The little Sikh boy with a patka tied into a topknot on his head could not contain his jubilation. He bounced up and down in his seat, hugged his mother and waved his small flag at strangers. When it was his turn to go to the front of the room, it didn’t seem to occur to him to walk. He skipped all the way.
I hope he lives his entire new Canadian life with such unrestrained joy.
The little Sikh boy was in stark contrast to the rather cranky official who was in charge of a recent Canadian citizenship ceremony I attended. The woman barked out the ceremonial rules and warned everyone she wouldn’t be answering any clarifying questions, should anyone need more information. Noisy children, she declared, would have to leave the room.
Perhaps she was just having a bad day, or maybe her desire to orchestrate a solemn and sacred assembly translated into incomprehensible sternness.
Whatever the case, she came across as bureaucracy personified. Perhaps it’s the way she’s lived her entire Canadian life. Such is the freedom we enjoy in Canada. The boundaries of how you can live your life are broad, with room for all manner of individual expression.
A week ago, I witnessed 91 people being welcomed into Canada. Each one, noted the presiding judge, had made a journey to get to this place. Each one, with his or her own home and native land far away, was now prepared to proclaim allegiance to a new country.
It’s impossible not to wonder about people’s stories when you attend a citizenship ceremony. Where have they come from? Where were they born and did they think they’d live there forever?
Did they love their native country, the way I love Canada? Was it difficult to embrace a new country, or was it a relief? Have they found what they’ve been looking for in Canada? Is it home?
I suspect the answers would be different for each of the 91 people I was privileged to watch become Canadians. But perhaps, if you were to interview the 170,000 people who become citizens each year, the stories would start to overlap.
I went to the ceremony because a friend and work colleague was becoming a citizen after moving here from the United States 10 years ago. I know she is embracing Canada with the same kind of jubilation I witnessed in the little boy. I remember when she first moved here — she immediately began buying books about Canadian history and culture, such was her desire to understand her new home.
My friend posed proudly with her Canadian flag and citizenship certificate. The four of us who accompanied her to the ceremony took group photos in front of the bank of provincial and federal flags. Then we posted the photos on Facebook, delighted that within minutes, friends far and wide were sending congratulations through cyberspace.
When it came time for the new citizens to repeat their oath of allegiance to queen and country, we all raised our right hands. It felt good to proclaim the oath in solidarity with my friend, but even more so, I appreciated the opportunity to reaffirm my own allegiance to the country I too often take for granted.
It was easy to tell that many of the new citizens were not taking Canada for granted.
A family of four came in their best clothes – their young daughters dressed in frilly, pink satin dresses, white patent leather shoes on their feet.
An elderly woman, when asked by the judge, revealed she’d been in Canada for 60 years and was just now choosing to become Canadian. I wondered if it had taken that long to finally trade her country of birth for her country of life. Or perhaps she has been here so long she’d lost sight of the fact she’d never formally become Canadian.
A tall black man exchanged a few quiet words with the judge, and I wondered if he was telling a bit of his own story, as he was shook the judge’s hand. The man reminded me of Liberian friends of mine who lived through war and refugee camps before making it to Canada. Perhaps his story was similarly harrowing.
The little Sikh boy with his child-sized turban smiled through the whole ceremony, aware that for he and his family, something special was happening. Nothing took the edge off his joy — not the strangers in the room, not the cranky official, not even the long wait until it was his turn to skip to the front of the room.
It was a good day for that little Sikh boy. It was a good day for my friend. It was a good day for 91 new Canadians. And it was a good day for me, born and raised a Canadian, and grateful for an opportunity to reaffirm my allegiance to the country I hope I will always be able to call home.
Lynda MacGibbon is a transplanted Maritimer living in Toronto. Her column appears each Friday in the Moncton Times & Transcript. Contact her at email@example.com and follow her on Twitter @lyndamacgibbon.