The Adventures of a Californian-Canadian


My sister and I in Grand Central Station, shortly after I joined her living here
My sister and I in Grand Central Station, August 2013; she was very excited

It’s interesting, being a Californian in New York City. Although I don’t notice it, New Yorkers say that I have an accent; and, without fail, the magical word ‘California’ evokes images of sandy beaches, tanned bodies, and celebrities. Although I can’t necessarily blame New York; Californians have a similar idea in spirit, if not in specifics, of the Big Apple.

New Yorkers say that I’m a Californian; Californians say that I’m Canadian. It’s a bit of an interesting dichotomy, albeit an understandable one. Talk to me long enough and you’ll understand. The accent never fails to surface. But the question then arises: why on earth does a Californian have a Canadian accent? (And how on earth does someone the colour of sour cream survive in California?)

In the sweltering summer of 1996, my parents and two-year-old sister found themselves in an interesting position: their immigration application, which had previously been rejected, had come back two months later, successfully appealed. Having the proper documentation, they were clear to cross the border and start a new life in California. Except there was one, rather minor issue: my mother was incredibly pregnant.

Had the application not been initially rejected, it might not have been an issue. But with two more months of waiting in Canada, she was into the third trimester and immigration was going to be a rather interesting experience. I cannot exactly vouch for my parents’ comfort through the experience; my sister enjoyed it well enough, although that might just be that she had no idea what was happening.

June 1996 found my parents moving from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, to Redding, California, United States of America. A few notes about Redding, specifically: First, it is a fairly small city in far Northern California, closer to Oregon than San Francisco; second, it is surrounded by mountains, and with two nearby lakes, the Sacramento River, a bevy of creeks, and, of course, the mountains nearby, it is very much an outdoor community; third, the sun shines eighty-eight per-cent of the year (this is not an exaggeration). In summertime, the perpetual sunshine attempts to outperform itself in regards to heat and light.

It was in this place that my six-months-pregnant mother found herself. June was hot, to be true, but June could simply not compare to July – and July, in turn, has nothing on the heat that August in Redding can reach. Having moved from a place that has snow for over half the year, it was a rather drastic change for my parents, especially considering that their initial plan had been to move in April, not June. My sister didn’t quite care either way and enjoyed it as only a two-year-old could.

And then, in September of 1996, I joined the party. Soon after, in 1997, my brother was born. We moved houses once, early on enough that my brother, who is now sixteen years old, has lived in the same house his entire life. Of note for immigration purposes in the years I plan to gloss over: my siblings and I were raised with a bit of a Canadian tint to our words (I tend to soften and round my vowels) but will use Californian slang; and my brother and I, who are naturalised American citizens, also now qualify for Canadian citizenship despite living outside the country (my parents and sister still have green cards).  Presently, my mother has her own medical practice in Redding and is doing quite well, my father works as a management analyst for the City of Redding, my brother is a junior in high school, and my sister and I are attending Macaulay Honours College at Brooklyn College in New York City. (As for the other question, lots and lots of sunscreen.)

It’s quite a bit of a leap, isn’t it? California to New York. One coast to the next.

Which brings us, I suppose, to the second instalment in my immigration, in which we follow a pasty, sixteen-year-old Californian-Canadian to the biggest city in the United States.

The simplest answer for what brought me here involves money and family. My sister discovered Macaulay and all its many wonders when searching for a university, and was successfully enrolled in August of 2012; she is, as a Macaulay student, on the full tuition scholarship. Between my own application to Macaulay and my acceptance, the system has since altered the tuition scholarship to only extend to residents of New York State (which, for multiple reasons I cannot discuss here, I cannot become). While a setback, it is somewhat of a minor one, considering that CUNY tuition for out-of-state students is roughly equivalent to tuition at University of California Davis (campuses with more acclaim, such as UC Berkeley, UCSB, and UCLA run higher, not even factoring in cost of living). Davis is a college town in Central Valley – not to be confused with the infamous “valley” – and Central Valley is flat, rural, and overall not quite lively. Contrast this with New York City: having lived in a city in which the population was less than one hundred-thousand, and my graduating class in high school was seventy-nine students (in my school’s defence, they were a charter and there were bigger schools in the area, with graduating classes of closer to five hundred students), I was not necessarily inclined to move somewhere that was, overall, quite similar. New York held appeal; not only that, but I had family in NYC as well.

With cost tipping in NYC’s favour and my parents’ comfort with the knowledge that I wouldn’t be completely alone in a big city (which was a major issue due to my age), I packed up in August 2013 and moved to Brooklyn.

Culturally, Canada is incredibly similar to America, so the only trait I brought from the Great White North was my accent; I couldn’t necessarily say the same of California and New York. However, it was surprising how few things changed: I was terrified to experience the New York summer (I will still stubbornly claim that Redding is worse, though New York humidity is formidable), and my hint of an accent is often remarked upon by people I encounter (the way I say sorry is no end of amusement – or in one singular case, irritation – to my friends). I am much enamoured with public transit, relatively cheap sushi rolls, and the entire concept around pizza by the slice, although I am mildly put out by New York produce and perception of “Mexican Food” (Chipotle, by the way, only counts as “Mexican Food” to people nowhere near Mexico, although California has Chipotle too). I admit to rolling my eyes when New Yorkers gloat about how clean NYC is compared to Los Angeles’ pollution… as they light their cigarettes directly outside public buildings. Most of all, I love when people ask me about In-N-Out and give me weird looks when I mention Blended Rebels and Red Bulls, although I now forget to press the button to cross the street when I go home for the holidays.

Overall, I’ve found that people are people, no matter what corner of the country they come from. It’s reassuring, knowing that no matter how far I travel, no matter where I go, I will find common ground and form friendships despite cultural, lingual, and traditional differences. I suppose New York City is the greatest example of this: so many peoples with as many pasts and cultures as there are stars in the sky, living in the same city, sharing the same space, enjoying the same sights. It’s truly poetic: eight million different people, hailing from all corners of the world, all calling one city home. I’m proud to say that I am now one of them.