A citizen of two countries

Giant Canadian flag

Giant Canadian flag was backdrop to the Citizenship Ceremony in Kelowna on Canada Day 2010

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.

Citizenship Judge and Mountie

Ceremonially dressed, the citizenship judge and Mountie lent an air of dignity to the ceremony

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.

Piper

Pipers are one of the hallmarks of a Commonwealth country

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.

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7 comments for “A citizen of two countries

  1. Michelle
    July 4, 2010 at 7:11 pm

    This entry really connected with me. I call Australia home and I sing the anthem with pride but I will forever be a Canadian in my heart. I’ve decided this makes me a “Beaveroo”! 🙂

  2. Geraldine Bush
    July 6, 2010 at 7:44 am

    Canada is my chosen home, but you can’t take the Brit out of this Brit! Love your article Cathryn, it echos the feelings of this ex pat!

  3. Virginia Sauve
    July 6, 2010 at 8:31 am

    I enjoyed this article as it took me back to the many ceremonies I have attended through the years when my ESL students became citizens. To know the histories, particularly of refugees, and to see the earnest hope and pride in their eyes when they take the oath of citizenship makes me appreciate all the more how very blessed I am to be a Canadian. That first ceremony, your own Cathryn, tells me that the judge had no idea what it meant to those attending and that is unfortunate. Too often, the appointment of citizenship judges is a political reward for party support. Sad.

  4. Carol Mason
    July 6, 2010 at 9:14 am

    Dear Cathryn, How lovely it is that you are officially a dual citizen. In this ever expanding community of planet Earth, those with the hearts to reach across borders and boundaries are so special. For by doing so, we realize many things, amongst which is furtherance of understanding and realization of what we all hold dear and have in common, which by your words and endeavours you continually do. For it elevates our vision above categorization. For myself, I would appoint you an honorary Australian for the differences you make.

  5. Marianne
    July 6, 2010 at 9:22 am

    I loved the term”mosaic”. When arriving in Canada in 1974, I was impressed with the Canadian tolerance and respect for my roots- I embraced the Canadian culture and after 14 years felt totally at home and integrated in Canada. Now, 23 years later, after returning and living in my home -country for 20 years, I felt estranged in Canada. I respect both cultures and hopefully end up being a bridge between two worlds.

  6. Marilyn
    July 7, 2010 at 7:22 pm

    Very sweet entry Cathryn. I am Canadian from birth and was very touched by your appreciation for the Canadian appreciation of multiculturalism. We do talk of that mosaic, I remember it from high school, and I’ve wondered about the truth of it. It is much easier to speak of valuing diversity than it is to live it. It was so good to hear that this odd experiment of an English/French country (or French/English)has enriched the life of a transplanted American. I’m happy you came and stayed and I’m happy you’re happy you did too. Keep writing friend.
    m

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