From the n+1 2011 Year-in-Review. For other contributors' perspectives on that annus horribilis mirabilisque, please go here.
This year I betrayed my country. Or at least that’s how it felt, even if, from what I’ve been able to learn, the US tolerates dual citizenship by means of something like a “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. There I was, after eight years of paperwork, of interrogations by the Délégation du Québec about my knowledge of that province’s charming folkways, of counting every day outside of Canada lest I go beyond my limit and find my permanent resident status revoked: there I was, I say, in July, in Montreal, before an immigration judge, some Mme. Robichaud or Tremblay, swearing, along with seventy-two other soon-to-be-Canadians from thirty-eight different countries, my allegiance to Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada (a different person, by the way, than Elizabeth II, Queen of the United Kingdom, even if the two persons inhabit the same physical body). This part was not so hard, as she looks like a kind old lady. But then came the line about “her successors,” and I thought about what it would mean to actually be loyal to that lad William, say, whose birth I remember as if it were yesterday, and I confess I began to mumble my lines. We did the recitation in English and French, and the French part was a good deal easier for me. Hell, I’ll swear anything in a language that resides only in my head and not in my heart. Behind me, by contrast, a man from somewhere in Francophone Africa bellowed out the French part directly from his heart. There were tears in his eyes and his voice quivered. I thought of the Ontario politician Garth Turner, who denounced the “Canadians of convenience,” that is, those who swoop through just long enough to get the passport before moving on. The African behind me was no Canadian of convenience, whereas I, I understood, might very well turn out to be one. In the end my principle motivation to become Canadian was that I might thereby be free to leave the place without having to count the days. I am now at liberty to abscond until 2040, if I feel like it, just in time for a bit of free palliative medicine in my final days. The man behind me believed in the idea of Canada, whereas I, whatever the current reality, cannot deny that it is the United States I believe in, that I carry in my heart, if I may be permitted to put it sentimentally, and that my association with the monarchy to the north will always remain rather more circumstantial. The US is a bloated and aggressive empire populated by snake-charming enemies of Enlightenment, Canada is a decent and sober social democracy, et cetera. But heavens, one is who one is, and in my shiny new Canadian passport, just after Lieu de naissance it says “Reno, USA”: surely the most significant bit of information in that document. It is a question of habitus, which is something so deep that the matter is already more or less settled even before we are begat. Mine in particular took shape in the late 18th century, and hates kings and queens, especially the ones no one believes in anyway. I am proud of my new status: I got 100 percent on the citizenship exam (what does A mari usque ad mare mean? Which province is the leading producer of wood pulp?), and I show off my passport like a fetish. But the taint of the betrayer is not going to go away.