A disappointing ceremony
The 326-seat theatre was filled to capacity. A giant Canadian flag covered the back of the stage. A piper, a Mountie, and a citizenship judge, all in full regalia, took the stage, accompanied by a colour guard and handful of dignitaries.
With all the characters in place and 59 people from 17 countries waiting, the Canada Day Citizenship Ceremony began. For the next hour I had a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes.
The pageantry took me back to my own ceremony nine years earlier, eleven years after I immigrated from the US. That setting was far less grand—a sterile hall filled with folding chairs in a town two and a half hours away from my home, with no friends or family as witnesses.
The mayor of the town undermined the dignity of the moment by kibitzing about football. The citizenship judge administered the oath but did little to underscore the gravity of the step we were taking. I swore my oath, received my certificate, citizenship card, and pin, hurried off to a meeting for a project I was leading, then made the long drive home.
The whole thing was a major disappointment.
Every year since then I’ve thought about attending a citizenship ceremony but never got around to it. I wouldn’t have this year either, but when a dear friend said she was going, I tagged along.
Doing it the right way
I’m glad I did. This one was better than the ceremony that gave me the responsibilities of citizenship and made me eligible for a second passport.
It even started better, when the citizenship judge acknowledged our debt to the first peoples of this land. Then he said something I think should be part of any citizenship ceremony, anywhere: “You are not turning your back on the country you came from.”
I’ve known that for a long time, but my accepting citizenship in another country was mystifying for many friends back in the country of my birth. And I had my own struggles with it.
I grew up convinced I was a citizen of the greatest country on earth. Never once did I contemplate living in another country, except maybe as a visitor.
I did not leave the U.S. because I was disaffected. I left for the reason a lot of women tear up roots they hold dear. I left for love.
Learning to be at home in two cultures
My decision to apply for Canadian citizenship was not made quickly. I was a landed immigrant for eleven years. It took that long for me to absorb and appreciate the difference between a melting pot and a mosaic and to understand in my heart what the citizenship judge said a few days ago.
In my birth country we believe in the melting pot. Immigrants are not wholly American until they set aside the cultures from which they come. We want them to become indistinguishable from us, to speak English fluently, celebrate Independence Day, repeat our stories of Paul Revere and Johnny Appleseed, sing “The Star-Spangled Banner” and “Home on the Range”, and acknowledge they came to a country a whole lot better than the one they left.
Canadians talk about the mosaic. We expect new immigrants to be able to get along in English or French and to act responsibly. But we are comfortable with dual loyalties and assume people will retain their culture while also becoming Canadian. I’d know that intellectually for years, but when I absorbed it emotionally, I was ready to become a citizen.
I am comfortable using first person when writing about two countries now. I love them both, and that dual loyalty sometimes makes my heart ache. I miss 4th of July, though I gladly celebrate Canada Day three days earlier. I miss American Thanksgiving, though I feast with Canadian friends when we celebrate the harvest in October. I miss American friends and my family, but I treasure Canadian friends.
Most of all, I know how incredibly fortunate I am to have found home in two countries.
Thank you, America. Thank you, Canada.