This morning I joined 47 other immigrants in a ceremony in a basement room in the Immigration office on Brunswick Street, across from the town clock. Citizenship Judge Ann Janega said some short remarks, we collectively pledged allegiance to the queen, and then each of us were called up individually to receive our citizenship certificate. I was in the middle of the pack. Janega, who also works in economic development, politely shook my hand and asked where I was from and what I do in Halifax. I told her I’ve started an online news site called the Halifax Examiner. “Oh, we like publishers,” she said. A pleasant mountie shook my hand and gave me a flag. I sat back down, and then we all sang the national anthem.
I’m now Canadian.
I was somewhat ambivalent going into the citizenship process. I’m not big on flags or anthems or celebrations of military power. I cringe when I see spectators at sporting events chant their country’s name.
I don’t need or want the hubris of thinking that the place I live is better than everywhere else. I know that all countries and all societies, including my own, have their faults. On the other hand, people everywhere have value. The diverse forms of human expression around the globe give us plenty to contemplate, and plenty to learn from. Unbridled patriotism scares me; I’d like to temper it everywhere with humility.
Still, I wanted to be a citizen. Not a citizen in just the swear-the-oath, sing-the-song, get-the-flag way I did today, but also I wanted to be participatory citizen. Canada has been good to me, allowing me to come here, work a job, develop a social network. But it didn’t feel right unless I also had all the obligations of citizenship: voting, yes, but more importantly being civically engaged between elections, contributing to the common good. I hope I have something to offer.
The ceremony was, well, sweet. My fellow immigrants were obviously deeply moved, and gaining citizenship was clearly a meaningful event in and of itself, not just a ticket to a passport or the means to stay with family. Looking around the room, I saw all these other folks from all over the world, making the positive step to come together as Canadian. It was very moving.
The Maple Leaf Flag the mountie gave me has dimensions of about four by eight inches, and is connected to a 12-inch plastic pole. It’s the first flag I’ve ever owned, and undoubtedly the last. The pole is now anchored in the container I keep my pencils and pens in, on my office desk. It waves in the wind generated by a fan I use to break the heat. The flag is just enough of a presence on my cluttered desk that, when I’m writing and am at a loss for words, I can stare at it and think.