Mistaken Identity: The Day I Became Venezuelan

A tiny boarding school in the middle of Canadiana small town, was not my ideal or even natural habitat. I had no idea how to be Canadian, between the hockey, the winter, and the weird conversation about the weather. I was lost, and my only solace was how well I could put up a wall and become invisible.

Half way through the year, we became aware of the boarding school marketing plan, the school had decided to market it’s diversity and international student population in a small town Canadiana culture. It was a beautiful strategy from a marketing perspective. It diminished all of its students and identified them from where they came from, whether it was Canadian, Native-Canadian, Chinese (there were 4 from Hong Kong), to visible minorities, even if they were Canadian… I read the breakdown, and there it was Venezuelan – 1 Student. I knew all 201 students in the school, there was no other Spanish-speaking student who had even stepped foot in Venezuela, or had any remote 7 degrees of separation from Venezuela, unless they counted me as part of that 7 degrees.

I was shocked that I was part of the international stat. You think after years of living abroad, I would have been happy to be identified as Venezuelan, but it hurt. My identity was called into question, was I seen as a marketing ploy to the school, were they using the fact that my parents happened to be living in Venezuela to gain in the International Marketing strategy, or did they just not think about it.

I sat on it for days, upset, and angry. My identity had always been as a Diplomatic Kid, I was Canadian, but no one had ever blatantly called me anything other than Canadian, even if I didn’t identify with the small town Canadiana culture. My heart-felt broken, I didn’t feel valued as a person, I had been born in Canada, my Father had been representing his country for years, and my citizenship had never been questioned. Struggling with my own identity, and the clash of cultures I always had, but never had anyone blatantly lie about my identity to gain in marketing points. It just seemed wrong, dirty, and complete disregard for my feelings.

I decided to go to the head of admissions and confront him. He was a bit odd, he wore Bermuda shorts with knee socks, and a preppy blazer, he looked like an overgrown British school boy, who belonged back in 1958. I showed him where it said Venezuela, and told him that there were a great deal of inconsistencies with the marketing strategy, I broke down his visible minority report, and our so called “International” student body, which consisted of 198 of white privileged kids, and maybe a dozen visible privileged minority kids. Basically, we were a visible WASP school. Why would he lie and put all of the diplomatic kids as Venezuelan, Japanese, German, and Saudi Arabian? He became visibly annoyed, but decided to put on his toothy charm. His explanation, was we were International kids, we didn’t identify with being Canadian, so why did it matter if he embellished the truth?

I was horrified. At 17, I had no idea how to express that he was the problem, we didn’t identify with being Canadian, but it was not for him to pick our citizenship for us, basically stripping us with feeling welcome in a school where all we wanted was to feel we belonged. That is all we ever wanted, was to feel a belonging, and this stunt made us feel shunned in a way that he could never comprehend.

I decided to call my Father. I remember laying it out for my Father, he sat silently on the other end. I had no idea what he was thinking, but just telling him, made me feel better. I got off the phone, and forgot about my new found citizenship, and decided to stay clear of the head of recruiting.

I went home to Venezuela for spring break, hugged my parents, cuddled with my dog, and did some laundry. On a warm early Sunday morning, my Father sat with a coffee, and ¬†asked “so, are you still Venezuelan according to the school?”

I must have looked confused because my Father went on “I called every other diplomat in that school to share with them what the school had done, no one was impressed. I believe he had a few memorable phone conversations, including from me.”

My Father turned to me and said “You kids didn’t ask for this mobile life, you can choose whatever culture, religion or lifestyle you want, but no one, and I mean no one, should ever decide your identity for you, you were born in Canada, and as far as your passport is concerned, you are Canadian, don’t ever forget that.”


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