November 4, 2010

American Patriotism and Canadian….detachment?

As the leaves change color and fall off the trees and I am forced to wear warmer clothing to face the cold so too do classes become a bit hard to handle. I've got a lot to do and not a whole lot of time to do it...but one thing that I've made time for outside of academics has been sort of a personal account about Nationality. As I'm in the midst of rereading sources and transferring knowledge into a narrative about European Union citizenship I feel like it's a fitting time to publish my thoughts about my own citizenship.

Earlier I promised an "update/statement/clarification on my sense of being American in Canada" and I believe I've given it enough thought to share some initial thoughts and how they came about. I've changed the subheading to my blog to read "A personal and sometimes political blog about being a Canadian-born American student..." and I think that is the most accurate label I can provide for myself. I've written before in different phases of this kind of national self-discovery. 

I should note that this article is about my feeling of connectedness and in no way effects the legal reality of having both Canadian and American citizenships.

Two years ago when I had just moved "back" to Canada, I said somewhat vaguely that "I consider myself proud to be a Canadian and am glad to be back home" but I didn't discount the vast majority of my life has been as an American living in the US. I added "Also, while it is sometimes hard to explain, I also consider myself fortunate to be an American, despite the Republican Party, and even if it means I'm at the wrong end of more than a few jokes." It was a time of adjusting to the political climate of a Canadian University while George Bush was president. Not to say that I didn't actually 'feel' as though I was Canadian, but it was the first step in deciding what that meant for me.  

A month later I was developing a more nuanced view of my self identity. In an article about self-consciously looking for an identity, I wrote: "It has been a bit of an adjustment, not only to living at University, but to living back in Canada. I've been reconciling being told (somewhat jokingly, I hope) that I'm not a real Canadian for various reasons (including because I sometimes mock Canadian government, politics, and culture in favor of the US) and feeling a bit distant from some mainstream Canadian perceptions (especially of the U.S.) ...with my past nostalgia...seeing Canada as the pristine country of my birth." Italics I began understanding that I felt Canadian because I was consciously trying to, and that it was a conscious effort to connect to my place of birth. I tried understanding what Canada was by taking Canadian History and Canadian Studies courses…neither of which instilled any connection to Canada or that I had missed anything intrinsic to my understanding of myself politically or culturally and was more useful as degree requirements and pre-requisites to take Canada-US relations.

Looking back I was self-conscious of the very anti-Bush (very often generalized to encompass the whole of the US or all Americans) sentiment and felt as if I should somehow downplay my American heritage or citizenship, partially because, without exception, there was a negative – if jocular – reaction when I stated my nationality in the Bush-era. It must have been similar to the feeling of some of my American high school classmates when they visited France in the time of freedom fries and avoided harassment by telling everybody they were Canadian.

I now know better. I disagreed with the policies of the Bush administration on almost every substantive issue but rather than try to convince sometimes prejudiced Canadians every other minute that there is a difference between the actions of the Bush administration and my beliefs and the values of the country, I grew tired of defending my citizenship, and simply avoided the issue. They were too eager to broadly paint Americans as Bush supporters and used Bush’s “re-election” by a slim minority as evidence of widespread if not universal support. I felt embarrassed by the policies of the current administration and would rather not have to argue those points and instead avoided the argument.

By February I was writing about childhood trips to visiting family in Canada and how that had a special meaning to me because it was always going "back home" to visit family.

 "I spent the most time going to school in a Chicago Suburb but I didn't live in the same house or town full-time for very long. It's been interesting being back in Canada...and so is figuring out where home is." That was a direct admission that I didn't know how I felt and that I was trying to connect the idea of "place" and "home" from my childhood to construct a sense of permanence and belonging.

In fact in my Human Geography class we had an assignment that asked us to write about a specific place and write about why it is important to us. I chose, very specifically, the right lane driving south to Canada at the center of the Ambassador Bridge spanning between Detroit, Michigan, and Windsor, Ontario. I did this because it symbolized the duality of how I saw myself…an American living in the US…but going back home to visit family. Here's my answer to the 'place' question:

The leftmost Canada-bound lane in the middle of the Ambassador Bridge on the
border between Detroit, Michigan, United States and Windsor, Ontario, Canada. Latitude
42.311908 Longitude -83.073970. From that spot on the Ambassador Bridge one can see
the American and Canadian sides of the Detroit River separating the cities of Detroit and
Windsor. The openness of the area, the visually pleasing nature of the waterfronts, and
the fact that boats and swimmers are at least physically free to cross the border is
symbolic of the fluidity in which I left and returned to Canada many times a year.

