Tuesday, June 10, 2014

12 years a citizen

Twelve years ago today, I became a citizen of New Zealand. I’ve never talked much about that before, partly because I’m so used to being a citizen I never even think about it. But it was still a big deal.

Nigel and I took the whole day off on June 10, 2002, mostly because at the time we scheduled the time off, we thought the ceremony was in the morning; it was actually at 7pm at the Bruce Mason Centre in Takapuna.

I actually didn’t know what to expect, which made me nervous (the unknown always does—I like to know what’s going to happen and what to expect). Also, to me it was a big deal.

Here’s what I wrote in my journal that day, some hours before the ceremony (slightly edited):
Many countries (or even most, for all I know) require that people becoming citizens through naturalisation renounce the citizenship of their birth. That puts the decision into razor-sharp focus, I'd say, because the person must make an either/or decision. New Zealand, thankfully, isn't one of those either/or countries; in fact, it's the opposite in that it encourages new citizens to retain their links with their homelands and cultures. In some ways, that makes the decision to become a citizen much less significant, because you're not forsaking one for another, but rather adding another.

New citizens are required to give an oath or affirmation of allegiance. In my case, it's an affirmation because it doesn't mention God (I feel it's inappropriate to make a plea to, or pledge based on, one particular religion; it has no place in a purely civic matter). Beyond that, the affirmation seemed less royalist to me. Even so, it requires the new citizen to "solemnly and sincerely affirm that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, Queen of New Zealand, her heirs and successors according to law, and that I will faithfully observe the laws of New Zealand and fulfil my duties as a New Zealand citizen."

What struck me about this was that, in essence, for the most part the new citizen is pledging what they would be required to do as a permanent resident, or even a tourist: Namely, obey the government. In New Zealand, the government is symbolised by the Queen, in whose name the government acts. The only new part is the bit about duties, but the only really new duty is possibly having to join the armed forces in defence of the country, which at my age isn't exactly likely.

For a dual national, as I will soon be, the question some ask is, to which country does one bears allegiance? The answer, again, is no different than it would be for a permanent resident or even a tourist: One must obey the country one is in, or under whose protection one is travelling. Theoretically, I could have to choose one or the other if New Zealand and the US were to go to war, but that's even less likely than my being drafted. So, there is no conflict: I will be fulfilling the same duties to the US as I always have, and I'll be fulfilling the same duties to New Zealand as I did even before I became a permanent resident. Apart from getting a second passport, nothing much will change for me.

So why is this all a big deal, then? Because it all fits my world-view: I would like this to be a planet without borders, in which people could travel to wherever opportunity or love took them. There are plenty of reasons why this cannot be the case now, but perhaps one day it can. If it does come about, I think it'll be because of… people with multiple nationalities who dare to think beyond the traditional notions of nationality. One day, perhaps, it won't be just corporations that will be "trans-nationals".

So, I'm in the waning hours of being a "mono-national" (since that must be the opposite of "dual national"). As far as I'm concerned, it's merely a demonstration of my commitment to New Zealand, and to building a better future for this country, the US, and even the world. Who was it who said, "if you want to change the world, start with yourself"? We gotta start some place.
Most of what I was thinking before the citizenship ceremony is stuff I still think today, and I’ve even talked on this blog about many of those things. What I didn't write down anywhere is something I used to say at the time, that New Zealand took a chance on me in allowing me to come to the country in 1995, and I felt it was important to make a commitment in return.

I also didn’t mention some of the practical reasons. For example, New Zealand citizens can move to Australia to live and work without needing visas, permits or residency (and Australian citizens can come here to live, too). There was a time we thought that Nigel might pursue jobs in Australia, and NZ citizenship for me would have made it much easier for me to go, too. Turned out, by the time I became a citizen, that idea was pretty much off the table. But I have travelled there on a NZ passport, which was easier than for other foreigners.

I wrote surprisingly little about the ceremony itself, but here, again from my journal, is what I did say:
There were probably over 500 people receiving their citizenship that day, each with two or more guests (we were "supposed" to only have two; I had four). It was a veritable United Nations there, too, with people from all over the place: Lots of Asians, South Africans, Russians, Middle Easterners, and others. I noticed that most of the Asians (Koreans in particular) took the oath, swearing to God, and most middle easterners took the affirmation, which doesn't mention God. I don't know that that means anything, I just thought it was interesting.

After the ceremony, Nigel ducked outside and got me first in line for my photo with the official party (though two women jumped in ahead of me).

From there, we went to McDonald's, of all places, because it was one of the few open within a short drive, and because I hadn't had any dinner (I was too nervous to eat). Then, it was home…
The photo I mentioned is at the top of this post. I’m flanked by George Wood, who at the time was the Mayor of the former North Shore City, and Diane Hale, who at the time was Deputy Mayor. The two military people at either end are Warrant Officers from the Royal New Zealand Navy, who formed the honour guard. Below is a grainy photo of me shaking the Mayor’s hand as I officially became a Kiwi.

June 10, 2002 was a special day for me. In a lot of ways, it still is.


rogerogreen said...

All this really interesting sharing, and all I can think about is "How tall IS he, anyway?" Congrats on the anniversary.i

Arthur (AmeriNZ) said...

LOL (yes, literally…), I'm about 190cm (6'3"), so the two to my left (viewers' right) are pretty short, while George Wood was probably about six foot.