “keep all those Americans out”. It feels unreal and heart breaking. I read the comments online from Canadians directed at Americans in travel groups “let me know when you’re planning on trying to cross and I’ll be alerting Canada Border Services agents”. I’ve even read advice from Americans in social media groups how to dupe the Canadian government to get across the border for a vacation. My head is spinning & my heart sad wondering how this has all happened. The U.S. is the only nation we share a border with. How are we suddenly being divided further beyond just that border? I personally miss our annual trips to the U.S. but right now I don’t know any Canadians even wanting to cross the border anytime soon.

I have a fairly long list of things I consider Americanisms I’ve adapted over the years to try and be a friendly ally to my American friends and clients. Canadians and Americans may both speak English but at times it’s as if we’re speaking two different languages. In both Canada and Mexico we use Celsius as the unit to measure the temperature. Most Americans I know get confused with that so even if they’re coming to visit me in my land of Celsius highs and lows, I’ve learned to quickly convert temperatures to Fahrenheit for them because they have no idea if 34 degrees Celsius is hot or not. When spelling out my last name “Salazar” I’ve decided it’s just much easier to say the last letter of the alphabet as “zee” for Americans instead of the Canadian/British pronunciation of “zed” to avoid confusion (I once had a Zellers cashier attendant in Buffalo, New York nervously call her boss for assistance because she couldn’t figure out how to spell my name in “Canadian” and one time I had a bizarre conversation with an American hotel guest in Mexico who aggressively challenged why Canadians pronounced the letter “z” like we do because the black & white striped animal found in Africa is pronounced “zee-bra” and not “zed-bra”). When I remember, I try and call that room with a toilet and sink the bathroom instead of a washroom. I also kindly explain to Americans that Canada has provinces, not states, and we have a Prime Minister, not a president. I homeschool my daughter and have already made it a point to teach her most of these Canadian & American differences because I want her to have that worldly advantage in life as she’s bilingual speaking both English & Spanish and also want her to easily possess double the knowledge about North America.

Here’s what I won’t change for Americans. I won’t stop saying “I’m sorry”. Funny enough I had no idea Canadians were known for apologizing until Americans were eager to point it out. Further to that I didn’t know Americans made fun of Canadians for saying “I’m sorry” until I was on the receiving end of jokes and laughter each time I said it. I’ve probably had more than a dozen incidences now with Americans who quickly erupted in laughter if I apologized or said something stereotypically Canadian. During one wedding I was shooting in Mexico I had climbed up on a chair to get a high angle of the groom and all of his American groomsmen together. I noticed something off to the side and being a perfectionist photographer under a time crunch I quickly blurted out “sorry…can someone please move that chair further off to the side out of the way for me?”. The entire room of maybe 18 or so people burst into laughter as a few of the groomsmen started mocking me repeatedly saying “I’m sorry. So sorry. I’m Canadian and say sorry a lot”. I had no idea people would make fun of someone for being polite. Now as a weird twisted way of breaking the ice I tend to bring up that I know I have a Canadian accent. Not because I actually know I do or can hear it but I’ve been laughed at so many times from Americans who couldn’t resist mocking me so it’s as if I try and beat them to the punch.

So to my American friends I truly am sorry. I’m sorry your country has become divided in so many ways regardless of which side you fall on. I’m sorry this particular US presidential election is causing so much pain, hate & division amongst its citizens in a way I’ve never seen before. I’m sorry to my immune compromised and COVID cautious friends living in the States who are caught in the middle of not just dealing with all the challenges that come with a global pandemic but also a nation divided on the approach & seriousness of it all. I’m sorry Canadians don’t seem very inviting right now to visit our beautiful country anytime soon. I’m sorry movements like Black Lives Matter even have to exist desperately trying to right a long list of wrongs & deeply rooted racism. I’m sorry for all those times I rolled my eyes or snapped back at anyone who made fun of my Canadian accent. I’m sorry if you haven’t had the chance to visit Canada or learn more about your immediate neighbours to the north as it’s such a big beautiful country (I’m actually thinking about creating & sharing a fun “Get to know Canada” type of homeschooling unit for kids if any of my American friends are interested). I hope your election will allow many of you the chance to heal and move forward…together. Overall to my American friends I can only really offer my support, love and let you know you’re all in my thoughts as you all face so much confusion and many intensified challenges beyond what the rest of us are going through in 2020 during a worldwide pandemic and for that I truly am sorry!

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