Here I am--not sorry in the least--a Canadian at last!
Already I don’t know what to do with the flag.
It’s on the chair I am led to after I present my identification for the Citizenship Ceremony. It sits on top of the other materials: my Certificate of Canadian Citizenship, a booklet entitled the Symbols of Canada, and a bookmark commemorating the War of 1812.
I can’t put it on the floor under my chair. It doesn’t seem right. And if I hold it in my right hand, I’ll have to switch it when I swear allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and then again to shake hands with the judge, so I put it in the breast pocket of my jacket, where the handkerchief should be. But that’s not right either, so I sit down and put everything in my lap and unroll the flag and roll it back up again. It’s on a stick for waving.
I’m not sure where flag-waving appears on the agenda--at the end, I’m guessing. So maybe it’s OK lying on top of the materials I put under my chair.
As long as it doesn’t touch the ground.
For weeks I have had an irrational fear of some last small thing going wrong. Even sitting here waiting for my ceremony to being, I half expect a tap on the shoulder and someone escorting me from the room. In my four and a half years as a landed immigrant, I have felt tenuous, at risk somehow, overly cautious perhaps, plagued by an irrational fear of deportation. It is the immigrant’s nightmare.
And for weeks, I have had a strange sense that I am about to betray my American family. I keep hearing my sister’s voice from long ago: “When Dad finds out what you did, you’re really going to get it.” I remember telling my 90 year old mother about my plans to move to Vancouver.
“You’re not going to become Canadian, are you?” she said.
“Oh I would have to wait three years to even apply,” I answered.
My mother died a few weeks before I landed in Canada in 2007.
In some way, I’ve had to face my ancestors and explain that this has nothing to do with them. There’s no malice in the oath I’m about to swear. I mean no disrespect to you, my Unitarian father and grandfather, or to you, Thomas Jefferson, or you, Ralph Waldo Emerson, or you, Walt Whitman. In fact, it is your inspiration and all the ways in which you have formed my mind and heart that have enabled me to take this step. Curiously, all of my deepest American values led me to Canada in the end.
The clerk introduces the judge, who makes some introductory remarks before beginning the oath. She has the back row stand up first, asks everyone to say “I” and then speak his or her own name. Then the next row, and the next, and then it’s my turn, and I hear myself say, “I, Alfred Mansfield DePew.” When we have reached the last one of us, we take the Oath of Citizenship together, first in English, and then in French.
120 names from 84 different countries of origin.
Before asking us to be seated again, the judge says, “Look around you. This is what Canada looks like. I mean it. Turn around and look at each other.”
“You are not Asian- or Afro- or Euro-Canadian,” she continues. “Here in Canada, we are all Canadians.”
And she has probably given the simplest expression to even my most complex reasons for being here.
For it is quite simple, really.