I was browsing Pinterest the other day, when I came upon a photo of a Lithuanian girl (living in the USA) from Vogue Italia. What caught my attention was that she was dressed in traditional Lithuanian clothing. It was strange for me because I’ve never seen my culture represented in a magazine of such esteem. Cue a few hours of pondering, and I knew I had to get my own clothes out of the closet, and take some photos so I could share a story about growing up Lithuanian in Canada.
I’ve mentioned this plenty of times on the blog, but I was born in Lithuania, lived there till I was 4, then moved to Canada. This past November I celebrated 20 years of living in Canada, and to be quite honest, I’m really happy it’s been so long. I love living in Canada, and I love being Canadian, but there are plenty of days when I still feel really Lithuanian. My relationship with Lithuania has always been rocky. When I was little, kids used to make fun of me at school for eating different foods, dressing differently, speaking a different language, celebrating holidays with different traditions, the list goes on. I reached a point where I was so sick of it, that I didn’t even want to associate with Lithuania. As I got older, and the trauma of being bullied passed, I grew to love all the things that used to make me different. I’d never change who I am, and that includes being Lithuanian.
Yet, even to this day, I’m not fully “go team go” about my country. Mostly it’s the politics and mentality that taints Lithuania for me, especially considering that they’ve essentially banished me as a citizen. Fun fact: if you left Lithuania after the fall of the Soviet Union, you’re considered a traitor and not allowed to hold dual citizenship (even if you left that country as a child). Yet, you can hold dual citizenship if you’ve never even been there, as long as you were born in a different country (or your family didn’t leave the country after the fall of the Soviet Union). The laws get tricky, but it’s no surprise I feel quite bitter about Lithuania.
You’ll notice I still refer to it as “my country”. Even though legally it isn’t, technically it always will be.
Growing up Lithuanian in Canada, my parents wanted to continue the traditions of our culture, and make sure that I didn’t forget where I came from. I went to Lithuanian Saturday school every single Saturday from kindergarten to grade 12. I attended Lithuanian folk dance classes every Thursday for seven and a half years, only leaving because I didn’t like the behaviour of the people in my dance class. I sang in a Lithuanian church choir for seven/eight years, celebrated every Christmas and Easter in true Lithuanian fashion, ate Lithuanian foods, and to this day, I speak Lithuanian at home . . . fluently. Plus, all of my relatives still live in Lithuania. My culture is important to me.
Growing up Lithuanian in Canada wasn’t always easy, as I mentioned above. It’s such a tiny country, that most people I’ve met never knew it existed until they met me, my name was never, and still isn’t, pronounced correctly (Rue-tah — roll the r), and frankly, people just couldn’t relate to my life story, so instead of learning, they became ignorant.
When you’re raised in one country, but uphold many traditions and ways of life from another, it can get confusing. Obviously, my family gladly embraced Canadian holidays (LOVE Thanksgiving) and ways of life, but there are certain things that we never fully wanted to embrace. It’s little things, but when they occur over and over, you notice a pattern, and realize the differences between cultures. Sure, certain things become stereotypes after a while, but it doesn’t mean they don’t exist or aren’t common. It’s everything from the differences in household/family relationships to the way you host a party at your house to how you dress for certain occasions or how you interact with new people. 20 years later I still see these cultural differences, but they’re no longer a reason to feel less of a Canadian, now they are what makes me Canadian. I remember feeling weird in school because I never felt like I could truly connect to either culture. 20 years later I’m glad that I have learnt that thats what makes Canada amazing, it’s that it’s such a multicultural country. You can be a “true” Canadian, while still upholding the traditions from your native country.
So, growing up Lithuanian in Canada wasn’t easy, it meant different things during different periods of my childhood/teenage years, but at 24, I’m glad I was raised to embrace my culture. I may not be happy with the way Lithuania is governed and the choices politicians make, but I’m proud of the rich history, the beautiful literature, language and songs, the delicious food, and the traditions that have passed through generations. Growing up in one culture while trying to incorporate another is difficult, but I think it gives you a richer life because at the end of the day you get the best of both worlds.