Emily Kellogg is a Toronto-based writer and editor.
To limit the spread of COVID-19, the Canada-US border has been closed to all non-essential travel, including family visits and tourism, since mid-March. It is not known when these travel restrictions will be lifted.
I support the fence because I am taking every precaution to help mitigate the impact of the pandemic, which has killed more than 120,000 people in the United States and 8,500 in Canada. Yet this period of lockdown was undoubtedly a test of all of our ability to endure isolation and anxiety. And as a dual citizen of Canada and the United States – whose immediate family lives in California – I feel the sting of fear caused by the border closure in a particularly acute way.
I am afraid of the prolonged distance of my family and fear of my own helplessness in the event of illness. I fear the repercussions of the American government’s response to the pandemic and the cruelty of its president. I’m afraid I’ll never kiss my parents again. I’m afraid I’ll never have the chance to meet my seven-month-old niece.
I fear that I have become a stranger to a country that was once my home, and I find it hard to make sense of my identity as an American and Canadian who has chosen to make a living in Toronto. As Canada Day and July 4 approaching, a time of the year when I think about my relationship with these two countries, I feel in conflict with my idea of home and I feel more distant than ever from certain parts of my family.
My Canadian mother and my American father met on the Eiffel Tower. According to my father, it was love at first sight. According to my mother, she saw an obnoxious American traveler and his friend, and made a point to avoid them. They said they fell in love on a European tour before returning to their respective homes in San Jose, California and Saskatoon.
They maintained their long distance relationship and married in a small church in Alameda, Saskatchewan in December 1982. The reception was held in the basement of the church. Throughout history, my grandfather, a street vendor in the San Francisco Bay Area, has been shocked by the lack of alcohol. In search of beer, he foolishly made his way through the minus-30 ° C night with nothing but his suit jacket to warm up – only to come back quickly, half frozen bitten and empty-handed.
I was born eight years later, mostly in an area south of San Francisco, in the heart of what is now called Silicon Valley. I spent a good part of each summer in my mother’s hometown of Carlyle, Saskatchewan. – and as much as California was a house, my family’s farm was also full of endless fields, raspberries, barn cats and horses trying to nibble my hair.
As a child, in the 1990s, the border between the two countries hardly seemed to exist. It was almost superfluous to say that I was a double citizen, because in my mind there was hardly any distinction. I didn’t really know that I was crossing a border to see my family and my second home. I was far too concerned about the variety of crisps and treats that were only available in Canada to care too much about the intricacies of national identity and citizenship.
With many others, my perception of the world changed on September 11, 2001. I was in my kitchen in Hillsborough, California, eating Cinnamon Toast Crunch for breakfast, when I turned on the television and watched , with horror, the Twin Towers burned down.
At school, classes were suspended in favor of an assembly in which we sang patriotic songs, pledged allegiance to the flag, and praised the vague American ideal of “freedom.” We were all confused and tense, waiting to see if there should be more violence to come. Unfortunately, there was – although perhaps the kind we couldn’t have conceived of as 11-year-olds.
Over the next few years, I learned expressions such as “weapons of mass destruction” and “axis of evil”. I went to a restaurant and ordered “freedom fries” and went home to watch the demonstrators on the news. I slowly lost my naivety when I realized that I was growing up under the reality of a government charged with corruption and in a country at war.
And when I visited my second home, I was now carrying two passports. I filled out documents. I answered rude questions to intimidate border guards.
For the first time, I began to worry about what would happen if there was a war between Canada and the United States. Will I have to choose between my family’s farm in a small town in Saskatchewan and the suburban home I shared with my parents and brother in California?
What would I do if the borders were no longer open to me?
For the past 12 years, I have taken up residence in Toronto – when my parents, my older brother and his family moved to California. A large part of my extended family lives in Saskatchewan.
I have taken some time since the border was closed to reflect on the fear I feel for my family, as well as the privilege I hold as a dual cisgender white woman of dual nationality – the privilege that has given me so long prevented me from facing difficult questions concerning my identity and allowed me to keep the conviction that, in any case, borders would always be open to me.
I recognize, for example, that any fear or anxiety that I may not be able to reach my family during the pandemic is pale compared to the pain caused by the atrocity of family separation in the United States and Mexico . border. And I recognize that white supremacy plays a role in the differences with which the Canada-United States border and Mexico-United States. borders are controlled – both by government and by culture.
I also thought about the fact that, in all the places I have considered home throughout my life, I have always been a settler living on stolen native land. Carlyle, Saskatchewan is part of Treaty 2 and is the traditional territory of Ocean Man First Nation, Pheasant Rump Nakota First Nation and White Bear First Nation. Toronto is covered by Treaty 13 and is the traditional territory of many nations, including the Credit Mississaugas, the Anishnabeg, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee and the Wendat. San Francisco consists of the occupied territories of the Ohlone peoples and the Coastal Miwok (who, along with the south of Pomo, are organized into Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria).
As a settler, when I think and write about citizenship, I must recognize that borders, as they exist today, are the result of colonialism.
Like many, I was blown away by the outcome of the 2016 American election. That night my whole body was covered with sobs, and I hung on to friends as we took what was supposed to be sparkling wine festive. I woke up the next morning with a blistering headache and a feeling of impending doom. In a way that I hadn’t felt since September 11, 2001, I felt like the fabric of my reality had fundamentally changed.
Although I live in Canada, the day after the election, I found myself overwhelmed and obsessed with the events of our neighbor to the south. I launched myself into Canada’s international praise, comforting myself with the conviction that at least one of my homes was somehow free from generations of racism and social oppression.
I realize now that I was under illusions.
Given the din of politics in the United States, it may be too easy to ignore Canada – even for its own citizens. Likewise, it can be tempting to idealize Canada as a foil for the “intolerant south” and to define Canada and its national identity as what it is not. – United States. The memes “Meanwhile in Canada” contrasting the “kindness” of Canada with the violence in the United States too often hide darker truths that do not correspond to the conception of Canada itself.
But the truth is that Canada is a lot – both wonderful and terrible. And like the United States, it’s an imperfect country.
Canada is my dear and beloved home, and I am grateful to it. But as an American and Canadian citizen, I hold conflicting truths.
I hate Donald Trump’s America, but I deeply regret drinking wine with my parents and watching the sun go down over the Pacific Ocean. I support the Canadian federal government, but I always encourage Ottawa to do better. I miss my family in California, but I treasure my communities in Ontario and Saskatchewan.
I don’t know what the future holds. I don’t know when I’ll feel comfortable traveling to California, or even when I’m comfortable in a mall. I do not know if the United States will continue to transform itself into a place that is not recognizable to me, or if one day I will call it again at home.
But as I think about what it’s like to be both Canadian and American, I find myself thinking about what it’s like to be a citizen – as heavy as that term may be.
For me, fulfilling your duty as a citizen is much more than shouting to make things big, to sing national anthems or to languish in self-congratulatory memes. On the contrary, citizenship is about taking care of other members of the community and challenging yourself to raise those around you. And as we commemorate Canada Day and July 4, I think it is important to remember that freedom and justice are not yet available to everyone.
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