This Canada Day will be different for all of us. We will not be coming together on Parliament Hill in Ottawa and in other cities, towns and communities, here and abroad. Instead, we will be coming together to celebrate it virtually.
For me, the day will be different in a very special way. July 1, 2020 will be my first Canada Day as a citizen, freshly-minted only last week. And yes, my citizenship ceremony was virtual, too.
What was not virtual was the build-up to it. The emotions were raw and real. When my daughter asked whether I would be doing anything special on my last day as an Indian citizen, the question flummoxed me. I weakly answered that I would recite the Indian national anthem one last time as a citizen of that country. (I actually did in my mind before I slept that day!)
Jana-gana-mana-adhinayaka jaya he, Bharata-bhagya-vidhata… I always get goosebumps when I hear it. I suspect that will remain the case until my last days on this earth. But that reaction will now have good company.
O Canada now has a new meaning for me. It too will give me goose pimples. I’m now, officially, on guard for thee.
At the same time, I’m feeling slightly conflicted. Having to renounce my Indian citizenship – because they do not allow dual citizenship – is an emotional journey. But I’m looking at this opportunity as a ‘new beginning’ where I can fully devote myself to my new country – where I’ve chosen to belong.
Choice is the operative word here. My birth in India to parents of a particular cultural and economic background was part of life’s lottery, a random event. Growing up in a milieu where the choices you made were either limited by circumstance or social norms, exercising choice was a luxury that not many had. I was among those who could and I chose to use it. Be it my higher education or the woman I married. The choices that I made are the ones that crown my identity totem pole. My identity as a Canadian, that until now was hiding in the shadows as a Permanent Resident (PR), is now among them on the top.
The virtual ceremony evoked a feeling far more visceral than an in-person event. Being a witness to the citizenship ceremonies of my immediate family, I surely know the difference. In a physical ceremony you just hand over your PR card at the end of the ceremony in exchange for the citizenship certificate. A profound but simple act over a handshake.
My act was sealed with a scissor. I was asked to display my current and expired PR cards to the camera and cut them into four pieces. Nothing could be more physical than this cutting of your ties with the past. The pressure you exert to cut plastic and the cracking sound breaking that last somatic connection to a status you had moments ago. Like cutting the umbilical cord but yet different because it was you who was doing it and not someone else.
Nothing could be more near to entering a new phase of life while remaining connected to the ethos that nurtured me until this day.
As symbolism often goes, the rare sighting last week of a turtle along a nature trail that I frequent was another one. It reminded me that I am now part of a world called Turtle Island by the Indigenous people of the land I was treading on; that the natural bounty we enjoy is a result of their stewardship, for which I am grateful and indebted.
I am also grateful to Citizenship Judge Hardish K. Dhaliwal for starting the solemn ceremony with a land acknowledgment and reminding me of the Indigenous heritage of what has become Canada. Coming just an hour or two after attending a workplace virtual classroom on Indigenous history, Judge Dhaliwal’s words took on an added meaning to me. It was a call to action to honour in every way I could Indigenous people and their culture. Of the realization that it is their knowledge that is essential for our survival on this fragile planet. Just like it helped early Europeans to survive the Canadian winter. For sure, that heritage and identity will be the essential building blocks of the Canada in my mind, a country with a distinct identity that truly reflects its greatness.
Chi-Miigwetch Judge Dhaliwal, official host Evelyn Boen and clerk of record Ava Manchuck for helping me take the oath of citizenship. And thank you fellow Canadians for welcoming me into your fold. Happy Canada Day to you all.