Foreign Language

foreign language

(A part II to Immigrant Words)

I do feel more comfortable describing my father as firstly an immigrant and then a Jamaican and then a Black and then a man. If I had a gun to my head and was asked to describe my father I would probably recount his eyes then his demeanour and then his skin tone. And then I would squeeze my eyes shut and hope that the questioner was satisfied. But in all other situations, I would start with the words immigrant and Jamaican and Black. In no particular order. Those words are not a foreign language to me.


With the gun raised, my own answer to the question about my mother would be shorter. I went to her parents––my grandparents’ home––and we ate big, soggy wheat-like balls and bigger crackers soaked inside a soup the same colour as the one my mother made with chicken noodles. Everything inside the bowl reminded me of the mini-wheats cereal I hated. I said that with my eyes every time I took a spoon to my mouth. Mom didn’t ever say, “this is your culture, eat up.” It was the same with my dad. He never forced down ackee and saltfish or oxtail and rice  with the gravy. But I always just asked for the latter more.

foreign language, it was never…


I grew up a Canadian. My mother never owned a drivers licence. My father picked her up from IGA and No Frills on days when it was time to restock our home. That trip was often with two young boys in the house. I loved Eggos and Frosted Flakes and bagels and cream cheese––the plain kinds because we never saw the ones with seeds or herbs––and Kraft Dinner and the brownwhite side of the neapolitan ice cream box. I was at home with those flavours because my mom had the keys to the shopping cart. And I never ever saw my dad eat any of that shit. It was a foreign language to him. 


A few years back I met a girl with a name and profile picture that I thought was a catfish who took me to Vaughan where we had brunch at a restaurant where everything on the menu seemed foreign to me. She spoke with an accent and told me to try the blinis. It tasted like a meagre form of pancakes and a slightly better form of Eggos. I was so accustomed to my upbringing, to me.


We never talked after that day. It wasn’t her, it was me. Everything was just too different. But if we had continued, it might have been the same thing my dad may have experienced. An understanding that everything, when you get here, is foreign. Even to the point where foreign people feel more comfortable here than you could ever be. A diluted game of roulette. Where you learn to play and stake your chips on the outcome that you best feel inside of yourself. Or better, Russian roulette. Knowing that you never ever are in control. You just hope that you answer for yourself as best you can. Hoping that things, out of your control, rotate in your favour. 


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Matthew R. Morris

Educator, Speaker, Writer

Matthew R. Morris is a writer, speaker, and elementary educator in Toronto. He has an M.A. in Social Justice Education from OISE at the University of Toronto and is the author of the forthcoming book, Black Boys Like Me. 

Matthew R. Morris

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