On being … home

By Ingrid Sapona

Funny, the memories we store growing up. Funnier still, the way they come back to us …

Today’s the 30th anniversary of my “landing” in Canada. Odd term, I know. Those old enough to remember the first lunar landing will understand my sister’s tease at the time: “‘the Ingrid has landed’ – it sounds like ‘the Eagle has landed’,” she joked. Anyway, Feb. 28, 1989 was the day I got Landed Immigrant status, which meant I could legally live in Canada and work without restriction.

Being a landed immigrant was also a necessary first step in the process of my becoming a Canadian citizen. In 2004 I wrote an On being … about the 10th anniversary of becoming a citizen. That column was about what citizenship means to me. I talked about the fact that for most people in the western world, citizenship is a birthright that they often don’t think a lot about.

Today’s column, however, is about how – even though I’ve retained my U.S. citizenship – I can’t really see myself returning to live in the U.S. 

This is where my father comes into the picture…

Dad was born in the U.S. but his family returned to Greece when he was two years old. Though he didn’t speak English and didn’t have a job lined up, toward the end of WWII he hopped a ship to the U.S. Other than stints when he was stationed overseas while in the U.S. army, he spent the rest of his life in the U.S. Indeed, he didn’t return to visit Greece until Mom, Dad, and I went in 1975.

Growing up, I remember the odd occasion when someone would ask Dad if he ever thinks about moving back to Greece. I was always surprise by the speed with which he said “no”. Inevitably, he would then be asked why not. I often got the sense people asking expected some sort of stock answer. I imagine they thought he’d say something about there being more opportunities in the U.S. – you know, that old saw about the streets being paved in gold. But, Dad didn’t have a pat answer. Instead, he made vague references to things changing but he never really elaborated.

On our trip in 1975, I wondered whether visiting the old country might stir any dormant thoughts about returning to live there. While there, I couldn’t help but notice his face light up when a relative served him a particular food he loved during his childhood. Or his smile when he reminisced with an old aunt about his boyhood antics while he visited the family farm. Interestingly, though he was delighted to be there and he clearly still fit in, he was nostalgic but not in any way regretful.  

After that trip, he was better able to explain why he didn’t see himself ever moving back. He seemed to have gained clarity and perspective. I think the trip really drove home to him the social and business differences between the countries. Thereafter, when asked, he’d say that going back would require adjustments to things way beyond language and climate.

So, on today’s anniversary of my immigration to Canada, I think I understand how Dad felt about not really being able to return “home”. Over the 30 years, the differences between the nature of Canadians and Americans have become very clear to me. Though we speak the same language and have prospered thanks to many of the same bountiful resources, there are significant differences that can be traced as far back as the documents each country is built on.
The U.S.’s founding principle is that individuals are entitled to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”. In contrast, the founding principle enshrined in Canada’s Constitution Act of 1867 is that Parliament has the power to make laws for “the peace, order, and good government of Canada”.

The stark contrast between the U.S. focus on the rights of the individual versus Canada’s emphasis on the rights of the collective seems to have gotten sharper over the years that I’ve lived here. The whole idea of Trump’s wall – whether it comes to pass as an actual physical barrier or not – is symbolic of the direction the U.S. is going. I see the U.S.’s increasing isolationism as a national symptom of the desire to pursue one’s self-interest. That’s not a goal I share.

Meanwhile, during my years here in Canada I’ve seen first hand the benefits of striving for a collective good. Whether it’s looking for ways to try to tame climate change, or making it possible for at least some of the displaced Syrians and other refugees make a life here, or sending military in support of U.N. peacekeeping activities, Canadians truly seem to believe that we’re all in this together.

Where we come from imprints on our soul in ways we’re often not even aware of. But home is the place you end up as a result of the choices you make. I couldn’t be happier to call Canada home.

© 2019 Ingrid Sapona


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