From West End Phoenix: The Americans

West End Phoenix talks to American expats in Toronto about the state of their home country and their new life in Canada.

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by Dave Bidini | West End Phoenix


Back when I used to DJ at CIUT, there was a board operator, John, who wore an old Tigers baseball cap. (This is such ancient history that, in the late 1980s, campus announcers had board operators. Also: The Tigers were still good enough to give people a reason to wear their cap). Once, over a discussion of baseball, John told me he loved the game, but hated watching it.


“On television?” I asked. “It’s true that some find it very slow.”


“No, television’s fine,” he said. “It’s the games I find troubling. Actually, it’s the time before the game that’s most troubling.”


I found this perplexing until he told me why he was troubled: John refused to stand for “The Star-Spangled Banner.”


“I left the States during Vietnam,” he said. “I won’t honour the anthem. It makes me angry every time I hear it.”


“What do people think?” I asked him. “What do people think when you don’t stand?”


“Most of them look at me like there’s something wrong with me physically. But then I get up for ‘O Canada.’ Most people don’t say anything,” he said. “But, every now and then…,” he added, leaving the thought unfinished.


I’ve been thinking about John’s story now, as I’ve watched the protest movement across professional sports, sparked by another man, Colin Kaepernick, who wouldn’t stand either. And I started to recognize the Americans among us. Back in the ’80s, the lion’s share of Americans in Canada had come over the border into Ontario as objectors to the Vietnam War. In 2020, it’s a different demographic, and we wondered what motivated them to come. Following Trump’s inauguration, American emigration surged and has stayed high throughout his term. With the American election approaching, we reached into the West End, and across the city, to tell stories of how the Americans ended up here and why, and how they feel as their country lurches at the crossroads.

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