A third-culture kid (TCK / 3CK) or trans-culture kid is "someone who, as a child, has spent a significant period of time in one or more cultures other than his or her own, thus integrating elements of those cultures and their own birth culture, into a third culture."


Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Latin Connection

In my previous entry on Multiculturalism, I mentioned that new arrivals to Canada have a tendency to reach out to familiar elements that remind them of their homeland. During the initial phase of my transition, I exhibited a slight variation of this tendency. Although I was technically where I belonged, a microchip was planted deep in my persona reprogramming my operating system to include South American behavioural software – a culture engraining a work-hard-play-hard mentality bringing balance between professional and personal lives. I really missed the warm, casual and friendly ways of the Latin American people. While the botanical garden of cultural diversity flourished around me, however, I could not find the proper flowerbed in which to be planted. The subconscious dialogued relentlessly with its conscious counterpart, suggesting that settling into the landscape could be premature. Would allowing my life to take roots in Ottawa be once more interrupted by yet another move in the near future? Was I even where I belonged?

While my internal struggle persisted in the background, I held on to remnants of that optimism adopted from previous versions of my now outdated model. I had tumbled far into the dark realm of shyness and found it hard down there. Outside of my Fab Four, relationships were complicated and the step toward establishing new friendships was even more complex. Was this happening because I was older? Was I experiencing some sort of post-traumatic stress disorder? Previous comfort levels attained while living abroad seemed unreachable. My inner person possessed a plethora of questions that my young mind could not answer. My mind had surpassed my physical growth in some ways, perhaps catapulting me to a teenage state of mind. It became harder to relate to people my age and I found some comfort talking to older people, figuring they had all gone through nomadic lifestyles as a rite of passage of sorts. The world before seemed to have gaps I could not fill yet. Once more, life blessed me with another surprise. A welcome ray of light clearing up the overcast Ottawa South neighbourhood. Little did I know that one of my best friends in life was going to be revealed to me, indirectly and unintentionally assisting me in defining myself during this conflictual time and making some sense out of things. I set some roots in the Canadian soil as a result. The way this special bond came into being both between two third culture kids, but also how two culturally different families began to define an inseparable international family is always a story I enjoy sharing and have cherished ever since.

The Bickfords and the Marquez

The Bickford-Marquez international relationship was established when our heads of households initially met in the late 1970s. Jhonny Marquez was posted to Ottawa in a similar capacity as my father, yet working for the Venezuelan government. His wife, Delia, was expecting their second child after Maria Virginia, in a very unfamiliar place to them. I was yet to be included in the picture as I was only an item on the Stork’s to-do list, but my brother was around to represent the youth on our side. Juan Alberto was the baby boy who entered this world on a fall day in the nation’s capital, becoming the first in his family born in Canada. Due to visa requirements and expensive international travel, a once again new mom was left in a foreign setting, surround by snow and many unfamiliar faces. Maman found out about this through the diplomatic circle and decided to drop in on Delia as she began to adjust to the new family member. My mother was very familiar with her new friend’s challenging situation, having been there herself in the past in 1978. It was psychological difficult to go through the ordeal of pregnancy and childbirth far away from your birth parents. My Maman felt blessed having her in-laws who had been extremely supportive even as they were a mere thousand kilometers away. This friendly gesture from one mother to another was forever remembered as setting the foundation for our amazing saga.

The cross-cultural project was put on hold shortly after launching the initiative, as my parents were posted to Brazil in 1980. By the time they returned to Ottawa in 1983 (now with me), the Marquez had finished their posting. That is how things generally happen in the diplomatic world. Everything is temporary. Afterwards, during our Venezuela posting from 1986-1989, my mother organized a charity fair on behalf of the Canadian community that enabled re-establishing communication lines with the Marquez. Jhonny’s mother had attended the event and suddenly, our good times rolled on. What a wonderful coincidence that both our families were posted to the same country again! Here they became our Venezuelan uncles, as Brian and I regularly greeted them when they came over to our Cafetal home for diplomatic functions, dinners and cocktails. They were always sweet with us, especially tia Delia. But this did not last forever, and we were forced to bid our farewell as we packed and left for Chile. My parents wondered once more if we would ever have a chance to see them again.

