The Power of Citizenship
By April Alayon
I felt the excitement and energy as I entered the room at the citizenship ceremony organized by the ICC on September 24, 2018, at TELUS Centre for Performance and Learning. The seats slowly filled up around the round tables as the time approached for the event’s opening remarks. I walked to my table feeling nervous and excited at the same time. As an immigrant who received citizenship ten years ago, I remembered the feeling of finally becoming a Canadian citizen. A momentous milestone they are about to receive and experience.
Every year, thousands of individuals receive their Canadian citizenship. Roughly 3,000 citizenship ceremonies are held each year to welcome these new Canadians. The Institute for Canadian Citizenship organizes 75 of these ceremonies. A key component of an ICC citizenship ceremony are roundtable discussions, which are held before the official ceremony. During these roundtable discussions, new citizens and their guests have the chance to reflect on their journey and their aspirations, and on the meaning of active citizenship.
My role as an ICC Fellow was to host one of the roundtable discussions with soon-to-be citizens that sat at my appointed table. Together with my co–table host, a fellow Canadian citizen, we facilitated discussions on the participants’ journey to Canada, what it means to be Canadian, and how to become active citizens of Canada. After hearing their heartfelt stories, I reflected on how powerful citizenship can be.
We talked and shared our individual life journeys to Canada. To some people, being in Canada is a way out from violence. To some, it is a chance to start over again. To some, it’s a door for a better future for their kids. We talked about things they liked about living in Canada for the past few years before arriving to this citizenship ceremony day. Hearing different perspectives about the opportunities Canada offered to them made me realize how powerful Canadian citizenship is and how much it can play a big role in navigating their life in Canada.
When asked about how they can give back to Canada and how to become active citizens, a lot of folks talked about how ecstatic they were to be able to vote after they receive citizenship. Volunteering in their communities was listed as another way of giving back.
After reflecting on this experience, I realized that sometimes I’ve taken being Canadian and the opportunities that come along with it for granted. This also made me realize what a privilege it is to live in and be a citizen of Canada. It is a country described by many people as safe and a land full of possibilities.
It was such an honour to be part of this citizenship ceremony. It not only reminded me of my own citizenship journey, but also taught me to not take my citizenship for granted. Being a roundtable host during this ceremony reminded me of how fortunate it is to live in a country that welcomes newcomers and continues to build communities that are unique and inclusive.
These participants’ journeys to becoming a citizen definitely touched my heart and created a spark in me to continue to actively practice being a Canadian citizen.
April Alayon is a 2018–2019 ICC Fellow. For more information on the ICC Fellowship, visit https://www.inclusion.ca/icc-fellowship.
Photo: Institute for Canadian Citizenship / Alyssa Faoro