Today is Canada Day and I reflect on what it means to be a Canadian.
Last night I attended a celebration in which my photography student Rona Tattersdill (a fine English woman in all respects ) became a Canadian citizen. Many of the guests where dressed in red and white and the cake was a Canadian flag. The happy and fun celebration made me think of my own when some 15 years ago I showed up at citizenship court with my father’s King James Bible. By contrast it was more somber and even efficient. — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — -
One of the most emotional moments of my life happened on June 20, 1965 in Parque Almirante Guillermo Brown (William Brown) in Buenos Aires. I was one of thousands of smartly dressed sailors in white swearing allegiance to our flag (jura a la bandera). Our flag was raised and we sang our national anthem. Rear Admiral Ricardo Sanchez Sañudo asked us, “¿Jurais….. if we would follow our flag at all times and defend her even with our life. In unison we answered, “We do!”
“¿Juráis a la Patria seguir constantemente su Bandera y defenderla hasta perder la vida? “
“Si Juramos!” One year and 8 days later contingents of the Argentine army, navy and air force surrounded (I was one of them) the “Casa Rosada” and we gave our legally elected president Arturo Illía 60 minutes to leave the premises. This he did in a cab. The next day the military junta headed by General Juan Carlos Onganía had banned all political parties, closed congress and banned our constitution. After that coup I began to believe that the difference between the Argentine flag I had sworn to defend and any other flag from any other country was simply a colour dye. In essence, the flag I had cried for was a meaningless rag. Politics in my return to Mexico did not change my perception specially when the Díaz Ordaz government brutally repressed a student uprising in Tlatelolco, prior to the the 1968 Olympics in Mexico. But for years I clung to the concept of traveling with my blue leather Argentine passport even when the paper work to get one in Canada became very difficult. Upon my return to Buenos Aires around 1985 my consular passport was cancelled (by law) and I would have spent most of my two week stay in Buenos Aires lining up at the police station getting a new one. Through my half-brother who knew an ex police chief I obtained my passport in a day.
I will never forget what my half-brother Enrique told me, “Next time you come back to Argentina make sure you have a Canadian passport. My friend might not be around to help you.” And so I applied for Canadian citizenship. At the ceremony I was sitting next to a short Chinese man with black socks. I noticed that his first name was Aloysius. “Are you a priest I asked him?” He was. I showed him my father’s King James bible on which I was gong to swear allegiance to the queen. He smiled as he showed me his Catholic bible and I felt close. We had a bond of sorts. The event was recorded by my photographer friend Robert Blake (ex husband of Patricia Canning) who insisted that the event was an important one in my life. For me it was a practical procedure that would make traveling simple. But in the end Blake was right and I have come to realize how important it is to feel Canadian in a world of so many flags that more often than not are not up on a flag poles but stomped on by their would-be defenders. I have come to value our Air Space & Water I value our mostly unwavering 110 volts and precise 60 cycles. I value our more quiet form of “patriotism”. It is fine with me if we are boring. The paradox is that in my new found Canadian identity my former Argentine one has flourished with less cynicism. Both live in me without conflict. Could that be the Canadian way?
And best of all I often spot Patrick Reid walking in Kerrisdale and while no tears come to my eyes the feeling that life is good in Canada is reinforced.