Screenshot of a page from The Guardian featuring new Canadian Marlon Hector's thoughts on coming to Canada.
It’s pretty harrowing sitting in an annex at border control when you first enter Canada as a permanent resident, waiting for approval, a stamp, a decision on your fate.
One piece of paper with so much power.
There were a few of us waiting that day and written on every face was a decidedly nervous excitement.
A few years earlier, when I visited my then-girlfriend (now wife) who grew up in Saskatchewan, the Canadian government saw fit to grant me a visa for the exact 17 days before my outgoing flight.
And here I am, officially a new citizen.
We’ve come a long way, Canada.
After spending a week at her family’s farm, we set out to do a road trip.
I had three demands: the Rockies, a friend in Vancouver and another in Montreal.
She chuckled. One friend was going to have to give.
Just before that trip I was chatting with a trucker-friend of my future father-in-law.
He was asking the typical questions. “Where ya from?” South Africa. “How long ya been here?” A week. “You gonna see some of Canada while you're here?”
Yes, actually just about to leave on a road trip through Calgary to Vancouver.
“Oh!” he says. “You should stop off at the Calgary Zoo and visit your family!”
Now, mind you, I don’t think he was being racist to this mixed race (called “Coloured” back home) boy from the townships of Cape Town.
I sincerely believe his mental calculation was Africa equals wild animals.
And when he followed it up with telling my wife, “Don’t let him drive, ha ha, he probably doesn’t have a licence!” – I, again, gave him the benefit of the doubt and said, “Actually, I do.”
He responded with a genuinely surprised, “Oh, you do?” and that ended the conversation.
I have a running joke I use in social settings: You have reserves in Canada where people live? We have reserves in South Africa too, but we keep our wildlife there!
And if that makes you uncomfortable, fret not.
Discomfort is a natural side effect of cultures coming together.
Being from a country where the history of oppression is not so distant and racial diversity is an everyday thing, it took a significant adjustment when I first settled in small-town Canada five years ago.
My community was filled with mostly white folk, including the many South African doctors.
Of course, I wasn’t expecting burned crosses but I had an unmistakable sense of us and them.
That landscape has changed dramatically and will continue to change, especially in the next few weeks as we welcome the Syrian refugees.
Now, after becoming a Canadian citizen, I’m not sure that sense of alienation, albeit mostly self-imposed, has completely left me.
It’s a part of me and maybe it’s a part of every immigrant.
Immigrants often gravitate toward their own and I think I understand that now.
There is a collective struggle shared by immigrants from developing, or historically oppressed, nations most Canadians cannot know.
While South Africa – where democracy is a rebellious teenager – has its issues, I don’t worry about the safety or livelihood of my family.
I can only imagine what it must be like to leave family and friends in war ravaged nations in conflict.
It’s tangible when I talk to fellow Africans about government corruption and the xenophobia plaguing many countries in that region.
They are at once sorrowful for those left behind and eternally grateful to be in this land that values diversity and community and freedom.
But even after my landmark occasion of becoming a citizen, the accomplishment is lightly seasoned with a touch of fear.
Bill C-24 scares me.
And I will be the first to admit: that fear is in my blood. It’s tied to freedom fighters I revere who exiled themselves from the country of their birth to escape an oppressive regime. Refugees of another sort. A people with no country.
Yes, I have become a Canadian citizen. I will vote like one. Work like one. Pay taxes like one. Apologize profusely like one.
But Bill C-24 outlines circumstances under which I could be stripped of that privilege – not only naturalized citizens like me but also Canadian-born dual citizens, which I was hoping for my four-year-old daughter.
Bill C-24 legalizes an idea of first and second-class citizens and with it, I hear echoes of a past I would sooner forget.
The material I studied for the citizenship test emphasized the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, some of which this bill threatens.
Alas, my excitement can’t be stifled.
I am here. I am free (mostly). I am going to don my toque, sew flags on my luggage and embrace it all. I was a stranger once but now I am Canadian.
Marlon Hector lives with his Canadianborn wife and daughter in Saskatchewan where he works for TC Media. He became a citizen on November 30, 2015.
I was a stranger once but now I am Canadian. Marlon Hector
What word best describes Canadian cuisine to you?
If you had a chance to watch the final game in the Stanley Cup series in hockey, World Cup of Soccer or World Cup of Cricket, which would you choose?
If you could introduce Canadians to one thing from your home country, what would it be?
Is William Shatner a really great actor?
Only in Star Trek
If the Canadian beaver went head-to-head against the South African Cape porcupine, which would win?
Your number one pet peeve?
Bland restaurant food where I have to add hot sauce.
What should our national drink be?
What regional accent in Canada makes you smile when you hear it?
Newfoundland with southern Saskatchewan a close second.
I was a stranger once but now I am Canadian. Marlon Hector
1. Make connections. This foreign land is vast, but friends will make it seem smaller.
2. Canadians are giving and helpful. It’s a generalization but nonetheless, a good example to follow.
3. Africa is not a country. But some on this side of the world think it is. Instruct them kindly – we are all learning.
4. Pedestrians have the right of way at intersections. Crazy, I know.
5. Kids often leave their bicycles in the front yard and families have barbeques on their decks. Where I’m from, this is an invitation for someone else to take. That’s not the case here.
6. You will see teenagers walking in the deep of winter wearing a simple hoodie for protection. Ignore them and get a good winter jacket.
7. Police are not to be feared. They serve in your community’s best interest.
8. Like a good coat, winter tires are your new best friends. If you doubt this, just ask my sister-in-law, who has written off two vehicles.
9. If you are from Africa you will be asked if you speak “African.” If you are from Syria, you will be asked if you speak “Syrian.” I’m from a country with 11 official languages, and I speak only two of them, neither of which is “African.” It’s a big big world and nobody knows everything about everything. Just roll with it.