Christmas in Archer, Ottawa, ON

By 1992, we had completely lost track of our Venezuelan friends. My father, without the need for any relentless intelligence work, eventually saw picture of Mr. Marquez on The Diplomat, a magazine about diplomatic and foreign affairs issues pertaining to the Ottawa region. The caption seemed to indicate that he had only recently arrived to the area, once more representing the Venezuelan Embassy. My Dad shared the intel with my mom, who then called the Venezuelan Embassy, spoke to Jhonny who gave his home phone number to my mom, who then called Delia, who then told Maman they lived one block away from our Gillespie home. This amazing combination of “who then”s is the short and sweet version of the story. During Delia and Maman’s evening phone exchange, realizing our conveniently close proximity to each other, they both agreed to meet up immediately after hanging up. Maman mentioned this to me probing if I wanted to tag along, mentioning they had a son around my age. I had not met Juan yet and the memory of my tios was fuzzy. We made our way from Gillespie to Archer, rang the doorbell, and Delia greeted us with a genuine happiness including hugs and kisses. This was the warm, human side I remembered of Venezuela. I then met Juan who was in his room rocking out on his Supernintendo, playing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time. I realized he was shy as I was and our first conversations were quite basic. Perfect for me at the time, though it did not take long for us to find a common ground in our sense of humour, our love for basketball, Van Damme movies, becoming inseparable brothers from different mothers. Time has gone by since I have seen him now, but I still know the next time we will be reunited it will be as if we had just hung out yesterday. True friendship.

Our families coming together made subzero winters in Ottawa feel tropical. We co-hosted an annual pre-Christmas party using a Secret Santa system. The rules dictated that each gift was to be picked out at the dollar store and the day of the celebration, the item purchased would be given to someone randomly. Dad got a back-scratcher two years in a row. Never saw him use it. Jhonny gifted me with a dinosaur colouring book and as I looked puzzled, everyone burst out in laughter. The gifts were a great source of entertainment as everyone embraced the spirit of the moment without anyone’s feelings being hurt. We organized our very own talent shows on special occasions throughout the year, sometimes with special guests, such as a Peruvian family playing the cajon – their national instrument – and dancing La Marinera, Dad, Brian and I trying to sing a German opera song without evening knowing the lyrics to the song and other memorable events. The response to our performances either merited applause, jokes about other people’s lack of talents having objects thrown at you or other interactive responses. Our homes were in fact the place to be in the Ottawa area. We enjoyed this so much that either I would always be at Juan’s or he would be hang out at my place. A real community of jesters. These gatherings were always something to look forward to and perhaps one of the toughest aspects of Ottawa-life to leave behind. Ottawa became forever synonymous with the Marquez, my dear Venezuelan family.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Summers With The Bickfords

This Canadian chapter of my story carried a rather different tune from the previous six years of sweet South American exile. Recession continued to linger over the Maple Leaf's wallet, sneaking its frisky hand into family budgets. As a consequence, people sought any avenue to generate household savings, cherishing every spare penny and slashing expenses. Many discount stores began to come out of the woodwork hoping to make a profit from hard economic times. The Bickfords were obliged to take a hiatus from frequent globetrotting due to this global downturn, but also because of losing our perks as expats. Our reach was reduced primarily to Ontario, yours to discover, specifically along the famous strip of the 401 highway. Our radius was now somewhat limited to communities surrounding the national capital area, close enough for day trips in our Plymouth Voyager. We discovered magnificent places suitable for family picnics, berry picking, sugar bushes and much more. We familiarized ourselves with heritage sights such as Morrisburg’s Upper Canada Village, picturesque towns such as of Wakefield, Quebec, the locks along the Rideau River, seizing opportunities to put some distance between us and the hustle and bustle of everyday city life.

The Old Man And The Fish

Having our long distance movement restricted to the ground level, having had our wings clipped also meant we could not spend time with my Maman's family. This was certainly a major challenge that took a toll on my personal relationship with my Mémé, but also my cousins, my Aunt Annie and Uncle Fernando. Three years was way too long without seeing them. Our annual visits were cancelled as international travel for a family of four was simply unaffordable. I began to have a feeling I would never have a chance to see them again so each night I prayed for them and cherished the memories. On the other hand, we were now in an ideal situation to strengthen our bond with the Ontario Bickfords as geography was on our side – mind you, the distances between one city and another continued to be significant, especially as an impatient pre-teen sitting in a car without much to do. We had traveled up and down highway 401, sufficiently enough to memorize strategic exits and rest stops, should the need to take a breather arise. I had identified this revamping of our lifestyle with a popular song hitting the radio waves at that time, Life Is A Highway interpreted by Tom Cochrane. These regular pilgrimages were packed with enthusiasm, as it was my chance to reunite with my family and share that distinctive, special ambience that these instances produce. It was moreover a temporary immersion in an English speaking environment for a change and to polish up my proficiencies in the language. The English component of the Claudel curriculum was not demanding.

