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Growing up in the northern neighbor to the U.S.

Immigrant Stories
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Mathew Katz
ALL |

Mathew Katz is a Canadian multimedia reporter who spent the last year working as a news reporter for KDNK community radio. He recently left the valley to take a job as a reporter in New York. He writes for a Manhattan local news site, DNAinfo, about Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen.

Mathew’s work has appeared in the Huffington Post and the Toronto Star. He’s also worked as a staff writer for Torontoist.com, and as the comment editor of The Varsity, Canada’s largest student newspaper.



Katz: I originally came to the United States to go to graduate school. I was finishing up my undergrad in Toronto and had applied to a whole bunch of different journalism schools across Canada. My parents urged me to take a look at schools in the United States. NYU, Berkeley and Columbia were the three that I had in mind. But NYU and Berkeley required the GRE and I really didn’t want to do that because I was working two or three jobs, finishing my undergrad and working on the student newspaper.

So I applied to Columbia because they had their own custom test and it was the most prestigious one of the three, in my mind. I didn’t really think I was going to get in, but I applied anyway.



Gallacher: From your perspective, what is it that distinguishes Canadians from Americans?

Katz: We Canadians are constantly obsessed with trying to figure out who we are and the way a lot of Canadians define themselves is “not American.” That’s not good enough for me.

We were born of the British and never really got rid of that legacy. We still have the Queen. And at the same time America is just south of us.

Most Canadians live within a hundred miles of the U.S. border. So we get all your TV and your magazines. The U.S. has a huge influence on our culture.

So we are constantly pointing out how we are different. One of the differences is universal, government-run health care, which Canadians love and would never give up.

From what I have seen of America, Canada is a much more multicultural country. We’ve never tried to have other immigrants assimilate. There is no push to make newcomers super Canadians. There are a lot of hyphenated Canadians, Polish-Canadian, Chinese-Canadian, etc. The government and the people have embraced that. We have an official government policy of multiculturalism*. I don’t see that in the States.

Gallacher: How did that attitude evolve?

Katz: It was developed in the early ’70s. Canada is a country that is slightly bigger than the United States but only has a tenth of the population. We need to fill it. Canada has had huge pushes to attract more immigrants. We decided back then that we wanted a “mosaic of people” instead of a “melting pot.”

Canada still has government-funded settlement agencies that help immigrants from different countries relocate in Canada. For example there is a Haitian agency and an Indian agency.

Gallacher: How is that “mosaic” manifested in daily life? What do you see?

Katz: I notice it in the way people interact. I never had the sense, growing up, that my friends were different because they were Indian. I feel like I grew up embracing all of the different cultures. I have a lot of friends who are Muslim and Hindu and Asian, and growing up it all seemed like a normal thing.

Here in the States I don’t think that multicultural mix is that common. Canada as a “mosaic” means that our identity is always in flux. Here in America the identity is set. In Canada it is constantly changing.

And so the Canada of 20 years ago is very different than Canada now because of the new people coming into our country and adding to our culture and adding to what it means to be Canadian. Our literature and our arts are richer because of immigration.

Gallacher: What was life like growing up in Canada?

Katz: I grew up in an affluent Jewish suburb of Toronto. It was 50 percent Jewish and 50 percent every other ethnic group under the sun. It was a fairly typical suburban childhood. We went to the mall and hung out at Tim Hortons, which is Canada’s version of Denny’s. Tim Hortons was open 24/7, so it was the hangout for every suburban teenager who couldn’t get into a bar and didn’t want to go home. It was the place to be after 10 p.m. at night.

Gallacher: How long has your family been in Canada?

Katz: My grandparents on my father’s side were both Canadian. They grew up in Winnipeg. My grandparents on my mom’s side are both from Turkey. They first came the U.S. and lived in New York for a while, and then Detroit, and eventually made their way to Canada.

Gallacher: How did your parents meet?

Katz: They met in college. They both went to York University in Toronto. My dad saw my mom at the campus gym and didn’t stop until she went out with him.

Gallacher: Do you have your father’s persistence?

Katz: In many ways, yes. I pursue stories in my job in the same way. I don’t get intimidated by people who are reluctant to talk to me, at work or at play. I have always been the kind of person who will talk to you no matter what.

Persistence runs in the family. My mom is actually more persistent than my dad. Mom is the kind of person who will take a waiter to task if she feels he hasn’t performed his duties in every way. When I was a teenager I was embarrassed more than once by that behavior, but I have come to appreciate it more as I’ve gotten older.

Gallacher: Are you planning to stay in the U.S.?

Katz: I don’t know. It’s weird. I’m not sure what I should consider myself, an immigrant, a temporary worker. At this point I’m not sure because I miss home, but my professional experience has largely been in the U.S.

I have driven across the United States three times in the three years I have been here, but I have barely seen my own country.

Gallacher: Growing up in Canada, what were the things you liked about America?

Katz: Your TV and movies. In Canada, the arts have to get government funding to survive because Canadians watch American television and listen to American music. In fact, in Canada there is the CanCon regulation that requires every Canadian radio station to play 40 percent Canadian music. Most of what we watch and listen to is American.

We Canadians have this weird obsession about making it big in the States. We are very proud of Canadian bands like Nickelback and people like Mike Myers who have become famous in the U.S.

It’s odd when you think that 80 percent of the culture we consume in Canada comes from another place. Imagine if 80 percent of the movies that came out in the U.S. were British. It is a strange thing when the culture that you have is technically not your own.

Gallacher: So how does Canada maintain its own image?

Katz: I think a lot of that happens through government funding. For example, the Canadian equivalent of the Grammys is called the Juno. Our music award is named after a government bureaucrat named Juno, a nerdy French guy with glasses, who came up with the rule that says 40 percent of the music on Canadian radio stations needs to be Canadian.

I think most Canadians are thankful to our government for keeping the arts and culture alive. Otherwise folks would just consume American stuff.

Gallacher: What differences have you noticed?

Katz: We don’t have the same reverence for the people who founded our country. Your founders and framers can do no wrong. We Canadians tend to see ourselves as much bigger screw-ups throughout our history. We don’t think that anyone is perfect.

Americans had to fight for independence, while we Canadians just gradually separated from the British.

We never had to fight to be free, so we have a different attitude about guns and the role of government. Many Americans feel like they need their guns because they may have to rise up against the government someday.

That is something that most Canadians would never imagine happening. The government has never been something that would try to harm you. Most of the time, we see the government as something that gives us a leg up and helps us when we need it.

*In 1971, Canada was the first country in the world to adopt multiculturalism as an official policy. By so doing, Canada affirmed the value and dignity of all Canadian citizens regardless of their racial or ethnic origins, their language, or their religious affiliation. The 1971 Multiculturalism Policy of Canada also confirmed the rights of Aboriginal peoples and the status of Canada’s two official languages.


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