Every Remembrance Day I get this feeling I like to call the “Poppy Dilemma.” It is not just the simple decision of wearing it or not, but all the questions that come with it. Do I have the right to wear it? Is it weird for an immigrant to show appreciation towards Canada’s veterans? Do I know enough to care about it? Will I one day be “Canadian enough” to proudly wear a poppy? Is this somehow a type of cultural appropriation? All these questions started to pop up—no pun intended—the second I opened that envelope from my mail box, and I kept saying to myself I was overthinking it. However, last year I discovered I was not alone with my Poppy Dilemma when I found myself inside Don Cherry’s “You People” box.
As I followed the controversy surrounding Don Cherry’s speech, I started asking all these questions to myself again. I realized how often immigrants and newcomers go through this during their journey finding home in Canada, even after they gain citizenship. I am not only referring to Canadian holidays, but also to little details in our routine that make us feel less because we do not have the background of someone who was born here. When we miss that joke from an old, classic commercial, or when hesitating using the Canadian “eh?!” because people might see us as intruders trying to fit in. We are always looking to cover all the bases, pushing ourselves as hard as we can to finally feel that we belong. But after the poppy incident, somehow, I felt an uncomfortable pressure to wear a poppy just to validate myself in Canada.
The symbolism of the poppy is so meaningful and powerful that it can carry a message to the community without using any words. However, sometimes, not wearing a poppy can be more respectful than wearing it without meaning it just to blend within the crowd. When I read about Remembrance Day, I felt so much respect for its history that I feared offending anyone by wearing it without being part of it. At the same time, why do I feel that I am not part of it? We come here and learn about, incorporate and share Canada’s culture, sometimes even more than our own, because we chose to live here.
I know that this article might raise more questions than provide answers, and I think this illustrates well what an immigrant’s journey feels like. I guess what I am trying to say is that it is okay to wear a poppy if you want to pay your respects. And it is also okay not to wear it if you do not feel comfortable with it. I acknowledge that my Canadian background is too young to fully grasp the profound history and feelings associated with Remembrance Day. What matters most is that you reflect on it, learn about it, and you respect it. Wearing the poppy as an empty token of appreciation is what strikes me as truly disrespectful. Thus, it is unfair to simply use the poppy-wearing as a measure of how much one cares about this date. What is key is discovering and respecting the history of the country you chose as home. And this respect, I proudly wear every day by being part of this community. They will not be forgotten.