Tuesday, June 30, 2009

I'm a new citizen!!

This morning I became a citizen of Canada, along with 93 other immigrants from 21 different countries. (I was the only one from the U.S.) There was another group scheduled for the afternoon, of similar size.

The whole thing lasted about 2-1/2 hours. We were all given laminated citizenship cards; a large, glossy booklet on the Symbols of Canada detailing Canada's history (with a huge, folded poster of the provinces' and territories' flags and flowers and birds), an official Certificate of Citizenship, and a framable, bilingual printout of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom.

Everyone emerged from the premises, smiling. All in all a very interesting, and heartwarming--yes, they really make you feel that way--day.

Of the hundreds of times the judge must have presided at these citizenship swearing-in ceremonies, it must get to be pretty routine. Yet there was nothing pedestrian about his obvious enthusiasm, exemplified by his hearty handshake, beaming smile, and kind wishes. You cannot fake that kind of genuineness. He made time for every single new citizen to have a picture taken with him and two Royal Canadian Mounted Police in full uniform, personally greeting and shaking the hand of each and every one of us as if we were old friends.

My certificate says:

"As a Canadian, you must uphold the principles of democracy, freedom and compassion which are the foundation of a strong and united Canada.

Welcome to the Canadian family."

Uphold the principles of Compassion. A country as a Family. As new immigrants we were invited to contribute to "help make Canada a Great country." It already is a great country. Greatness is not measured by how big you are, or how rich you are, or the size of your military arsenal. It is measured by how well you take care of your citizens, how tolerant you are of their individual and cultural differences, how compassionate you are.

Canada has been that kind of home for me.

And now I have two countries, each of which I hold close to my heart--one by birth, the other by choice and circumstance. My grandmother came to the U.S. from Slovakia as a young girl. She never became a citizen. Somewhere along the generations, her native language disappeared. None of us, her many grandchildren, can speak it today. As to nationalism, I feel strangely alien in that regard. I understand the importance of history and the sense of pride in one's "home" land, in one's own culture. I have gone to utterly different countries from my own and felt immediately at home there; I've felt a stranger sometimes within my own culture. But I also cherish what seems to me the best of where and who I came from. Not everyone has the option of staying or leaving their homeland, or perhaps even spends a lot of time thinking about such matters.

I love that cultures can be shared, though, if not entirely understood. We're all citizens of the world, of the planet, and yet we still can't seem to all get along. Why is that?

I went today expecting it to be -- well, like every other official ceremony: a mite too long, too many speeches, too many people. Bring all your documents, two forms of identification, stand in line and get processed, sit and wait for the judge to arrive. Prepare to spend three hours, the notification said. Groan. Instead, I found myself entirely caught up in it, in the excitement of the moment, in the words of the judge welcoming us as new citizens, in the happiness eminating from the faces around me. I was absolutely ... impressed, and it was contagious, this feeling that arises when another country--wholeheartedly invites you to "belong" to it.

I'm now a Canadian!!

.... and still American.


*Photo by my mate, who stood up in the aisle to get this snapshot.

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