Having Amherstview two hours south of Ottawa encouraged us to regularly visit Grandad - at least once a month. As soon as I crossed the front door and kicked off my shoes, he stood above the staircase smiling and waiting for us to come and I rushed, hoping to be the first to give him a hug. He usually proceeded to show Brian and I some demonstrations of Aikido self-defense tricks. He then giggled away and complemented us mentioning that we were beginning to "look as handsome as your grandfather." He was a true entertainer, even when he was not trying to make anyone laugh. Granny was no longer there bringing cohesion to his every day life but he had become very set in his ways. The best example to share was lunch. It had to be at 12:00. If the clocked turned to 12:01pm and there was no meal in sight, he begun to portray a more nervous persona fueled by a voracious hunger. He was in better shape than most of us, not a heavy man, but he was set in his ways. His meal preparation skills are a story  entirely all on its own. He treated us once to some wild ducks a friend had gifted him, a potential delicacy if cooked with love and patience. At the stroke of 11:00am, he bolted from his favourite living room chair headed to the kitchen, ready to cook those poor ducks. He was convinced they would be ready by lunch time. As we sat down to enjoy our meal at exactly noon, he cautioned us to mind our teeth as the animals still likely had buckshot in them. Duck n' Bullets: Grandad's special. The meat was pretty much raw and as he noticed this, he ordered that we carve off some chunks and cook them in a frying pan. This was perhaps not one of the best meals we had enjoyed as a family, but it is still a hilarious and priceless memory. I just wished he had his own cooking show on TV.

He was also the man of many gadgets. With some of his valuable down time spent in the comfort of his television room, he must have been bombarded by infomercials selling a myriad of weird appliances and accessories. He purchased an exercise machine which he probably did not use more than once, and it was also the oddest most uncomfortable gadget I had ever seen. He showed it off as if he had invented the thing himself. The most interesting purchase of his, though, merits a short mention. Before his series of strokes, he had developed a strong affection to coffee, so dark it looked like crude oil. I remember tasting some once and turned green for a few months. Due to his love for strong java, he bought an espresso coffee machine in hopes of making that ultimate cup of joe. He explained that it had several safety devices in order for the machine to cook the beans with some incredible amount of pressure. Regardless of these user friendly features, he still managed to make it blow up, only God knows how. Luckily, he was nowhere near the mushroom cloud as the explosion unfolded. From the day of that incident to the day we cleaned out his house knowing he would never return to live there again, there was a huge stain on the ceiling of the kitchen reminding us of that incident. He had returned the coffee maker after this life threatening disaster and the clerk could hardly believe he had been able to almost blow himself up using it. He always had that adventurous element in his personality, but his follow through was poor in form. It was admirable and hilarious at the same time. Our own Mr. Magoo. He refused to have his mug shot placed next to the definition of old fart in the dictionary, and I believe he passed that test with flying colours.

Brian and I feeding Canada geese

Through his many friendships as a greater Cataraqui community leader, he had befriended all sorts of fine people. One of his Aikido students introduced him to the world of computers and gaming. His friend worked in Future Shop - the equivalent of a Best Buy or other large electronic retail store - and imparted his expert knowledge on high performing computers, popular games for his grandkids, and obtained generous discounts on his purchases. This was when Grandad introduced my brother and I to such computer games such as Duke Nukem, set in a post-apocalyptic world where the task was to blow up the bad guys. I remember him laughing away and telling us to use pipe bombs. Once he came to our house and enthusiastically installed “Stacker Three” to increase the memory of our computer. We were all very excited until the computer crashed. He then (like a small boy) announced he had to go home now. A little knowledge can be dangerous. This mishap seemed to go hand in hand with important deadlines for my mom, such as translations she had saved on the computer. To her misfortune, she usually had to redo the entire translation due to collateral damage caused by Stacker and its many versions afterwards. I think Grandad's visits made Maman want to hide the computer or put it on lock down somewhere in the house.

