I’m Canadian in the most literal way: I was born in Canada. In this basic sense I am, and always will be, a Canadian citizen.
Of course this – citizenship – is not at the heart of the question. Country is another way of saying community, and when we question someone’s Canadian-ness we’re not only asking “Are you one of us?,” we’re also asking, “Are you with us?”
Here, “with” is both literal and figurative, so tangled that it seems like one idea equals the other. The implication is that when a Canadian chooses to leave Canada, his or her identity -- and loyalty, commitment, and responsibility -- begin to fade like a tan picked up on holiday.
This is nonsense. Remember: Canada is largely a nation of immigrants. For many of us, our Canadian citizenship is the result of a choice made by us, our parents, or their parents. It would be foolish to ignore the impact that agency has on our allegiance. Indeed, I think of Canada as my parents’ very first gift to me.
Canada is also a nation of emigrants. Along with millions of other Canadians, I chose to leave. For the past ten months I’ve lived and worked in Mexico, where, predictably, I’ve adopted new norms, experimented with unfamiliar attitudes, and tried to communicate in a new language. Does this make me less Canadian?
On the contrary. It’s exactly these traits – curiosity about the world, celebration of diversity, and a pioneering spirit – that I most closely associate with my country. The way I see it, it’s my responsibility to be as brave, as engaged, and as adventurous as I can be. Canada fostered me to be a citizen of the world and doing so is no insult to my country.
Nor does my absence equal apathy. While it’s true that I’m more interested in Mexico now than ever before, I’m also more engaged with Canada. In my efforts to understand this unfamiliar place, I’m reflective. If Mexico is the experimental group, Canada is the control. And let me be clear: it is the right of all Canadians to question their country, to hold it up to others and to compare. Travel is not treason.
Finally, being “away” is its own identity, but one that inevitably includes my Canadian-ness. Every expatriate comes from somewhere. In Mexico, I experience my country within me, a constant reminder to me that my ‘somewhere’ is Canada.
Keph Senett is currently living in Mexico. Her blog, full of engaging and well-written posts, can be found here.