. . . That Bridging the Cultural Gap Can Succeed
I shift my weight again, trying to find a comfortable spot on the oak bench. Then the judge enters and the ceremony begins: the one in which a young man in my family will become a citizen of Canada.
As I listen to the preliminaries, I realize that although I’ve been a Canadian from birth, I’ve never been to one of our citizenship ceremonies before. Looking around the room with interest, I see a few white faces, but many more in shades of brown.
Of obviously different races, these people likely come from different parts of the world, different cultures, different faiths. Yet somehow the service includes all. When the time comes for them to make the verbal commitment, I can feel their tension. Both joy and sorrow show on their faces as they take the important vows that make them Canadians.
My American grandson-in-law will make the transition easily, I think. He has been employed here for several years and started his family here. He speaks our language; he knows our rules. I look at the others and wonder how they will fare.
There are many reasons why people come here to make their home. Some are refugees, driven into the unknown by war, famine, or religious persecution. Some are immigrants who come for economic reasons. I believe we must be generous in opening our borders. We have a humanitarian duty to help refugees, and with our declining birth rate, we need motivated immigrants to bolster our population.
And yet . . . . Just as there are many reasons and stories represented in this court room, so too are there many cultures, each with its own ideas about right and wrong.
When a new Canadian’s ideas of right and wrong conflict with established Canadian values or violate Canadian laws, what accommodation is possible? Freedom of religion surely means that everyone can worship as they please, and just as surely that “honour killings” are not acceptable. But what of cultural practices like polygamy, falling somewhere in between?
I realize that I have taken my citizenship for granted: its rights and freedoms as well as its accompanying obligations. I expect to have the right to work peacefully to change a law I disagree with, but I also feel obligated to obey it in the meantime. Looking around the room, I wonder whether my new compatriots have the same expectations, and what it will mean for all of us if they do not.
The formalities are over and my new Canadian grandson has tears in his eyes as he joins us. Even though he doesn’t lose his American citizenship, he has admitted that adding the Canadian “credential” feels a bit like devaluing the country of his birth and childhood.
“Do the other applicants understand what they’re agreeing to, do you think?”
He doesn’t hesitate. “Yes, I’d say so. The classes and the readings have all been good, and the test was comprehensive.”
I’m reassured by his response. As we leave the courtroom amid the happy hubbub, I hope that all newcomers—not just those on the citizenship track—get a similar orientation to what it means to be Canadian. And I hope that I will continue to explore the implications of my own citizenship in our multicultural country.
Thanks to Pete McMartin’s column (Vancouver Sun, 29 June 2016) for my subtitle.