What does it mean to be a Black man with an immigrant father and a white mother raised on Indigenous land?
I’ve asked myself this without letting the question resonate with me. My fears of using the word immigrant when describing my father felt fake. But it’s true by meaning. My dad came to Canada when he was sixteen or eighteen or twenty, somewhere around there, and I didn’t care to nail down specifics. He could have come at five, like some of my friends did, and I would have still considered him an immigrant. That’s what he was––not in a bad way––but in a real way. But I felt so foreign when writing that word to describe him. That’s why I don’t like to read back my words after I’m done writing them. I want them to exist. Like me. A Black man, with an immigrant father and a white mom.
I never thought about how my so-called immigrant father was also Black. And by the time that I got around to describing him as an immigrant, he had been on Canadian soil longer than I had been alive. Compared to me, he was an immigrant. He told me that. I would wind the backseat window down in our whitegrey ‘92 Ford Tempo and throw my cheeseburger wrapper out the window while on the highway. “Ehyo, doneduhdat…Don’t be a nasty Canadian, Macchew,” he would say while glaring at me through his rearview. We were both Black and shared many other similarities. I thought they paid other Canadians to work on the highways to pick garbage up. When he came to Canada ten years before he birthed me he worked on an apple orchard in Kitchener.
I don’t think of my father as an immigrant unless I am asked to describe him. When I use the word immigrant I think it validates his testament––the struggle he endured in order to stay here, the fight he put up to proximate his worthiness, the fortitude and patience it took from him to become accepted. He hated fast food. And stir fry, hot dog (no plural) and Coca-Cola. He ate scalloped potatoes, shepards pie, and KFC fries. He loved watching hockey and could tell you so many things about the Boston Bruins.
But I do not think of my father as an immigrant unless I am actually asked to see him. And when I do, I see a man who was asked, “where are you from?” just because he continued a conversation or said thank you or asked them a question. He often laughed and told them exactly where he was from: my grandmother’s name is Lucillle. They always laughed as they said, no but really, really…where are you from? Little immigrant words do frame us.
No one asked my mother that. I barely ever did. I barely questioned what it means to be a Black man with a white mother, leaving the immigrant part of it out. How does an immigrant and a white mother make a Black man? Somehow I have come to know myself as that. A Black man. Not a biracial man. Not a half Jamaican, half white man. Not a half Black, half Jewish man. A Black man. Raised by an immigrant father and a white mother. These words leave ideology alone. The words I use to describe myself erase the meaning of meaning. These words truncate identity. The words we use continue the status quo. And we don’t even think about them when we say them or write them down. We just accept them without questioning things. Things like: How did I become a Black man with an immigrant father and a white mother.
Raised on Indigenous land.