1. Wanna hear a love story? It’s kind of cute how it starts. This man, on travels from his new-made home in Canada meets this woman in a bar and decides he’s going to talk to her. Even though they don’t speak the same language, and most women he’s dated in his new home either dump him or treat him as a phase. It’s 1979 in Puerto Vallarta. He’s good at travelling, and loves to do so alone.
And this woman? He didn’t meet her, exactly; she was his server. At some tourist trap of a place called “Las Palomitas” (or, roughly translated, the Love Birds or Little Doves or whatever) and was studying to become a civil servant. She was seventeen and customers would draw portraits of her from their barstools. She still has one of these tucked away in her closet that I found once.
And so they talked, and got along. They got married, skipped back to Canada and had me and my brother. This is the kind of story we’ve grown up with since childhood and have believed for years. It wasn’t until much later I understood how difficult it was for one party to move to a new country into a family that was surprised to learn smart, well-dressed women could come from south of the U.S. Or, for the other to attend family Christmases in where communications beyond “Feliz Navidad!” consistently had to be translated. Thankfully, over the years things improved.
2. I once had a boyfriend named Mike Armstrong, which is nondescript enough to prevent any actual identification and should tell you all you need to know about his background in this context. I lived in Mississauga; he in Brampton. We were in high school and into things like Anthony Burgess novels and composing nonsensical scores to children’s movies. It goes without saying Pink Floyd was an unfortunate influence. He also, interestingly enough, used to worry about my name.
“Everyone in my class thinks you’re…some black chick,” he confessed to me once over a weeknight phone call.
“Why?” I asked, not understanding the problem.
“Because your name is Chantal, and it’s spelled with an A.”
“That means it’s French!” I said belligerently.
From what I know, my parents fought over whether to call me Meyer, or this.
3. So I’ve been with this guy for a long while now. I’d be lying if I said not being able to explain your background in a neat little sentence hasn’t been awkward at times. For the first little bit of our relationship, I was shamefully slow to correct his family’s idea that I was maybe kinda Portuguese (I’m not). Then there was the time I made the mistake of refusing food at his Nona’s thanksgiving dinner. Or the time I brought him to a house party full of intoxicated teens with an even more toxic definition of what national pride meant, and some misunderstood comment led to his car getting keyed and smashed.
In retrospect none of this really matters, because any of the rules I thought I was breaking or circumventing at the time had already been broken by my parents twenty-five years earlier. This is in no small part why I’ve never spent too long worrying about whether race mattered for this guy and I, and why I’ve been so blessed to never have to.
But forget all that! We’re planning our wedding right now. One of the issues is whether to serve porchetta or tacos at the midnight snack bar. Got any suggestions?
This post is part of the Ethnic Aisle, a blog about race, ethnicity and other culture curio in the GTA.