If you follow Canadian news or sports, by now you know about Don Cherry’s remarks made on Hockey Night in Canada earlier this month. To summarize, Mr. Cherry is unhappy that he sees few people who look like immigrants wearing poppies. To quote him:
You people… love our way of life, you love our milk and honey. At least you could pay a couple of bucks for a poppy.
Most people have condemned the comments—Sportsnet and CBC have distanced themselves from his sentiments, and Ron MacLean has apologized not only on his own behalf but Mr. Cherry’s as well. Mr. Cherry himself has offered an unapologetic apology and has since been fired from Hockey Night in Canada.
Mr. Cherry refers to immigrants as “you people,” immediately othering them from “real Canadians,” a privilege bestowed only upon… Whom, exactly? Non-white Canadians who were born here? Indigenous Canadians? White Canadians? His comments underscore the sentiment that there is an “ideal immigrant,” (falling under the role of “the model minority”). This immigrant needs to go above and beyond being a productive member of society; is constantly and continuously humbled by their immigrant-status; must wear their gratitude-patriotism at all times—and if they don’t, they are ungrateful and not paying their dues. Gratitude towards a country that affords freedoms and safety is not limited just to immigrants but all its citizens; a point Mr. Cherry fails to articulate in his rant.
How many generations does it take for an immigrant to become good enough for powerful white men to stop placing the weight of all of society’s ills on immigrant communities, from the decline in the sale of poppies to the increase in crime? It is important to take a step back and take a critical look at who has a say in defining what a Canadian does, is and looks like. Amidst the populist wave coming across Europe and North America, Canadians have a crucial need to maintain that diversity is strength and that there is no “lost ideal past” where everyone looked, acted, and was the same.
[Read related: As an Immigrant and Person of Colour, I Can’t Wear a Poppy]
Mr. Cherry’s words convey an implicit demand that immigrants have to continuously prove their worth to “real Canadians”—to prove that they belong. As if participating in the economic and social progress of Canadian society is not enough. As if being artists and creatives who come from immigrant families (Sandra Oh, Lilly Singh), politicians (Ahmed Hussen, Iqra Khalid, Sven Spengemann, Geng Tan), athletes (Donovan Bailey, Teemu Selänne, Nazem Kadri), notable business owners (Nav Bhatia, Mohammad Fakih) and the thousands of everyday people who work as doctors, bus drivers, restaurant owners and staff, investment bankers, real estate agents, grocery store clerks is not enough.
There is a difference between patriotism and nationalism. Patriotism builds a country up. Nationalism tears communities down. Mr. Cherry displayed gross nationalism by singling out immigrant communities, not patriotism. In every realm of Canadian life, you will find immigrants giving back to Canadian society. Immigrants have moved past working towards being accepted, the onus is now on people like Mr. Cherry to do the accepting.