Back in May 26, a motion was passed with unanimous support in Québec’s National Assembly, something as rare in Québec as in any other government. So, what could have possibly united Québec’s political spectrum? Some may be surprised to hear this, but the motion passed on that day with unanimous support was one which called for the immediate creation of an emoji for the Canadian province. To be precise, it was for an emoji of the Québec flag, similar to those you will find on your phone for other countries. It hardly goes without saying that the news of this motion’s passing produced a cavalcade of responses from English Canada ranging from mocking derision to fearful speculation about what Québec would want next. On the surface, these responses seem logical enough. After all, why focus on emojis when there is a pandemic going on? Was this a prelude to another separatism row? Is this some crass maneuver to beat the nationalism drum, risking greater division within Canada, all to gain support from the Québécois in time for the upcoming election? These questions, aside from being condescending, largely miss the point. This motion was, as many Québécois would understand, not some absent-minded desire for an emoji which would save people from having to type out the province’s full name. Rather, it was an assertion of identity.
Québec is far from the only place that desires an emoji. In fact, emojis are one of the most hotly demanded things requested by stateless nations the world over. For example, there is a strong campaign in Brittany for the acquisition of one for their national flag, the Gwenn-ha-du. This campaign is so strong, in fact, that on World Emoji Day (yes, there is such a thing and it is July 17; sadly no, you do not get the day off) in 2017 the Breton flag was voted the second most-wanted emoji worldwide (it lost out to a popular Latin American drink called mate). Not bad for a stateless nation with a population of only around 4.5 million people. Brittany and Québec are of course far from the only such nations seeking an emoji; emojis for Catalonia, Kurdistan, Tibet, and the indigenous peoples of North America and Australia also regularly top most-wanted lists, just to name a few. Then, of course, there are those communities which have succeeded in acquiring one. Check your phone now and you will find that Palestine, Scotland, and Wales all have an emoji, as do the US states (something that I would wager Texans are particularly happy to have!). It would seem, therefore, that far from being an unusual or an exceptional demand, Québec desire for an emoji may be par for the course.
So why do all these places want emojis? Rather than for mere vanity, it seems that flag emojis have become normal things for a nation to possess. Simply put: to be a nation means to have the trappings of a nation, trapping which traditionally have meant things like possessing flags and anthems. These trappings are things that people can interact with and, through interacting with them, feel a greater attachment to the nation as well as perpetuate the nation itself. Emojis, in this sense, become perhaps the single most effective of such trappings a nation can possess as technology has resulted in them being simple and affordable to interact with and be seen interacting with. In addition to this, they are also symbolic proof that the nation exists and is recognised as existing. This sort of “official” recognition may be something which many may take for granted, particularly those from nations with states, but for those nations bereft of a state, this sort of acknowledgment helps affirm that they do indeed exist and are not simply a region or an accent. The fight for an emoji may seem rather small and meaningless in the grand scheme of things, but it is nonetheless a part of greater fights to affirm the existence of communities which have been long denied the official means (i.e. statehood) by which to gain such an affirmation.
So why does Québec want an emoji? The answer is, simple, so that it can have the same full set of symbols regularly enjoyed by other nations around the world and, in so doing, affirm itself as a regular nation itself. Pretty grandiose stuff for an emoji, isn’t it?