Canada is my home. I was born here. Tips to overcome the challenging of one’s identity.

This week, we have seen the statement “go back to where you came from” all over the news. In Trump’s latest controversy, he suggested four progressive congresswomen go back to their own countries. All are American citizens and three of them were born in the US. The incident has brought up a lot of emotion in many of us watching across the world. These types of comments can leave us feeling angered, enraged, hurt, confused, and unsafe. 

Many persons of diverse backgrounds born and raised in Canada and the US have had this statement directed at us, especially when we were younger, and many of our parents heard it in the workplace. “Go back to where you came from” style statements usually arise in a conflict or in some form of retaliation, especially where the culturally diverse person has the perceived upper hand. It’s a low blow that is challenging to respond to. 

The first time I heard this comment I was in grade 6 and it was made by a “friend” with a Japanese background who was mad at me. I just looked at her and said, “But we are both born here, so where would we go?” I remember my teacher talking to me about it and having us both apologize. She admitted she said it because there was nothing else she could say to hurt me. I forgave her, but I wasn’t sure of how this comment would impact me. 

I am not the only one who has gone through this and I share my story because I know many others can relate. The “You don’t belong here” discrimination has been leveraged against my parents, my friends, their parents, our cousins… the list goes on. 

It is so difficult to hear this comment in particular as it does challenge one’s sense of self and one’s identity. It challenges where people feel at home and where they feel like they belong. It challenges how safe they feel being in the country they live in.

It was really difficult to go back to school for a few days. I wasn’t sure of my place, as I didn’t know if my other classmates felt that this country wasn’t home for me either. 

When you experience a shaken sense of self around your belonging, it may impact your work, cause extra stress and unknowingly impact how you show up in the world. Some people hide, while others get angry and there is an entire spectrum of valid responses in between. 

Here are 5 strategies that you can use to move through this experience:

  1. Find a way to express the emotion in a positive manner. The emotion is not only in response to what is happening now but is arising in the context of what has been happening for generations. It may be about the injustice of people being bullied and being treated like they are second class citizens. Outrage is valid, but that emotion needs to move and be processed – holding it in your body will cause deeper problems. So let it cycle. Journal, go to kickboxing class, talk it out with people you care about, punch a pillow, go for a run. Do whatever you need to do to come back to a strong sense of self and take back some control. 
  2. Talk about what others, especially kids, are feeling. If we are going to end the cycle of people of culturally diverse backgrounds having to struggle and fight for their place, we need to focus on the kids and help them navigate their emotions and what is happening. Children hear snippets in the news or at school, so try to address the messaging they are receiving. Ask them how they felt and reinforce that they do belong. Also discuss what feelings are arising for your friends and family and ask how it is impacting them.
  3. If it is impacting your work, talk to your manager or HR representative and let them know that you need extra support. Such action is particularly important if there is something that needs to change in your organizational culture. Then you can take this as an opportunity to address and only discuss that issue, which should help resolve that feeling of ostracization and othering in your workplace. 
  4. Remember that you do belong. Meditate on all the ways that this is your home and how you can feel more at home exactly where you are. 
  5. Have compassion and forgive. Have compassion for those who make these comments, as bullies are usually broken and forgive yourself if you need to for your reaction to the situation. 

It is up to you to take back the power and take back your place in the country. When people make hateful comments, address it, but recognize that they may not change from you fighting them. So show them in your own way that you belong in your home here in North America.