That Time I… transitioned to American high school

By Scott Black

My earliest recollection as an adolescent among various ethnicities was during my transition to American high school. My intellectual capabilities were premature in respect to cultural differences, and I was innately bipartisan to different cultures.

The eye-opener was my cultural transition from elementary to high school, which coincidentally, was my family’s move from Toronto, Canada to Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. The first adjustment was the vast differential class systems.

We moved from an upper-middle class neighborhood in Canada to a saturated city of wealth, which, unbeknownst to me at the time, was the second wealthiest county in America. The majority of residents in Bloomfield were Jewish Anglo-Saxons and Catholic Arabs known as Chaldeans; two groups of people I was unfamiliar with until the first day of school. Still, the neighborhoods I was accustomed to in Canada were more ethnically diverse.

In Canada, we were all Canadians regardless of generational ethnicity. We did not classify the blacks as the technical term “African-Canadian,” the Jewish as “Jewish-Canadian” or the Arabs as “Arab-Canadian.” Everyone was simply classified as Canadian. Although natives were from various nationalities, we didn’t single out or isolate individual cultures with technical jargon. In America, everyone seemed to be categorized as African-American, Spanish-American, Jewish-American and Arab-American. No one seemed content with solely being American, as Canadians were with being Canadian.

Students bombarded me with questions of ethnicity as they proudly boasted their unique culture. I initially stated I was Canadian, but no one really understood. I had to be something more culturally extravagant. It wasn’t acceptable to state I was solely Canadian. I had to follow the American example of precise labeling – fashioning my diversity with the leading influx of Arab and Jewish American students – feeling like I had just stepped into a 90210 middle-eastern smorgasbord.

I was now Jamaican-Canadian, but unsurprisingly, the students still did not understand what that meant. They seemed to understand Jamaican-American, but not Jamaican-Canadian. I suppose they did not realize that there are actually generations of immigrants who migrate to other countries other than America. I think this is a subconscious ethnocentrism Americans have towards their country. Americans typically think blacks in Canada are African-Americans, but many don’t realize that the technical term would be African-Canadian.

Considering that both my Canadian and Jamaican-Canadian ethnic labels were not satisfactory, I simply proclaimed I was Jamaican. My family is indigenous to Jamaica, dating back to the Spanish and British Monarchy, and was in power after Jamaica’s independence. My aristocrat grandfathers were light-skinned, influential Jamaicans, and my grandmothers were Anglo-Saxon Jamaicans. Both my parents were born in Kingston, Jamaica, and my only sibling and I were born in Toronto, Canada.

The students debated my authentic origin, considering my physical attributes were not stereotypically Jamaican, but later confirmed my origin through numerous friends hearing my parents’ distinguishable Jamaican accents. My sister and I, ironically, were readily accepted because being Jamaican was seen as trendy and nobody had met, or evidently even heard of, an arguably white Jamaican. Considering that our Jamaican heritage is less than ten percent of the population, this observation was a shock my family was familiar with. My cousin has daunting blonde hair with blue eyes and astonishes everyone with a thick Jamaican accent.  This brought tales of humor within the family. My family simply classifies itself as Jamaican. In Canada, we were simply classified as Canadian. And in America, we are classified with a hyphen.

In my early elementary years living in Canada, I was known as a Canadian, and when I moved to America and started high school, my explanations of culture evolved from being Canadian to being Jamaican-Canadian to being Jamaican. My heritage is Jamaican, my citizenship is Canadian, and my residency is American. So what does that make me? I guess that makes me Jamaican-Canadian-American. But if I had it my way, I would prefer to be distinguished by my given name, Scott Black.

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