Dongwoo Kim and Navneet Khinda are first-generation Canadians and students at the University of Alberta.
As children of immigrants, there have been various moments in which we asked ourselves whether we really belong in this country. Despite the mainstream insistence on multiculturalism, integration, and celebrations of festivals featuring "ethnic" dishes, questions of identity sneak up on us from time to time. From the "no, where are you really from?" to a prime minister's reference to "old stock Canadians," we have been forced to straddle two identities, doubting the degree of "Canadianness" we can claim.
These moments, unfortunately more often than you would imagine, have made us wonder about ways of becoming more "Canadian." What if I made more "white" friends? What if I stopped going to the Korean church? Would I be better accepted if my hair and skin weren't so obviously different?" These are daily negotiations for us and the recent political controversies over citizenship and niqab further rendered us doubtful of our place in this society. Our representatives were essentially demanding us to choose between our cultural identities and Canada, bringing back memories of purposefully leaving behind smelly lunches our mothers packed for school.
But the swearing-in ceremony on Wednesday of the new cabinet was a different kind of moment, which reassured us that this country is indeed our home, and that we do not have to choose between our heritages and Canada. There is a tremendous amount of optimism that comes with gender parity. But it is also monumental for us to see men and women of diverse backgrounds at the core decision-making table. Bardish Chaggar, Maryam Monsef, and Jody Wilson-Raybould remind us of our true history – that despite their under-representation in politics, immigrant and aboriginal women have been integral to Canada. More importantly, seeing so many immigrants like us being sworn into cabinet, was a cathartic moment.
For a Sikh Canadian, Harjit Sajjan's rise to Minister of National Defence is truly an emotional experience, with vivid memories of discrimination and fear-mongering. In 1990, Baltej Singh Dhillon had to fight for his right to wear his turban at work. Twenty-five years later, the chief protector of our borders will be wearing one to work every day.
For a new Canadian of Korean heritage, seeing Southeast-Asian immigrants, such as Sajjan, Amarjeet Sohi, or Navdeep Bains, inspires not only hope, but a healthy dose of competition. Not only is it an assuring reminder that immigrants can contribute in determining the future direction of this country, but also that there is a lot of work to be done among Asian communities across Canada to work together and to increase the representation in all levels of government.
As Canadians, we face numerous challenges to be solved in our generation's time, which compels us to translate this "sunny ways" momentum into real action. And seeing ourselves better reflected in our leadership is an important first step, which reminds us that we are entitled every right to be part of tackling these problems – continually challenging and bettering our society while balancing multicultural narratives. Many critics have pointed out that this is merely a symbolic gesture, that it does not address our "real problems".
But for us, this is a welcome, if not long-awaited, reassurance that we belong.