Thursday, July 4, 2013

Reflections of an Immigrant

I had a student visa when I married my wife Diana who is from Philadelphia and I had received my Green Card, when we moved to Watertown, Massachusetts where I became the rector of an Episcopal Church.  During our time there, the height and the fall of the Nixon era, I realized that to continue to minister in an American setting I needed to take a greater responsibility by applying for citizenship.  The process was somewhat onerous.  Among other things I had to return to Canada and apply at the United States Embassy in St. John, New Brunswick.  Never having been to that part of Canada it seemed odd, but one does what one has to do.

            I remember four questions from the interview for citizenship.  One was the question, “Are you now, or have you ever been a Communist?”  Like many young Canadians in my generation I voted NDP [New Democratic Party] because it was the Socialist-Communist coalition and I was a Fabian Socialist, but I also realized that I had never joined the Communist Party; so the answer was, “No!”  Putting that in context for today, voting NDP was like voting for Obama.  I felt like asking, “Why don’t you ask, ‘Are you now, or have you ever been, a Fascist?’”  Experience shows that many of us who voted socialist in those days slid to the right the longer we were employed and the saner we became. 

The second question, stemming from my application form that included questions on memberships was “What is Foreign Missions?”  My answer was not at all interesting to the interviewer.

The third question was “Are you now, or have you ever been a habitual drunkard?”  It was clear from my application that I had joined AA several years before.  So I said, “Alcoholism is a disease, not a habit.”  The interviewer said, “Just answer the question.”  So I answered, “No.”  By the way as of this July I have been sober for 44 years, so I guess my answer was right. 

The fourth question, or rather demand, was, “Please say in English “I would like to become an American citizen.”  I retorted, “I speak better English than you do!”  The interviewer was not happy and said, “Just say it!”

When Nixon was pardoned by President Ford I wrote Ford a letter explaining that as the Rector of an Massachusetts Episcopal Church, and as a Democrat who had voted for Ted Kennedy, I was of the opinion that although Nixon was pardoned rather than brought to the bar of justice that the country had had enough of the whole painful saga and that Ford had done the right thing.  I was amazed to receive a thank you letter from Ford who also let me know that he had forwarded my letter to Ted Kennedy.  Subsequently I received a scathing letter from Kennedy asking how, as a man of God, I could take such a sinful position?  To which I replied that as one who had voted for him, but was not as wealthy as him, I wasn’t sure that justice had been done at Chappaquiddick, and if I were he I wouldn’t say anything.  Shortly after that two men in conservative blue suits turned up during a Sunday morning Eucharist, took notes through the sermon, and left at the passing of the Peace.  My guess was that, like many dissenters during that era, my name was on a list somewhere.

I was never really asked where my true allegiance lay.  My allegiance lies with the Kingdom of God and with its King, Jesus Christ the Son of the Living God.  That allegiance determines the nature of my response to citizenship in the United States.  By the way, yes, The United States of America is the land of opportunity, and for immigrants who are willing to go through a legitimate application process, speak the language and work hard the rewards are great.