At first, moving to Canada was exciting. I was 13 and in a country where it snowed.

Canada was one of those countries your father, auntie or your cousin’s cousin visited and brought back fashionable shoes, clothing or a Super Nintendo.

I remember pressing my foot against a piece of white paper as my father traced around it. He would do the same for my brother and sister, then pack them in his suitcase for his trip to Florida. I can imagine my father walking into a Canadian Payless or Foot Locker, pulling out three white pieces of paper and plopping down a sneaker.

As a fresh-off-the-boat immigrant from St. Lucia, a country only 238 square miles, I enjoyed being in this land of big and plenty. I walked around Square One Shopping Center in Mississauga amazed at the cleanliness, the sleekness and sophistication of the building. So many stores.

But the honeymoon phase soon passed when school started.

I realized that I was at the bottom of the social ladder. I didn’t fit in in my stiff two plaits, shoes and sweaters purchased from Zellars (similar to an American K-Mart) and my thick accent. Everyone wore Club Monaco or Gap. And I wasn’t the smartest kid in class anymore.

I felt shame for my family. My father, a well-known scientist in the Caribbean, was reduced to working as a security guard. The five of us squeezed into a two-bedroom apartment that became darker as winter approached. Our house in the Caribbean was so much bigger. Full of warmth, sunlight.

Immigrant equaled darkness, depression, poverty and shame; I wanted to become a Canadian.

After moving away from home for university, I grew determined to fit into Canadian culture. A job provided me with the funds to look fashionable. Le Chateau, Jacobs and Gap became my go-to stores.

I mimicked how my Canadian friends spoke. And once I received my Canadian citizenship, I identified myself as Canadian.

I’m sure it confused a number of people. She’s from where? With that accent?

But I was determined to forge a new identity. To throw off the dirty immigrant cloak of bewilderment, fear and non-conformity.

When I travelled to Europe, I introduced myself as a Canadian. In Peru, I was Canadian. But what did it mean to be a Canadian? I still didn’t know.

I knew what it meant to be Caribbean: drinking sorrel at Christmas, eating curry goat and fried plantains, and listening to soca, calypso and reggae. Hard work. Education. Respect for elders.

Elizabeth Nunez, a Caribbean-American author, describes the immigrant experience in one of her novels as living in an in-between world. Not fully Caribbean. And not fully American. Continuously, there is a negotiation between what to forget and what to embrace.

And perhaps, being Canadian meant Tim Hortons, multiculturalism, eco-friendly, materialism, football, a lover of steak and potatoes that is flushed down with a good wheat beer. Individuality.

Elizabeth Nunez, a Caribbean-American author, describes the immigrant experience in one of her novels as living in an in-between world. Not fully Caribbean. And not fully American. Continuously, there is a negotiation between what to forget and what to embrace.

My accent and the relentless questions from strangers about my identity were reminders that my past is grounded in a Caribbean culture that has and will continue to shape my identity. But I am Canadian too. My teenage years and early adulthood are fleshed out in the deluge of fast food restaurants, Canada Days, rock concerts, football games, first dates and kisses.

I am not one and not the other. I am both. I am Caribbean-Canadian.