Quite a unique man. He had an alter ego as well, known to a selected crowd as Reverend Bill Bickford. He put aside his sensei apparel and replaced it with a clerical collar. We attended his Sunday services when we visited where he proudly pointed out on each occasion to the congregation that his family was sitting amongst the flock. After mass, many of them approached us to meet and greet. This was when we met local tycoon and arcade magnate, Bob Joseph. He was a generous man and offered his cottage in Varty Lake, a cozy cabin in the wilderness, to the Reverend and his family for a couple of weeks. All of us found a great deal of enjoyment there. My grandfather taught me how to fish, using proper bait and releasing the fish back into the water. The cottage was equipped with a barbecue where Brian and I grilled some burgers – perhaps so Grandad would not try his hand at cooking. The beach welcomed flocks of geese looking for a bite to eat in the evenings, and we made the mistake of feeding them. They kept returning only to soil all over the backyard. There was a pontoon boat, our traditional summer opening ceremony vehicle which everyone young and old piled on board. Every year regardless of who was at the helm, the self-proclaimed captain gunned the engine full speed and the front sank into the lake. As the engine was brought to a halt, it would rebalance and everyone reacted in amazement, every single time. After seeing our hearts pop out of our mouths and relocate itself back to its familiar dwelling, we resumed the annual tour of the lake at a slower, more floatable speed.

On the pontoon boat touring the lake

Varty Lake was a wonderful place to spend quiet summers, in pure Zen relaxation. We had satellite television for evening distractions as mosquito activity consumed the outside world. Those pesky little flies overpowered any repellant for sale legally in the market, so as soon as the sun went down for a snooze, everyone took refuge in the comfortable, mosquito-free indoors. The closest village to the cottage was Moscow (yes, Ontario) with a convenience store and three houses making up the whole urban area. The population living in this mega city was anywhere from 4 to 10 inhabitants. The convenience store had videos for rent and the clerk's system was extremely elaborate. First, the customer picked out the movie to rent. Second step in the process was to carry it to the counter. Third, the clerk asked for the customer's first name: in my father’s case, David. Four, complete transaction in Canadian dollars. The following day as we walked in to return the rental at the store, he greeted us with a “Hello, David!” Guess he had great rapport with his varied and diverse clientele. At the cottage, Grandad positioned himself during the peaceful evenings to fish. Every summer, he kept catching a bigger fish than the year before. He was on his way of becoming a sport fisherman in his mind. Many of us presumed he continuously caught the same large mouth bass year after year. A relevant hint was that by the third summer, the large mouth bass seemed to be missing most of his lips. My Grandfather was not a man who paid much attention to detail, including lips, as he put the new beast into a bucket to happily and proudly display his accomplishment to everyone. We humoured him, although my Dad reflected on the moment saying: "That must be the dumbest fish in the lake." 

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Multiculturalism: Building The Cultural Mosaic

Since the birth of Canada, partnerships have been fostered between different cultures in order to build a nation. French and English, forever European rivals in their Empirical aspirations, set the groundwork for future generations to tolerate each other and celebrate each other's differences. At an early age, I proudly understood this unbreakable bond between the two founders of my country, facilitated by the positive relationship between my British father and my French mother. Diversity was in my blood. On the other hand, the examples I had experienced of national culture throughout my experience in South America promoted homogeneity. Many nation building projects developed a common unifying ideology in order to  form a strong identity. Most of these territories include a variety of internal micro cultures, sometimes referred to as regional identities, incapable of eclipsing a deeply entrenched core patriotism. Immigrants are expected to embrace the new national brand, adapting to the local culture, fitting in to the uniform mold. Canada had certainly distanced itself from this practice since I had entered this world. This assimilation process had greatly facilitated my understanding of the host population’s culture and identity assisting the process of integration and creating an everlasting bond with the country.

Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau from 1968 to 1979 and 1980 to 1984

Canada has served as a refuge for people leaving their homeland in times of distress in search for a safe haven. Several waves of immigration have given the country a new shape thanks to the framework established by our British and French Fathers of Confederation in 1867. Nevertheless, celebrating diversity was not a priority until the 20th Century. An early champion setting the stage for cultural inclusion was Governor General, Lord Tweedsmuir, who promoted the uniqueness of ethnic groups and their contribution to enhancing our national character during his inaugural speech in 1935. He asserted that the strongest nations are those composed of different racial elements contributing to the foundation of a positive society. In the 1970s, charismatic and long-time Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau and the Canadian government endorsed multiculturalism, formally recognizing the importance of immigration and the need for pluralism. He declared in 1971 that Canada would adopt a multicultural policy, the  Multiculturalism Act, respecting the diversity of languages, religion and customs. This was the birth of our ongoing cultural mosaic project which promotes inclusion and opposes the US-style melting pot ideology. Although informally adopted, this assimilation policy had been our pre-established unspoken condition to those who chose to settle in the Great White North until the end 1960s. Whether or not people obliged was entirely up to them.

