Seven years ago, I broke the stitches that secured the Canadian flag to my bright blue backpack. It was a symbolic act. It was a traveller’s coming of age moment when I realized that I was no longer proud of my country’s political reputation abroad.
When I was 19, I clung to my flag in my first solo journey to Central America. The maple leaf didn’t tell the world, “I am Canadian,” but rather, “I am not an American.”
On that first adventure, I’ll never forget how I nervously walked the streets of Nicaragua, taking note of the graffiti covering walls: Fuera Yankees! Imperialistas! Get out!
Many Nicaraguans cursed the legacy of U.S. President, Ronald Regan, who fueled a decade-long war against the Sandinistas in the late ‘80s and funded their loss in the 1990 elections. A decade had since passed, but you could still feel their anger and resentment crackling in the air. The government of George W. Bush, who had invaded Iraq on the premise of seeking weapons of mass destruction wasn’t exactly winning the hearts of Nicaraguans, either.
I remember when a harmless old woman, hunchbacked and leaning on a cane, stopped me along a sidewalk, glancing up at the red and white and blue flag hanging above a fancy hotel.
“Gringa?” she asked me. I felt as though it was an accusation.
I vigorously shook my head and silently pointed to the Canadian flag on my backpack—a badge of proof that I belonged not to a nation of resource-hungry, war-loving imperialists, but rather, a nation of multicultural, pacifist peacekeepers.
The woman smiled and shuffled past me. I experienced a sensation of equal parts relief and satisfaction that I was Canadian, not American.
I was very, very naïve.