It’s a regular Canada Day in Ottawa. A bright, summery blue sky, 27⁰C and a chance of thunderstorms in the evening, hundreds of Canadian flags on federal buildings and on private properties, Maple Leaf memorabilia, empty beer and ice cream coolers in supermarkets and more red tees than at a Communist Party meeting. Most locals left the city to go to the cottage, this dreamland Canadians drive to with a canoe strapped to the roof of their SUV whenever there’s a long weekend. Meanwhile, tons of tourists and people from neighbouring towns—or anyone without a cottage, really—are expected because Ottawa is the place to be on Canada Day.
Yes, it is a standard Canada Day but to me, it feels special and extra-Canadian.
Ten years ago, on July 3, I went to the Science and Technology Museum and I took the Oath of Citizenship in front of Her Honour Suzanne Pinel. I got a Canadian flag, a citizenship card, a letter from then-Prime Minister Harper, an “O Canada” bookmark and a few pins I still have today as well as museum passes I used.
I didn’t start the citizenship process for the Canadian passport perk—most countries don’t hate French citizens—or to spite my birth country. I decided to become a Canadian citizen because I wanted to belong.
Unlike many immigrants, I’ve never dreamed of moving to Canada. It… sort of happened. What would become the first step of my immigration story started with a Rio-to-Toronto flight because following Feng to Canada was a more enticing prospect than going straight back to France after our first adventure together. I went through several six-month visitor stamps, a Working Holiday Visa, then I applied for permanent residence and became a “PR.” I started the citizenship process three years later, i.e. as soon as I met the requirements. The road to permanent residence and to citizenship turned out to be a fast highway—I know, I’m lucky, many immigrants have to take a detour.
If the red-tape part of my immigration journey was easy, adapting to Canada was—is?—a long adventure. Along the way, I picked up English-speaking skills, some of the typical North America optimism and can-do attitude, efficient business practices and the ability to embrace different cultures. At one point, I also decided the best way to deal with cultural shock and the “impostor syndrome – immigrant edition” was to accept I wasn’t supposed to become someone else—I will always be a bit European, a bit Canadian, a bit of a chameleon backpacker and it’s probably just fine.
Case in point, parenting. Most Canadian parents keep dangerous items out of reach of children. Meanwhile, we give Mark a lighter and a giant firework printed with the words DO NOT HOLD IN YOUR HANDS.
Trust the Chinese representative in the household to kick off Canada Day—or anything worth celebrating, really—with fireworks.
“Eh… Daddy, why does it say, ‘Do not hold in your hands’?”
“Meh, just in case someone sues. I mean, technically, we’re supposed to hold the fireworks as lightsaber, like that and fight, and…”
“Feng, I don’t think Mark and I are Chinese enough for a fireworks face-off.”
“Right. I was just sayin’…”
“Why don’t we go over there?”
“Too many people.”
“And also we can’t pretend we don’t speak English if police drives by.”
“Mommy, why are you talking about the police?”
“We’re not quite sure we’re supposed to play with fireworks. Remember, in Brazil? Same concept here.”
Since we didn’t get arrested for playing with fireworks in the neighbourhood park, we spent July 1 downtown Ottawa with friends to enjoy both summer weather and the atmosphere.
It was a good Canada Day. No rain, not too crowded, just fun enough.