What does it mean to be a citizen?
A few weeks ago, I attended my Canadian citizenship ceremony. Applying for citizenship, learning the history and attending the ceremony, it was all a truly fascinating experience from so many different perspectives.
This blog seems particularly relevant at a time when Trump is proclaiming that birthright citizenship should be abolished in the USA.
So, what does it mean to be a citizen? If you live in a country that is relatively safe, wealthy and democratic, you probably don't think about this question very much at all. You don’t really need to. I came from a country that fits this bill (yes, through birthright citizenship). We follow democratic principles, we have social services, universities and equal opportunities legislation. Recently, we even passed a referendum allowing same-sex marriage. (In my opinion, this should have come sooner!)
Living and working in Canada however, it can be expensive and frustrating to apply for permanent residency, so I decided to apply for citizenship. This process brought up thoughts and feelings that I had never really considered before. For example, would I be happy living in another country forever? Was there anything wrong with my home country? Was my adopted country necessarily any better? Would I be willing to give up being ‘Australian’ if it came down to it?
Luckily for me, Canada and Australia are similar in many respects. Both countries have a long list of positive aspects. Sure, there will always be some things that I feel one country could learn from the other, but overall, they are similar. I don’t have to ‘give up’ my Australian citizenship, nor do I have to think that Australia and some of my cultural identity needs to be removed.
During my Citizenship Ceremony, we were encouraged to share our personal stories about why we had chosen Canada as our new home and what it meant to each person. I reiterate, I was lucky to come from such a wonderful country and to be choosing an equally wonderful new country. Choice is a key word there. Sometimes we forget how privileged and lucky we are, purely by ‘birthright’.
Some of the perspectives shared at that ceremony were truly heartfelt, inspiring and eye-opening.
The middle-aged biker that said he came to Canada and found the love of his life. That they chose to stay because they were permitted to be recognized as a couple. Yes. He was gay. He was also a beautiful person to talk to.
The family that said they left their home country because they were ashamed of the direction it was taking. Can you imagine feeling that ashamed of your home country?
The table of people from various countries that said they chose Canada because they don’t get beaten by police, they can vote, they don’t need to bribe people, they won’t be killed. They said this with light-hearted humour because they finally could. They had made it to that amazing day when they could feel safe and settled and happy.
The First Nations elder who was over-joyed to share in the occasion. To him, this represented a continuing tradition of welcoming people and helping them find peace.
All of these stories, seeing the emotion, it is an amazing experience to share in. These people were not taking Citizenship for granted. These people were honoured and so thankful to be adopting a new home.
Many of us will never really consider what it means to be a citizen of a particular country. There are those who will and do every single day and they may love ‘your’ country even more than you do.