I am part of a writing group, a community of storytellers. This group of women cheers for each other’s accomplishments and commiserates with each other’s rejection notices. There are moms and wives and single women. There are young women and older women and women who ignore age altogether. For the month of July, we’re writing about flying our flags. Here are my thoughts on flying my flag in my adopted country.
I got married a little over five years ago and ended up moving from the Bay Area in Northern California to Toronto. Living in the eastern side of the continent was never on my list of things to accomplish before I die, but marrying later in life comes with all kinds of unanticipated changes and opportunities. I had visited Toronto several times previously for business. From those experiences I knew it as a vibrant city filled with lovely people, amazing food, and more than a little flavour of Great Britain, as my American eyes noticed every extra “u” in words like “flavour.” And yet when I moved here, I experienced all the uncomfortable things that go along with cultural transition. Thanksgiving was suddenly in October rather than November and there were no references to Plymouth Rock. Instead of Memorial Day, in the month of May there was a celebration marking the birthday of Queen Victoria. And in the first week of July, there were plenty of fireworks, but the flag that was lit by the Canadian “rockets’s red glare” had no stars or stripes and the colour blue was completely missing. The fourth of July was a regular workday here, of course, which seemed wrong then and still throws me off.
I’ve been interested to see the US and Americans through the eyes of my new Canadian neighbours. It’s always enlightening to see how you’re perceived by others. I seldom mention that I’m American, though. I don’t like to highlight the fact that I’m “not from around here,” the result of a lifetime of being the newcomer and trying to fit in. It’s one of those leftover skills that served me well in the past, allowing me to quickly blend into the many new environments I’ve encountered in my life, but I’m beginning to learn that it has outlived it’s value. It’s difficult to let your flag fly if you’re focused primarily on fitting in and trying to avoid being seen as an outsider.
During the first part of July both my country of birth and my country of residence celebrate their respective “birthdays.” Every year I’m torn. Fly the US flag? Fly the Canadian flag? Is it a betrayal to my home country to embrace my adopted country equally? Will I be accepted any less by my new neighbours if I openly declare my love for my old neighbors? I realize the question of which country’s flag to fly is related to a deeper issue for me. I want to be someone who holds space in my heart for more than one place and more than one perspective, acknowledging there is good and bad in all, but embracing them nonetheless. I want to fight that part of my human nature that says looking like me, acting like me and thinking like me are the qualifications for being on my team. My heart hurts at the thought of anyone believing I don’t want them to fly their flag with mine.
There is another celebration going on this month. The quadrennial championship competition for “the beautiful game” is being held this year. Football, or soccer to me and my American friends, is playing on screens across the city and around the world. Like most Americans, I never paid a lot of attention to soccer until the American women won the 1999 Women’s World Cup. Even after that amazing moment in women’s sports, though, I still didn’t regularly follow the game. And then I arrived in Toronto. Wow, are there some ardent soccer fans here. Canada is a sports loving country, and it’s also filled with immigrants from countries where “football” is not just a national pastime, it’s practically a religion.
Like this summer, the second year I was in Toronto was also a World Cup summer. Long before the first game was played, there were news items appearing about which teams were qualifying for the competition. The excitement was building and I was on a steep learning curve to understand what everyone was so worked up over. I still can’t explain all the rules to you, and don’t even get me started about how the rules are applied by the officials. There is no explanation for that! I didn’t have to understand the rules, though, to enjoy watching a key component of the celebration. Seemingly overnight flags began to appear all over town. On cars. On front porches. On balconies. On the fronts of t-shirts. And the flags were for countries all over the world. I was fascinated to see these ardent, flag waving fans showing up at pubs and restaurants to watch World Cup games together, passionately supporting their teams, and yet no one’s loyalty to Canada was questioned just because they were ardently cheering for the team from Brazil or Germany or Nigeria.
Unexpectedly soccer, and specifically the World Cup, is providing healing moments for me, moments of shalom. In the midst of all the waving flags and excitement, frequently while I’m out and about I’ll see a car drive by with not just one, but two or even three flags flapping energetically above the roof. On one car the driver’s side flag is German and the passenger side flag is English. Another car has the Dutch flag, the Spanish flag and the Argentine flag. On another the Brazilian flag is flapping alongside the French flag. For me, it’s tangible evidence of a blended World Cup family, each member proudly flying their own flag but everyone is still in the same car together. Yeah, maybe it sounds silly, but my heart heals a little bit every time I see one of those blended cars. I’m grateful for every single one of them.