“5 August 1986: I have got the feeling that I fall in love with another place… – it’s Vancouver!” Thus the start of my journal entry from that momentous day, the first I spent in Canada. Yes, I wrote it in English, even though I hadn’t quite figured out the use of the gerund. It was the summer between Grades 12 and 13, and my aunt had brought me on a trip to visit family in Vancouver .
I still remember the feeling of waking up in that little house in East Vancouver with its slide-up windows (very strange for a German used to inward-swinging casements) and hearing people walk by on the street, talking in English – “Mrmlmrmlmrml,” that soft purring that to German ears sounds like the speaker is talking around a wad of chewing gum.
It was the most magical holiday, and I loved every minute of it. Loved it so much, I came back the following year, and the rest, as they say, is history. Actually, that summer of ’86 is history, too. And in honour of said historical occasion, I made a point of going back to Vancouver this August and visiting some of the same places we’d gone to “back then”.
As I only just realised this year, August of ’86 was the ideal time to come to Vancouver for the first time. It was Expo 86, the World’s Fair on Transportation and Communication, and Vancouver had been polished to within an inch of its life. All sorts of new buildings and infrastructure were put up just for the occasion – places that have since become defining landmarks for Vancouver. Science World (built as Expo Centre), Canada Place with its white sails, the SkyTrain, the Sun Yat-Sen Garden in Chinatown… all of them opened in ’86.
And then there was Lighthouse Park, Downtown (Skyscrapers! Pretty cool for a girl from a Bavarian mountain village), the Pacific Ocean, Granville Island, a day trip on the ferry to Vancouver Island… plus a couple of road trips into the Interior, one of which led us out here to the Okanagan, where, rather prophetically, I ate my first peach-fresh-from-the-tree (bliss!) and acquired my first Okanagan sunburn/tan.
We spent a whole month in Canada – a month of almost unrelenting sunshine. And when my aunt and I climbed back onto that airplane on September 4th, suitcases laden with Canadian souvenirs (amongst other things I took back a muffin tin and corresponding cookbook, a Lazy Susan, a jar of homemade peach jam, Chinese tea candies, and a hoodie with a Snoopy on the back), I left behind a piece of me. A piece that I had to come back to retrieve the following year – unsuccessfully, I might add; that time I simply got stuck for good.
So this year on August 5th (it just happened to be that very day), I once again took a trip to Vancouver. Canada Place (I thought it was very nice of them to put up “30 Years” celebratory banners just for me), Science World, Chinatown, the SkyTrain, Peace Arch Park (the border crossing to the US – I managed to lock myself out of my car in the parking lot), the Pacific Ocean, Granville Island… And then last weekend I went on another quick jaunt down there for a couple of days, and went on the SkyTrain to Downtown Vancouver, to the Art Gallery and Robson Square. And drove back across the mountains, on my own that time – exactly thirty years after I had first been through there in my uncle’s car – back to my family, my own house and my Canadian life.
Life, the Universe, and O Canada… It’s been a good thirty years.
As of 2:30 this afternoon, I’m a Canadian citizen. Finally! Almost twenty-seven years after immigrating, thirty years after first setting foot in the country, finally I got to sing “Oh Canada” without feeling like a tiny bit of a fraud. Because now Canada, at long last, is my country.
I don’t know if you understand how big a deal this is. You see, I fell in love with this country, back in that Expo Summer of ’86 when I first came over for a visit. I loved it so much, I came back – and that time met a man to fall in love with, who just coincidentally became my ticket into the country. We made a home here, we had children, I dropped my German accent – I was, for all intents and purposes, indistinguishable from my Canadian neighbours. Except for that one small detail: I was not a real Canadian. Every election time that came around, it bothered me more and more that I had no say in what was happening here, in this country where I felt so much at home, but still was just an immigrant.
Because, you see, I love Canada – but I also still love my first home, the place I came from. The new love did not replace the old, it was added to it. And Germany, for many years, would not permit its citizens to take on a second citizenship. If you chose to take another citizenship, you had to give up the German. And that I was not ready to do.
But then, they eased up on the rules. And then eased up on them even more, so that last spring, after filling out much paperwork and paying large processing fees, I got permission to keep my German citizenship if I took Canadian. I don’t think it took me more than a few days after I came back with that document from the German Consulate before I had my Canadian citizenship application in the mail.
In January, I took my citizenship test, and then just a few weeks ago I got the invitation to take my Oath of Citizenship. So today, I got to swear at the Queen. I mean, swear allegiance to the Queen, that’s what I meant! That’s right, in Canada, we swear our allegiance to Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth the Second, Queen of Canada – not the flag, or the constitution, or the country; the Queen. The invitation said we could bring a holy book to swear on if we wanted, so I briefly considered bringing a copy of Anne of Green Gables, or better yet, The Canadian Oxford Dictionary, but then I thought they might kick me out for not taking this seriously – which I did, I really did.
So a Mountie resplendent in red serge opened the ceremony, and after some solemn words from the official, we all stood with our right hand raised, reciting the oath (in the back of my mind, I’m thinking “What if you’ve got your right hand in a sling, or you’re quadriplegic? And isn’t this dextrocentric – what about lefties, wouldn’t raising their left hand be more significant?”). We swore to be loyal to the Queen and her heirs and successors (that would be Charles, William and George, even though we didn’t say so), and to faithfully uphold the laws of Canada and fulfil our duties as Canadian Citizens. We said it in English first, and then in French, which almost gave me a fit of the giggles, because I don’t know French, and neither did the gentleman officiating, so he stumbled his way through giving us the sounds to repeat which were almost entirely meaningless to me and probably a lot of others there as well. But, Canada being bilingual, we had to at least make a show of trying, right?
Then we filed to the front, where there was a table set up on which we actually signed the oath – not unlike signing the marriage register at a wedding – and we got to step three feet over and were handed our Citizenship Certificate. A row of handshakes, file back to the seat, listen to a few short speeches. One of them was from the representative of the MP for my riding – and that’s when it hit me: for the first time, this was the representative of my MP, my riding. I no longer have to have this little blocking feature in the back of my mind that says, “Yeah, but I don’t get to vote for you,” because now, I do.
And then we stood and faced the flag (the Mountie was saluting), and sang “Oh Canada”. And I’m proud to report that I made it all the way through without choking up; my voice only got wobbly once, and I didn’t actually cry.
So now finally this country that I’ve loved for thirty years, have called home for nearly twenty-seven, truly is my home. My home and – well, not native, but chosen land. It’s a red-letter day – a red-and-white letter day, with a little maple leaf in the middle.
Life, the Universe, and at long last, Canadian Citizenship. I love this country.