Friday, April 15, 2022
By MICHAEL WALSHWho are we, really? It’s been 51 days since Russia launched its “special military operation” in Ukraine, and the invasion has been of particular interest to Canadians.
It’s a matter of numbers. Ukrainian Canadians are this country’s 11th largest ethnic group, representing 3.87% of the total population. That means that 1.4 million of us are of Ukrainian descent, giving Canada the world's third-largest Ukrainian population, behind Ukraine itself and Russia.
My full name is Michael James Francis Walsh. Could it be any more Anglo? And yet, to the best of my knowledge, not single drop of British blood flows in my Caucasian veins.
My mother, a Canadian born in Quebec, was the daughter of Ukrainian immigrants. My father, a Canadian born in Manitoba, was the son of Ukrainian immigrants. They met and married in Toronto, where I was born.
About that name. Dad served in the army during the Second World War. On his return to civilian life, he was advised that getting a job in an insistently “English” Toronto would be easier with a less ethnic name. He sought out a lawyer and processed the necessary papers.
As a result, the name that appears on my birth certificate is Walsh. Although my parents both spoke fluent Ukrainian, I was never taught the language. Though the word was never spoken, “assimilation” was considered the path to success. And so I grew up conscious of being Canadian, with the Ukrainian part expressed more as food preference than personal reality.
Over the last 50 days, I’ve thought more about ethnic identity than in the past 50 years. Who am l, really? It’s a question that, I suspect, may be on the minds of many of my assimilated generation at this historic moment.
Despite a wealth of memory fragments — some vivid, others vague, all disconnected from any linear narrative — I’ve yet to find an answer. So far I’ve no insights to share, no satisfying conclusion to the story. For the moment, I’m able to feel little more than an emptiness.
Meanwhile in today’s Ukraine, I probably have distant relatives that I’ve never known, feeling their identity more intensely than they ever thought possible. No, this has not been a positive posting, unlike the nine other additions to the archive since mid-March, including:
XRYSTOS VOSKRES! — Not a movie review, but a 1971 newspaper magazine feature celebrating psyanky, the art involved in the creation of Ukrainian Easter eggs. (April 8)
CABARET — Starring opposite Liza Minnelli, Joel Grey reprised his best-known Broadway stage role, that of the Kit Kat Klub’s Host in director Bob Fosse’s 1972 adaptation of the musical satire. The setting is early 1930s Berlin during its descent into fascism. (April 11)
HEROES TWO — The second part of a cinematic trilogy based on the 1644 destruction of China’s Shao Lin Temple, director Chang Cheh’s 1974 martial arts epic followed the massacre’s survivors in their resistance to the ruling Manchus. (April 8)
MEN FROM THE MONASTERY — In the first part of a cinematic trilogy introducing the legendary warrior monks from China’s Shao Lin Temple, director Chang Cheh’s 1974 martial arts epic details the events leading up to its destruction by ruling Manchus. (April 8)
ONE FROM THE HEART — During the decade that Francis Ford Coppola shortened his directorial credit to “Francis Coppola,” he attempted to reinvent the movie musical with this 1982 tale of working-class romance in a somewhat surreal Las Vegas. (April 7)
THE OUTSIDERS — Striking out in new directions, director Francis Coppola put together a cast of teen stars-to-be for this 1983 adaptation of S.E. Hinton’s trend-setting young adult novel, a tale of adolescent angst and gang rivalry in Tulsa, Oklahoma. (April 7)
RUMBLE FISH — Filmed in black and white, director Francis Coppola’s second 1983 S.E. Hinton adaptation told a story of American teen alienation in the German expressionistic style. Matt Dillon and Mickey Rourke play brothers having difficulty communicating. (April 7)
THE COTTON CLUB — An homage to the Warner Brothers films of the 1930s, Francis Coppola’s 1984 feature blended movie musical romance with gangland drama, set in a New York after-hours cabaret. (April 7)
GARDENS OF STONE — Returning to the subject of the Vietnam War, Apocalypse Now director Francis Coppola told a more somber story in this 1997 drama of combat’s aftermath. James Caan and James Earl Jones star as NCOs whose job is to honour the dead. (April 7)