Confidence . . .

. . . 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.



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22 Responses to Confidence . . .

  1. Liz Koerner

    Once again a well written and thought provoking post. I am grateful for MY citizenship and often am reminded of the journey and sacrifice my father made in 1939 when he left all he knew in Prague to come to Canada. Sometimes I think our diversity is also our strength and I wish all our new citizens well.

    • Marjorie

      Yes Liz – it is hard for us to grasp the hardships our forbears endured to make a leap which plunged them into a totally new life and culture! It took a great deal of courage indeed. Canada is the richer for their presence.

  2. Bruce

    Beautiful piece, Marjorie. I love the confidence and doubts. The rhythm really works.

    • Marjorie

      Thank you, Bruce, for your approval. With a surname like yours, Scotland is an easy guess for the home of your ancestors. What generation to be born in Canada are you in?

      • Bruce M Campbell

        My paternal grandfather was born in Stirling, Scotland, in 1900. His family, my great-grandparents and five children emigrated to Canada in 1913. My mother’s side is more exotic; my father met her in Jamaica during the 2nd World War, while he was stationed in Kingston with the Vancouver Irish Fusiliers’ Pipe Band. My mother moved to Canada in 1945, via banana boat to Florida then train to Vancouver, with a 3-month old baby. She was 19. Her family, or the European parts of it that I am most aware of, had been in Jamaica since the 17th century. So, the blending of cultures and genes is something that informs my life. Having lived and worked in other [European] countries for over a decade, I chose to return to Canada over a decade ago. I believe we are shaped by family legacy as much as by our life experiences.

        • Marjorie

          I agree Bruce – who we are as individuals comes from the family genes, the family histories, stories and traditions, as well as our own life experiences. No wonder each of us is unique! You and I have known each other since I arrived in Vancouver. Your teaching and patience has enabled me to get to a more reasonable use of computer, IPad, and phone! Scottish is what I assumed your background to be. Didn’t get very close, did I? Never mind, your helpfulness is very valuable to me, and much appreciated.

  3. As a dual Canadian-American citizen I remember my own “indoctrination” into Canada and being told, in no uncertain terms, that by accepting Canadian citizenship, I would be rejecting my birthright American one. “Denouncing” was the term they used. I said I was ready to do so. Forty years later, the rules had changed and surprise! I now had dual citizenship.
    So, the cheapened election preliminaries are ever present in my mind. I grieve for my birth country as many of your citizenship folk were that day watching your grandson-in-law. So many countries are being broken apart by dictators and yet half of Americans want one: they never learn from history. Incredibly sad for me to watch.

    • Actually, the word was “renounce” but they implied I was a traitor, or worse.
      I have come to love Canada and so grateful at the liberties and safety I do not take for granted: Both John (from UK and here since 1972) and I think it’s a great place to live out your dreams.

      But even after 50 years, I still occasionally use the American words for things: apparently a “sink plug” is called a “stopper”. Noted.

      • Marjorie

        Barbara, as I’ve said in other responses, being a Canadian (and 50 years is quite a chunk) doesn’t mean you have left behind everything of your birth home!

    • Marjorie

      Barbara – As we both know, life itself has a cycle. Things rise, flourish, decline and disappear. Forty years! You have been a citizen of Canada for longer than you lived in the USA, but part of your heart is there – and, to my way of believing, so it should be.

  4. Elfrieda Neufeld Schroeder

    My father applied and received Canadian citizenship for his entire family when I was about ten years old (1953). His extended family were sent back from Germany to Ukraine from which they had fled because of persecution due to their German/Dutch background, and their land ownership. He was the only one who escaped, thanks to an organization called Mennonite Central Committee. This committee still works tirelessly to help refugees all over the world. Both my husband’s family and mine owe our lives to them and we are eternally grateful. I’m so happy to be a Canadian citizen. Thanks for reminding me not to take it for granted!

    • Marjorie

      Elfrieda – I have some awareness of what the Mennonite people suffered. Did they not flee Germany because of religious persecution, go to Russia with promise of being able to live by their beliefs – never bear arms, keep their own language, own and farm land? By so doing they met some of Russia’s need too. Time went by, rulers changed, promises were reneged upon, and their lives were once more in danger. As a little child he and his parents were smuggled out of Russia under the hay in a horse drawn wagon. If they had been stopped, all would have been killed. I respect the Mennonites and their religion. The world is better because of it.

      • Elfrieda Neufeld Schroeder

        Marjorie, I missed the connection of who it was that hid under the hay. Can you explain that for me? It sounds like an interesting story.

        • Marjorie

          Elfrieda – It is an interesting story. The time, sometime in the early 1920s. The gentleman I knew worked with my husband, and he had been the baby smuggled out of Russia with his parents, hidden under the load of hay. The change of rulers had brought back the persecution of the Mennonites, one reason being their pacifist beliefs and secondly the land they had originally been given. So there was a great exodus of Mennonites. Our friends’ family eventually ended up in Canada. The whole family were dedicated, grateful citizens of Canada. When WW2 broke out, our friend tried to join Canada’s armed forces, but was not accepted because he was a pacifist. Instead he was urged to work in areas that were helping the war effort, but were not arm bearers.

  5. Susan McCalla

    Thank you as always Marjorie for your thoughtful insights into our lives as Canadians and as global citizens.
    I too attended a Canadian citizenship ceremony when my husband became a Canadian and it was incredibly moving. As you note, I had not given so much thought to my many liberties and responsibilities as a Canadian. But that day I felt a sense of gratitude, to live in a country like Canada, with open and accepting and welcoming citizens. I indeed felt …and feel….very fortunate.

    • Marjorie

      I know exactly how you feel, Susan. How fortunate to have been born in, and live in, Canada.

  6. Barry Jewell

    Thank You!

    • Marjorie

      Barry – Thank you nephew. Nice to hear from my oldest nephew – just months ahead of Ralph, who turns 69 in October! It is very difficult for me to realize that. A thank you indicates you enjoyed the blog. Your support is appreciated.

  7. Brenda Wallace

    Good morning, Marjorie.
    We had the pleasure of watching our son-in-law, Erwan, become a Canadian citizen in time to vote in the last federal and provincial elections. This week marks our ninth anniversary as a three generation family. Kirsten, Ophelia and Greta arrived July 7 with Erwan following shortly thereafter. Currently, they are visiting Erwan’s Mom, sister and families in France.
    Have a great day.

    • Marjorie

      Greetings, Brenda! Always nice to hear from Alberta/Calgary friends. Yes, those citizenship events always get one. Erwan must be well grounded as a Canadian by now, but how nice he and his family can go back to France to see his family.

  8. Colleen Cruickshank

    Dear Marjorie,
    I’m touched by your reflections on a ceremony I’ve never attended in person, just seen in televised snippets. Those of us born in Canada consider our citizenship a birthright, and we’re proud that others think highly of our country and want to belong as we do. Yet I’d never thought about how bittersweet those vows might be for Canada’s newest citizens. Tears, indeed!

    • Marjorie

      Colleen – In Calgary I had the opportunity to work with a group of women who prepared the “coffee hour” for those who had just gone through the citizenship event. These were smaller groups than the big group mentioned in the blog, but the emotions much the same. It gave me a glimpse into what it would be like to move to a very different place, and become a citizen there. My sympathies are with them.