I’ve been across the US/Canadian border many times throughout my life but that
specific place is important to me because it is where I really thought about the concept of
home. Having lived most of my life in the US, but traveling to go “home” to visit family
was special for me and formed my view of where my ‘place’ is. The from repetition and
being told I was going home, the physical act of being there and seeing the surroundings
and crossing the border make me feel at home every time I was there, although until now,
except for one year, I had not lived there since I was four years old.

First year I didn't feel fully Canadian enough to feel compelled to vote while I felt compelled to vote at my permanent residence where I had lived for only two weeks before coming to Mt A.

I wrote a piece about the 2008 elections from an American perspective for the Argosy.

Unfortunately, the newly designed website, whose webmaster has featured new links to their facebook and twitter pages and the an ridiculously bad attempt at rick-rolling site visitors but apparently felt it appropriate to delete years of archived articles and has not updated the page in months.

In my European politics class we discussed the creation of European Union citizenship and how it was an entirely new concept and radical in that it was a non-national citizenship. My professor remarked citizens of the 27 member countries of the EU don’t self-describe as European but related to the legal structure of the EU, those being bill of rights, labour law, and other protections. He mentioned that this is similar to how Canadians share the protection of a set of laws and institutions. I immediately began to think of the values I ascribed to Canada and how I had been grasping at any rational reason I had to describe my self as, politically speaking, Canadian. I had tried making an artificial link to the belief in the institutions of Canadian government or policy and trying to force a feeling of patriotism that isn’t there. Especially since the re-election of the Harper government I don’t see Canada as the idealized, more liberal and welcoming version of the United States and more importantly I connect more to the political structure and values of the US more than Canada.

 I connect more to the local values in Boston than to those here in New Brunswick. For example New Brunswick fought against rights for same-sex partners up until 2005) while Massachusettes was the first state in the US to legalize gay marriage in 2004.

 I feel a duty to vote in U.S, elections, felt more politically motivated sending in my voting form by mail and watching election results on CNN than I did when I passed the opportunity to go to candidate debates on campus and saw other classmates vote in person.

  I identify with American values (real values, not Republican party fabricated ‘family values’) ...and not at all about promoting common ‘Canadian values’ (which one Canadian academic argues don’t actually exist)...because I’ve never connected to them...because they are unclear, ephemeral and fabricated to assert themselves as different than Britain and the US.

I didn’t vote in the Canadian election which occurred in 2008 not just because of ambivalence towards the major parties and the knowledge that Harper was going to gain seats and it was going to be business as usual in Ottawa, but a feeling that it wasn’t my election to vote in despite my legal right to do so without loss of US citizenship.

            It should be noted, and I may be hounded later for admitting to this but I didn’t watch the Olympic Gold medal game between the US and Canada and wasn’t filled with patriotism when Canada won. The most patriotic I’ve seen Canadians has been about hockey, and beer, self-consciously expressing their disapproval of the US (and making overly general statements about ‘the states’ or Americans as a whole’) or Canada’s supposed moral superiority over its supposed non-involvement in Iraq and issues of torture (Canada gave Afghan authorities prisoners knowing they would be tortured).

I feel at home at Mount Allison but it’s a localized feeling of it...similar to how international students may feel about it. It’s home away from home. I feel at home crossing the US border whereas I only feel home when I see the turnoff of the highway for Mount Allison.

I feel irritated when people misinterpret or misunderstand the workings of the United States but feel no need to keep abreast of Canadian bickering. I watched election coverage for hours during the election of 2008 but had no interest and took no patriotic umbrage at Harper pro-rouging parliament because well, despite years of studying Canadian history and the Canadian political system it seems...well...foreign to me. 

As I final note and an something that encapsulates how I feel and how it will affect me I've been seriously considering service in the U.S. Peace Corps, and as part of my research I came across the three simple goals of the Corps:
  1. Helping the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women.
  2. Helping promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served.
  3. Helping promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.
Although I've been rather bashful about my American citizenship in the past, as I have matured I have a better sense of what being American means and so when I read goal two it didn't feel as corny as it may to outsiders and I felt like I could represent what's good about the country in which I was raised and will soon return.


  1. Thank you...I've put quite a lot of thought into it.