August 1st we all wake up early – something unusual in our family where Daegan is known to sometimes sleep until noon. (It’s OK, he works late!). But we have a good reason. While we start the day as Americans, we will end the day as both Americans and Canadians.
We go downstairs and pick up a shared car. We haven’t owned a car since 2004 so for the few trips we need in the city we book one online. Then, we go to our building’s parking lot, unlock it with our smart card and get in. Gas and insurance are covered in the cost. And we’re off.
Thirty minutes later we’re in the suburb of Mississauga at a government building.
We walk through the door and the waiting room is packed. There’s not a seat to be had. We’re told that in a few minutes we’ll be brought in to the ceremony room where all of the day’s activities are held.
True to their word, we’re invited in. Citizenship candidates are sent through one door, and friends/family through another door. We’re seated in the middle while the others sit on the outside.
As we enter the room, quiet classical music is playing, making it feel very dramatic. There’s a lineup and it’s proceeding relatively slowly.
As I stand here in line I think again about how so many major changes in my life have been precipitated by seemingly tiny moments. We are only here, for example, because one day in 2003, when we joked to a friend that “If the Republicans get any worse, we’re moving to Canada.” instead of laughing she got very serious, looked me in the eye and said:
“What’s stopping you.”
And that very night I updated the resume I would send to the company I now work for.
First we see someone who makes sure we have signed our photography releases – there may be media and of course we all will be taking photos during the ceremony, and makes sure we have our appropriate paperwork. Then we’re off to see the next person. She takes our releases, reviews our paperwork and then asks us for our Permanent Resident Cards. These cards are like the US “Green Card” that identify us as permanent residents and what we use to get back in to Canada when traveling abroad. Before I even have a chance to understand what she’s doing, she has thrown all of our cards away. We won’t be needing them anymore after today. Finally she tells us to take our seats. Our seat numbers are identified on our paperwork and we make our way to seats 50 (me), 51 (Sage), and 52 (Daegan).
After everyone is seated, we’re told the rules:
- No food, drink or gum (we’re told this several times)
- Hats are not to be worn except for religious reasons
- We must speak the oath. We’re told we’ll be watched and if our lips aren’t moving we may not be given our citizenship certificates so we need to speak it loudly and clearly.
- Respectful silence is to be maintained – if a child is not able to be quiet they need to be brought outside and can watch the ceremony on the television there (or return in if they get back in control)
As she says this I notice a very tiny baby – barely a month old on the shoulder of her mom in the row in front of us. She is trying so hard not to fall asleep but is nodding off over and over then catching herself so she doesn’t miss anything. We’ve nothing to worry about from her, though. After a valiant attempt, she’s asleep for the rest of the ceremony.
We watch a brief welcome from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in both English and French in which, among other things, he says “Welcome home” to us all. I, and several others try really hard not to cry.
We’re then told to rise and Judge Rochelle Ivri arrives, joined by a member of the police auxiliary. She talks about all the various journeys we took to get to where we are, and the experience we all share ahead of us. We’re reminded of our responsibilities: to respect the law, the rights and freedoms of others, our two official languages and our multicultural heritage, and participate in the democratic process. We were also strongly encouraged to volunteer our time and help each other. I love that this is important enough that it’s mentioned as a part of the ceremony.
We are then told to stand up and repeat the oath.
I swear (or affirm) that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada, Her Heirs and Successors, and that I will faithfully observe the laws of Canada and fulfil my duties as a Canadian citizen.
and again in French (we only need to do one but can do both – I try my best to do it in both)
Je jure fidélité et sincère allégeance à Sa Majesté la Reine Elizabeth Deux, Reine du Canada, à ses héritiers et successeurs et je jure d’observer fidèlement les lois du Canada et de remplir loyalement mes obligations de citoyen canadien.
But it’s not over yet. Now we have to sign the paperwork saying we’ve taken the oath and that there’s nothing that’s happened since we put our applications in that could invalidate our citizenship (being convicted of a crime, for example) and then we get in line to receive our citizenship certificates.
Family by family we receive our certificates and most of us can’t stop smiling. Judge Ivri wishes us the best as we go through and always seems to have something extra to say to the kids. She later says that it’s so exciting that as the child of new Canadians herself, she loves to see people starting their new lives as a part of the Canadian family.
As she says this I think about this and how much this resonates with me. Coming here has felt very much like joining a family. Sure, we have those family members that some of us don’t like or even get up to no good but we all have a shared idea of what it means to be a family and how a family should behave. And this is what makes me feel glad to be a part of this. Even more than my marriage making me feel like I was joining a welcoming family, my getting Canadian citizenship makes me feel like I’m joining a wonderful family that I’m proud to be a part of. It may well be the first time in my life I’ve felt anything resembling patriotic.
At the end we are told that including us, 100 people were granted citizenship there that day – from 34 different countries. I’m glad we were able to be a part of it