Throughout my young life, I had befriended passport holders of various different countries who also possessed that certain element of patriotism. I became aware of their cultures through regular interaction, personal anecdotes about their homeland, their rich history and stereotypes that can be sometimes accurate - such as all Canadians are polite, Americans know how to put on a show or the French love perfume. I understood that any country individually developed extensive and unique unifying aspects which defined their national pride, hence, their feeling of belonging to a greater and special community. This special group of people are what makes up a nation. This word is significantly sensitive for us political scientists and those who have that eternal patriotic flame. A country is defined by its geographical borders on a map yet it can include different nations within or overlapping these borders, each with their own national interests, language, culture, religion, ethnicity and so on - this is particularly true in the cases of Great Britain, Ireland, Russia, Spain, Switzerland and many other countries including Canada. I continuously fed this erroneous belief of a nation and a country being on equal footing as the all-inclusive powerful psychological entity. After all, we all identify misunderstood or unknown concepts with those that are more familiar to us until circumstances teach us the difference. During my three years in Chile, I perceived homogeneous culture, language, and religion. Minority groups were minuscule in comparison to those of my birth country. Nonetheless, Europeans, Mapuches, and mixes of both were the reality of Chile’s deeply entrenched assimilation process under the umbrella of the flag. As I had witnessed a similar composition of the Venezuelan population during my three years there, I systematically associated these realities to my homeland. If we all stand under the same country flag, we are all the same regardless of our background or other baggage accumulated throughout our lifetimes, and we are a nation.

Ottawa proved to be a major test to this concept. It's metropolitan area is now the fourth largest in Canada with a population estimated at 1,130,761 (est 2006) with foreign born inhabitants making up 202,730 (close to 18 percent) of the total population, according to the 2006 Statistics Canada census report. Although I lived in the quiet suburban paradise of Hunt Club, a traditionally Anglophone neighbourhood, it was evident its cultural background was getting a makeover. Among my more frequented hotspots in my neighbourhood included the McCarthy Road and Paul Anka Drive area, where you could find a video store, the A&P supermarket, Shopper's Drugmart, a Scotiabank branch and the Community Centre. This was our strategic supply area for all our basic needs. This great medina demonstrated a promise of a new world when the it was plagued with a plethora of conflicts - something I observed first hand during the Caracazo and the end of a military dictatorship. These were no longer people, but representatives of different nations within a country mingling and meeting minds. It was as if my small expat world in Chile had become exponentially larger. Suburban Ottawa showcased young Middle Eastern children playing with East African kids, South Asian small business owners catering to all variations of dietary  restrictions, and my favourite, the Shawarma Revolution! No matter where life would take you in the city of Ottawa, chances were you would not be too far away from a Lebanese restaurant serving shawarmas and other their fine culinary delicacies, such as kaftas and falafels. Granted I am not much of a Middle Eastern cuisine connaisseur or posssess an in-depth knowledge of national dishes, but my taste buds were hardly ever disappointed.

Canada, a place where cultures meet

After a shaky start, in most of urban Canada, multiculturalism had become a positive force by the 1990s. A door opened providing additional examples of lifestyles, values, beliefs, traditions and food. On the down side, some immigrants began to encounter issues in the job market as Canadian institutions, boards and other regulatory bodies did not recognize foreign accreditations. The hard earned post-graduate studies had become worthless for many of these hopefuls dreaming of a new world of opportunities as doctors, lawyers, dentists, and other seasoned professionals. Circumstances forced these professionals who could have contributed to Canadian social development accept jobs where requirements were lower. Furthermore, both immigrant groups and Canadians considered that multiculturalism was encouraging the propagation of a ghetto mentality, suggesting newcomers sought out their familiar home culture, avoiding interaction with the rest of society. During my time in Ottawa, I noticed that Canadian-born people were tolerant and patient, especially with those who exhibited difficulty in communicating in English. Nevertheless, I could understand how people could shut out the world when they encountered a communication barrier. Change leads to reaching out to what is familiar. When you move away, you feel as if you have both feet in different countries. I lived through this. Change is challenging given the instant culture shock of completely foreign settings. There is no easy way to prepare for this except by adopting an exaggerated positive and flexible attitude when faced with adversity. Eventually, time will heal everything and home takes on a brand new meaning.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Introduction to Canadian Politics

After an exciting year back in Canada's capital, most of the initial reverse culture shock had been successfully overcome. Dad had returned to that oddly shaped Pearson Building on Sussex Drive, the same headquarters where he began his career in Foreign Affairs many leagues ago. Brian and I were in the Lycée Claudel, enjoying our friends, afterschool activities and occasional outings. Maman was masterfully keeping the peace on the home front and working as a language interpreter for the city of Ottawa, remaining true to her multitasking nature. The toughest hurdle perhaps for all of us was getting reacquainted with Old Man Winter. The cold white tundra was more welcoming when we vacationed in Ontario while on our holiday high through the magic of Christmas. I will always admire my fellow Canadians for their fighting spirit, intestinal fortitude and clinical analysis as they tackle the season and the minus thirties Celsius in top form. Since I left Ottawa with my family back in 1986, something in my genetic code seems to be deleted from the programming as my body has never seemed to find a way to readjust to these extreme temperatures. Every new winter season feels much longer than the last and summers shorter. After this first year, October of 93 came along where I was reunited with one of my old friends from Santiago: Democracy. This was the autumn of Canada's 35th federal election and the stakes were high for the ruling Conservatives.

