To my loved ones, friendly online acquaintances, and loyal followers who I’ve never met but still hold dear to my heart all the same,
I have finally completed the last step of my citizenship process by attending a ceremony at the historic Sydney Town Hall on George Street. Woohoo!!! Or as they say here, “Yewwwwwwww!!!”
It felt a bit strange because, as you know, I’d actually been to a few ceremonies before, accompanying fellow expat friends converting to dual citizens as well — always the bridesmaid, never the bride. But this time around, it was my turn and honestly, I just couldn’t wait to get that certificate in my hand, throw up my middle finger to the Department of Immigration for taking so damn long, and then piss off!
It was lovely enough, though. As I stood waiting in line for my turn to check-in, I could hear the same three-piece jazz band performing a number of familiar hits to keep the crowd energy flowing. My Auntie Elly was the first to meet me there with her vibrant spirit keeping me company, as other members of my Aussie family started to trickle in. They say you’re only allowed to bring two or three guests or something like that, but I’m Filipino and those kind of rules just don’t apply. And frankly, it’s these kind of moments when I like to pull the classic Asian card and pretend I don’t understand what they mean, while my family hurriedly scurries past the ushers who are carefully directing guests where to sit. But I didn’t even have to do that. Surprisingly, there’s no one there actually counting how many guests have arrived, and who is with who. So, lucky for me, I could just relax and forget about trying to smuggle all my extra family members in.
I guess I was also surprised at the lack of security around the place. I imagine that back home in the US, there would at least be some kind of scanner or bag check with cops in attendance or security guards of some sort, overseeing the whole process and ensuring no extra people were present who did not need to be there. Maybe it’s just me being super Americanized (aka super paranoid) but those are the kind of details I always notice because those are the kind of precautions that don’t really exist here. Nobody thinks twice about the security risks present because well, no one is really driven by the obsessive need to own a gun. Which is a great relief. It’s one of the reasons why I love living here in the first place.
Anyway, before I allow myself to divulge into that topic and totally go off-subject, I’ll wrap this up by saying it was a wonderful ceremony. I was seated between two men from two different countries: one from Lebanon and the other from Scotland. The young Lebanese gentleman to my right seemed nervous and was asking me questions.
“Do we all have to sing the national anthem?”
“Yes. Individually. They’ll call your name and you have to go on stage and sing it solo.”
My joke somehow didn’t translate well as I noticed the speed at which he was tapping his foot increased to double-time as he clenched his fist tighter around the printed out lyrics to the anthem. I paused.
“I’m just joking, dude. You don’t have to sing it by yourself. We all sing it together.”
He let out a huge sigh of relief. “But on stage, right?”
I laughed. “No, nobody has to sing on stage. We just stand in a line and collect our certificate and they take a photo of you with the Mayor.”
“Ohhh! I thought you were serious.”
I felt like an asshole. But maybe that was just the new Aussie part of me I had slowly started to inherit — that classic, dry sense of humour that never translates well with foreigners. Dammit.
I turn to the guy to my left out of shame, hoping to recover my pride for being so socially inept. “Hi, where are you from?”
“Hello! I’m from ____ , Scotland!” replied the jovial man. He said the name of particular region which I tried to make out, but couldn’t understand.
“Oh cool!” I said trying to think of how to relate. “I almost got my master’s at the University of Edinburgh, but it was just too expensive.” I realized too late that my comment sounded twice as lame coming out of my mouth.
“Really? Yeah that’s on the other side. I’m from ____.” He says the name of the city he’s from a second time, I still don’t get it and instead, I nod and smile. “But I came over here for work.”
We go on making small talk and I tell him how I’m from California, after which his face lit up like a kid and he explained how much he loves Hip Hop. I was astounded. He starting shooting off the names of old school emcees from the 80s who he grew up listening to, and then he asked if I’d seen “Straight Outta Compton” yet. Seriously. It’s amazing how far Hip Hop reaches. I mean, Scotland for crying out loud. And then he tells me how much he likes the Hip Hop scene here in Australia and how it’s growing. What?!?
It’s moments like these, sitting at a citizenship ceremony between a Lebanese dude and Scottish businessman, that I realize why Australia is such a brilliantly diverse country. Others will label its citizens as “racist.” My fellow Americans will criticize its government for having too much control and not enough guns. And yet here I am, not giving a shit about politics the way I used to back in California. Why? Because Aussies do what the hell they want. It’s not always nice or pretty. I don’t praise them for their preconceived notions toward Asians or their treatment of Aboriginals, but I appreciate the way they make efforts to embrace foreigners and how they actively continue to restore their relationship with the indigenous people, acknowledging their precious and valuable contributions to this vast and mighty land.
Finally it was time for everyone to stand up and recite the pledge together. I stood up and felt proud, relieved, and full of joy — this is the country I have chosen to call home now. It has embraced me with open arms, and ever since December 1, 2009, I have loved being held and supported by them.
I was seated in the second row so my turn to line up for my certificate came quickly. While in line, I kept looking over at my husband and the rest of our family members and unbeknownst to me, the Scottish businessman’s friends were seated next to them, smiling back at me — and him. Then I felt a hand touch my waist and noticed the happy Scotsman was leaning in. He urged me to smile at his mates, pointing to the two gentlemen seated beside my mother-in-law. I smiled for the photo, then laughed.
“My husband’s watching.”
“Oh! I’m sorry! Which one’s your husband?”
“The tall dude with the shaved head.”
“Oh man, the shady-looking one.”
I laughed. “Yeah, he’s gonna smash ya after.”
He laughed, but nervously. I cracked up.
I finally reached the front of the line.
“Are you two together?” The lady handing out the certificates asked. Apparently she had been watching the whole photo dilemma, which meant the rest of the audience had as well.
“No!” We said in unison, trying hard not to burst out laughing. I composed myself before shaking hands with the Lord Mayor and then click! There went the photo (which I still have yet to receive). Weird. I just thought about that now. Oh well.
That was it! It was finally over and done with. I sat down near my husband and the family and chatted for a bit while the rest of the crowd collected their certificates. As we waited, the chipper Scotsman came by to humbly apologize to my husband, which I thought was commendable and laughable all the same. It was time to return to our seats and sing the national anthem together. I was surprised to hear the Lebanese guy sing so passionately. He wasn’t on tune and clearly had never heard the song before, but it didn’t matter — he might as well have been auditioning for the X-Factor because he was singing the shit out of that song and it was bloody awesome.
At the end of it all, we enjoyed the complimentary afternoon tea full of traditional Australian treats: lamingtons, pavolva, fresh fruits, Anzac biscuits, sparkling wine, and orange juice. It turned out to be quite a successful afternoon and one that I will always remember. I was grateful to be surrounded by the love of my husband and my caring Aussie in-laws, especially the woman who brought me over here in the first place. Had she not hired me for the job to take on a one-year secondment, I would have never met her step-son, nor fallen in love, nor married, nor become an Australian citizen. She’s a true blessing of a human being and I could not have done this journey without her.
Sometimes life doesn’t work out the way we think it will. Sometimes we experience hard times without knowing the reasons why. But out of those difficult and rocky seasons, grows a new kind of strength and beauty. That’s how I’ve always seen my journey to this strange land. It started many years before; it was born out of hard times, during an era in which individuals — loved ones — were broken, divided, and separated. And as the years passed, there came along a glimmer of hope — someone to restore and establish a new kind of order and a new kind of joy. And just like the good book says, “all things work together for the good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose.” Ain’t that the truth?
Thank you, Father. I’m home now, until the day I am home with You.