Canadian Labels or Pre-emptive Construing?


What’s Behind the Canadian Label?

I was born, raised, and educated as a citizen of Canada.  Simple enough, but behind the statement lies a story full of lived experiences.  In narrative and narrative self-study, I become an artist of sorts, both listener and storyteller, to recount the tensions, the emotions, the twists and turns of my identity negotiations.   The most primary negotiation stems from understanding the Canadian identity.

The stories of my Canadian self are embedded with the words of Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s (In Graham 1998) vision of Canada.

We should not even be able to agree upon the kind of Canadian to choose as a model, let alone persuade most people to emulate it…. There is no such thing as a model or ideal Canadian…. What the world should be seeking, and what we in Canada must continue to cherish, are not concepts of uniformity but human values: compassion, love and understanding.  (p.146)

For me, the Canadian identity becomes more than a sound bite in a political platform.  A Canadian citizen requires more than a simple definition.  To be a Canadian is just part of a whole; fundamentally, it is what lies beneath and what ties one citizen to another that becomes the real essence of a true Canadian.

My fascination with my Canadian Identity is my preoccupation with Western ideals of inquiry or so I have read, so I have been told.  Feldmand (2005) says, “Western societies value individualism and individual freedom that paradoxically give rise to a view of ourselves as separate and unique individuals” (p.48).  On the other hand, researchers also argue that the Eastern philosophy of identity stems from knowing a balanced mind and reacting without emotion.  What is out there remains as beauty or terror (Frye 1993).

I grew up within two ethnic cultural influences—Filipino and Canadian—and in effect, the stories written in and around this negotiation of identity shape and reshape the story of my teaching.

I was born in Canada and educated in the Canadian school system.  My parents are immigrants from the Philippines.  They brought with them many cultural codes and customs that I will never fully understand because I have not experienced them, lived them, as a Filipino.  Through life I find myself in a labyrinth of labels-a visible minority, a Canadian, an Asian-Canadian, an ethnic teacher and so on (Bautista, Personal Journal Entry, March 6, 2001).

This cultural marker is just one of the many that exist in society and these labels are becoming more and more difficult to isolate and define.  Kelly (1955) writes of pre-emptive construing*, and I understand it to mean the rigid categorizations of individuals according to social, political, economic, or cultural markers.  Rynor (2001),too, sheds light on this labyrinth of labels within our society.  As he states, “we live in an age when every quirk, weakness, strength and idiosyncrasy seems to rate a professionally designated label attached to it” (p.5).  Rynor further looks at the work of Professor Ian Hacking on society’s fascination with the need to classify.  Hacking believes that classifications are society’s shortcuts and “that we should be aware of the positive and negative repercussions that go along with them…[Hacking] wants to emphasize that there are very strong interactions between the people classified and the classifications” (p.5).

For the longest time, I was troubled by the labels, the names placed on me to keep me properly in-line so to speak.  After reflecting on my narratives, I currently see that I needed to use these labels as a counter guide or an anti-course through my negotiations of identity.  I needed to embrace my resistance to them, untangle their existence and follow their route so that I could transcend their formidable binary oppositions.  The labels, both positive and negative, affect me and they affect the way of my classroom practice.  It is only fitting to use their presence as part of the process rather than exhaust all of my faculties trying to eliminate them.  By embracing their reality, perhaps, I free myself from their constrictions.

*When a person is construed as nothing but an X, all their other characteristics are ignored e.g. a black candidate for the US Presidency or a Catholic before Jack Kennedy. (Kelly, G. A. 1955 The Psychology of Personal Constructs 2 vols. New York: Norton.)


Feldman, R. (2004). Poetic Representation of Data in Qualitative Research.  Journal of Critical Inquiry Into        Curriculum and Instructions. 5(2), 10-4.

Frye, N. (1993). The Educated Imagination. Concord: House of Anansi Press Limited. (Original work published in 1963 CBC Enterprises)

Graham, R. (Ed.). (1998). The Essential Trudeau.  Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, Inc.

Kelly, G. A. (1955). The psychology of personal constructs. 2 vols. New York: Norton publishing.

Rynor, M. (2001, Fall).  Labels That Stick.  The University of Toronto Bulletin, 5, 5.