View of the Parliament from Gatineau, Quebec

The historic political rivalry in our Canadian Constitutional Monarchy has seen the Tories (or Progressive Conservatives) and the Liberal Party with a clear advantage over the rest of Canada's political parties. All of our Prime Ministers since Confederation in 1867 have originated from either of the two political parties until the 2004 elections. Prior to 1993, the Tories had enjoyed two back-to-back majority governments with Brian Mulroney - a majority government is when a party controls over 50 percent of the seats in the House of Commons. As a matter of fact, when Mulroney's party won the 1984 elections, it was recorded as the biggest ever majority government in the country's history, winning a majority of seats in every province. His party included socially conservative populists in the West, fiscal conservatives in Atlantic Canada and Ontario and Quebec nationalists, another reason for his moderately successful reelection in 1988. However, the rise to power is as monumental as the party's ensuing fall from grace. As the recession opened the door of Canadians' homes, sat in their living room as the unwelcome guest eating away at families' budgets, voters turned to The Government seeking concrete answers to their overwhelming financial burden. Unemployment increased dramatically and the federal budget went on a journey to the centre of the earth, holding federal debt by its hand toward the darkness below. Among the best contingency plans brought forth Mulroney's government was the Goods and Services Tax (or GST if you prefer, recently becoming HST) which made Canadians extremely overjoyed since its inception. Imagine yourself struggling to make ends meet, and now you have to pay more through an additional tax for anything you buy. Curiously, during this last economic downturn that many economists avoid using that word, "recession" -  although it seems more like a new Great Depression - hard working families were slapped across the face and their bank account with a brand new tax. The HST I just mentioned. 

From the kick-off of the seven week long political campaigning, my father watched the in-depth CBC news coverage with Peter Mansbridge, keeping track of the groundbreaking news. I joined in with a keen interest after my homework was completed. I had avidly supported the Chilean electoral process back in the day, but this time, the elections were on home turf. I was convinced the democratic carnival and the accompanying euphoria of elections was about to explode throughout Canada from coast to coast. Moreover, it appeared that the Conservatives had imploded in the aftermath of Mulroney's last mandate. The failure of this so-called grand coalition, previously instrumental in their landmark victory back in 84, was crumbling to pieces. The main federal head-to-heads continued to feature the Liberals and the PCs (not to be confused with the President's Choice Brand from the Loblaws supermarkets which do in fact have delicious products for sale. Give them a try if you have not done so yet), yet there were emerging forces working against the conservatives' mojo. The Western social conservatives formed the Reform Party of Canada, with Alberta as their stronghold, and Quebec conservative cabinet minister, Lucien Bouchard severed ties only to conceive his beloved Bloc Québécois, enlisting some Ministers fellow Conservative and sympathetic Liberal from ridings in Quebec. As a proud French-Canadian, Franco-Ontarian, Francophone Citizen of the World, I could not comprehend why this party was necessary and why it did not represent all French-Canadians. I was well aware my main language was under-represented in government agencies, departments and institutions, even in the nation's capital. So many people claimed to be bilingual but in fact could not fully communicate in French. It was unimaginable the fact that anyone was set to abandon their commitment to the Canadian Federation, established between French and English Canadians. I had been raised to respect differences and extend a hand in friendship to good people, regardless of their background. The whole planet was my country. The BQ had never hidden its secessionist agenda and their politicians were quick to demonize English Canada - in my household, representing my father. Last but not least were the New Democrat Party of Canada, lead by Yukon MP Audrey McLaughlin representing a more left-leaning following.

