Being Bi.Posted: September 3, 2011
Bi-national that is. What did you think I meant?
(Honestly, with my job, home, garden, dog, friends and a concerted effort to revive my writing career, I’m not even sure I’m still playing for the girls’ league.)
While I’ve spent the majority of life in Canada, growing up with a Canadian mother and American father—who refused to change his citizenship and was a landed immigrant for 40 odd years—has given me an odd vantage point. A sense of being in two places at once. I grew up on the border, physical and emotionally, so close to America that if I got homesick, all I had to do was look across the river.
I have what’s poetically called droit du sang American citizenship. That’s “right of blood” for those of you who didn’t grow up in a bilingual country like I did. As long as I can prove my dad was born in the US (via his 1925 birth certificate issued by the state of New Jersey) and resided there for at least 15 years, ten of which occurred after the age of 14 (I have IRS records, an army discharge and immigration papers that show my father didn’t arrive in Canada until he was in his mid 30s), the state department is willing to consider me as American as apple pie, with all rights and freedoms of citizenship—all except the right to run for the presidency. Which we all know about from the Birthers.
One of the main differences between my two homelands is that the US does not recognize the concept of dual citizenship. Canada does. In fact, Canada is so loosey-goosey when it comes to these sorts of things, I think you could declare your living room a nation, and as long as you issued passports and some form of currency, it would be ok. Saying the words “dual citizenship” within hearing distance of a staff member at the US Consulate is almost sufficient to warrant a strip search. I know this from experience. Apparently it’s a loyalty issue. Meaning that if the US ever decides to invade Canada—and it did happen a couple hundred years ago during the War of 1812 (which you’ll be hearing a lot about next year), they want to make sure they know I’m on their side. Here’s some military intelligence—if the US wants to invade Canada and take prisoners, on any given long weekend Saturday, chances are that a good number of us who live within driving distance of the border (and that’s 60% of Canadians) are already in your country. Just stake out the nearest Target.
Canadians love Target. Those of us who are serious about that love are worried that the store will change when it arrives in Canada in 2013. It won’t be Target. It will be like what Wal-Mart became after it crossed the border. The magic was gone.
The fact that Wal-Mart ever had magic for us should give you some indication of the state of Canadian retail.
I feel most like an American when I am surrounded by Canadians. I’m a bit louder, a bit more comfortable singing my own praises, a little less inclined to take crap lying down. I “get” Yoo Hoo. I speak American too, I know that when it’s “hat,” I should wear sunscreen and what time it is when it’s a quarter of five. I know in the US, one smokes a Chesterfield (as opposed to sitting on one here in Canada) and particularly in New Jersey, “wurshes a bloose.” I don’t say “about” in that funny Canadian way. In fact, thanks to my dad’s influence, when I get upset or tired, I tend to sound like Joe Pesci would if he were a girl. I’ve even had romances with Americans—of both gender persuasions. (Feel a little less cheated by the title now?) On a more serious side, I don’t feel the limits of geography that I find a lot of Canadians do—when it comes to my ambitions, that border simply doesn’t exist. And I don’t care where you live, in my field, New York is still the centre of the universe.
It could be worse. My love was born of Canadian parents on a US air base in France. Before passports were common, when we travelled, we carried around her birth certificate, which is long sheet of paper written in dense bureaucratic Parisian French (which is to say, not the dialect we—or customs agents—speak in Canada). We’ve held up a lot of planes and trains with that little document. But even with passports, crossing the border with her has been difficult. There was a time when if she and some Taliban members who deal coke on the side tried to cross at the same time, I think she would have received more of a shake down. I don’t know whether it was the low slung Mustangs we didn’t look flush enough to buy legitimately or that tough girl from a bad neighbourhood sensibility she tends to emit when confronted by anyone in uniform. What I do know is that on weekend trips, my unmentionables were handled by the every member of the border services.
I’ll always be grateful I wasn’t in them at the time.