The reality that was that I could not vote or influence decision-making. I did however understand that momentum was swinging in favour of Jean Chrétien and the Liberals, with many voters considering the party as a refreshing change and the only contenders presenting tangible ideas. They had launched their campaign promoting the Red Book, a document detailing exactly what a Liberal government would do in power. Perhaps during their long foray in the land of opposition politics, having won few seats in the house, they had enough time to concentrate on drafting this document meticulously to present it to the public at the right place and time. The Liberals also presented in my mind as a preferred option through their branding, ideal for people with little to no political savvy. The word Liberal, as was presented to the public, written in red with a maple leaf on the logo, made me identify this as patriotic. A similar example, the Mexican Partido Revolucionario Institucional, using the green, white and red on their logo - the Mexican flag. To those uninformed folk, it makes the most sense to cast their vote for something they see as a national symbol, therefore a patriotic duty. Colours are important. This is how MacDonald's manages to attract customers as the colours and the brand are designed to gain people's attention yet make them want to leave once they have eaten. Pretty clever. Anyway, before I deviate further, my political opinion at the time was what my university professor Nacho Lago would have qualified as punishing the ruling party. I considered the conservatives had buried the country into a deep sacrificial pit - whether or not they could have done something to get us out of it is a completely different matter - and someone else should come up to bat. Perhaps most Canadians felt this way too. I remember trying to bounce some ideas I was ruminating about the campaign off my friends in school or over the phone while we chatted, but to my surprise, most of my peers were uninterested. I reminisced about my Chilean people, the kids, teens, adults and seniors all waving flags and vocally supporting their candidates, as if a war was about to break out. In Ottawa, some people, very few, would put up a sign on their lawns showing a quiet support for their local candidate to represent their riding in Parliament.

Jean Chrétien, the proposed repairman for Canada's economic engine

The much-anticipated election day finally came along during a weekday, which happened to be a school night as well. I was so excited to witness the process unfold on the special television coverage, once more on CBC's The National with Peter Mansbridge. If you are not Canadian, he was and still is The Newsman here in our primary news network. His main competitor was Lloyd Robertson from CTV news who was not as successful in appealing to the common viewer. I suddenly realized at first glance, I was going to have to learn a lot about this process before the end of the night. This night was also challenging for my dear father and his patience as he tried to listen to the commentary as the results came in. I bombarded him with questions as he himself was trying to understand beyond the basics that were foreign to me. The screen resembled the minesweeper application on the early versions of Windows, as different boxes popped up representing leading candidates in different ridings I had never heard of. The numbers changed often yet the trend was upward but sometimes the snapshots of candidates would be reordered. I eventually connected the dots, noticing that the votes were still being counted meaning that the leads were subject to change, explaining the order of the candidate boxes in front of me. The first box is the one in the lead, followed by the rest in descending order. As the results continued to come in, I wanted to stay up until the very end to see the outcome of the election first hand. This was not to be. I had to wake up early in the morning for school leading my parents to dismiss me to my room. As I lay in my bed in almost complete darkness, my eyes closed but my brain did not want to shut down. I could not help myself from thinking about what world I would wake up to the next day. After a restless night, I rose to a red morning with Jean Chrétien winning a majority government. The magnitude of this win was beyond my understanding as well as what the result meant for the conservatives partially due to the new parties causing vote splitting against them. The results were 177 seats for the Liberals, 54 for the Bloc (the first time a secessionist party was leader of the official opposition), 52 for the Reform, 9 for the NDP and only 2 for the PC. This was the beginning of the end for the Progress Conservatives and their rich palmarès.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

The NBA on NBC

In the early 90s, as I tuned in to the North American television market also for the first time, the NBA was an efficiently marketed product. The league's administration entered in a partnership with NBC for television broadcasting rights, proving an excellent venture to boost overall popularity of the league in the US and abroad. This help to satisfy my curiosity about this game as we had NBC on channel 9 through our basic cable package provided by MacLean's. However, Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen's performances during the Bulls games deserve much credit. They not only held that orange ball in their hands, but the power to transform many impartial viewers into avid regular viewers. It did not take long for the Windy City to become the host of the world's most beloved team. NBC further hosted my favourite program at the time on Saturday mornings, known to many in my generation, called NBA Inside Stuff. It was hosted by Ahmad Rashad. This quality show featured some behind the scenes activities in the lives of NBA players, fitness, fundamentals of the game and a brief recap and analysis of the previous week of games throughout the league. I especially found entertaining how Ahmad dubbed each and every guest on the show "My Main Man." I suppose he was trying to appeal to my generation's lingo but the core concept of the show was ideal for a new fan such as myself. I rapidly familiarized with the main teams, players, issues and music and felt connected to the human side of the players versus the celebrity aspect.

Celtics vs. Lakers: an NBA everlasting rivalry

On October 1992, I watched my first NBA game from the comfort of our television as the regular season 1992-1993 unfolded in our family room. I cannot recall for the life of me who was playing that monumental first game in my early life, but Brian and I were hooked from the very beginning. The comparison between the beautiful game (soccer) and basketball was night and day. Many of the more learned NBA lifetime fans can agree that, although basketball is a team sport, it is a sport where stars make a difference. This was definitely the case with Erving "Magic" Johnson and the Los Angeles Lakers, Larry Bird and the Boston Celtics and perhaps most notably Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. I am by no means discrediting the talent of the rest of the players on the rosters. Even the most underplayed benchwarmer could probably run circles around me and 11 of my most athletic friends. Football (soccer again) is a team sport. If you have the smallest hole in the pitch, the other team will exploited it, leading to your unavoidable demise. These special basketball stars were leaders of their generation, motivating their teammates to perform to the next level. The spectators meanwhile were blown away by the acrobatics, the fundamentals, and of course, to use Sir Charles Barkley's vocabulary, dunks with awesome power.

Among the most attractive features of the NBA in the 92-93 season were the epic rivalries. The Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers no longer were subject to extensive sports coverage as they succumbed into one of the dark ages in the annals of franchise history. The Magic hexed, leaving Hollywood far from the spotlight and Bird migrating out of Beantown toward comfortable retirement. Regardless, watching the Bulls face the Knicks in Madison Square Garden or Chicago Stadium (before moving to the United Center in 1994) always provided games packed with intensity. The crowd and players fed off each other's passionate energy and even those of us at home felt our heart rates rise. Many may remember this specific rivalry involved a very ugly side during in infamous Bulls-Knicks 1994 Playoff Brawl. In the 1990s, the game had also been taken over in a sense by centers. Everyone remembers Hakeem "The Dream" Olajuwon, the Nigerian tower with the moves of a guard, Dikembe Mutombo and his unmatched ability at blocking shots, David Robinson or "The Admiral" of the Spurs and Patrick Ewing's Knicks. This season also introduced for the Orlando Magic, at center, 7' 2", weighing 300 lbs, Shaquille O'Neal. He was a real golem, taking Disneyworld to new competitive heights they had never dreamed of. Those days, if a team did not have a strong center, they were going to have to work much harder offensively and defensively to get a result. This was particularly true of Barkley's Phoenix Suns and their lack of height, let alone centers.

As a Canadian fan, it was hard to pledge an eternal allegiance to a specific team. There were no Canadian teams competing at this level so ultimately, we had to choose among a variety of American ones. I was always that kind of person who cheered for a team based on their talent, sportsmanship, heart and teamwork rather than favouring the winning team just because of that. I admired the Bulls' achievements, but I did not want to be another fan just based on the fact that they were a winning team. Perhaps tomorrow, things would change. The team that encompassed my most important values were the Seattle Supersonics. It is funny how for some reason, Seattle always seems to have some part to play in my life. Shortly after the end of the first NBA season, I followed the Mariners and I began to enjoy Nirvana and Pearl Jam, both pioneers of the Seattle Grunge musical revolution. The Sonics were marshaled by their point guard Gary Payton, The Glove, with amazing court vision, paired up with a high flying Shawn Kemp, The Reignman. Both of them were not only capable of putting on a show, butwere able to light up the scoreboard with their unique flair, sometimes referred to as the Sonic Boom. Their chemistry on the court was unreal and their plays often reflected this, making the cut for many of the weekly highlight reels. They always seemed to know where the other one was. Many of their electrifying performances were a real treat, sometimes appearing like moves coming straight out of a video game or requiring several hours of rehearsal. 

Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp strategizing

This sport turned into a religion. Following closely a quality North American league, brought out within me a special respect and admiration for African-Americans. These formidable modern age gladiators changed the game forever as individuals and collectively. In my opinion, the game was forever changed for the better. I celebrated their displays of respect for their opponents on the court during high stakes games and even off the court. I particularly enjoyed watching a replay of Magic Johnson's retirement where Larry Bird roasted his long time Western Conference nemesis, joking around yet always remaining a gentleman. I suppose this is a behaviour athletes naturally develop towards each other in such a competitive environment after years of head to head battles. The further I watched special coverage on television, I came to find documentaries about legends who graced the game and making the league more attractive to the outside world. Furthermore, who could ever dispute the talent in the first ever US Dream Team playing in the Barcelona 92 games. The All-Stars came together on the hardwood showing the world why American basketball was light years ahead of the rest of the world. I was expecting, at some point, one of the more high-flying members of the team to dunk from half-court. It was not humanly possible, but it was hard to believe the Dream Team could not pull off something like that.