Sunday, March 27, 2011

Sisters, Sisters - Being 60 (week 47 - by Margaret Ullrich)

In the classic Christmas film White Christmas Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen sang a duet about being sisters.

Even Bing and Danny sang it, but that's another story.
Don't even think it.
We're talking Irving Berlin.
He didn't even think it.

The thing about the song was that sisters are close, up to a point.
Well, duh.

Even that country music icon, Loretta Lynn, had a sister issue.  
Loretta's song Coal Miner's Daughter told about her early life, how her family had a tough time in the hills.
But her sister, Crystal Gale, once told a reporter that her father had moved and was working in a factory by the time she was born.
She was definitely not a "Coal Miner's Daughter", thank you very much.

Last week I wrote about how I thought my sister was Irish.
Well, she wasn't.

But, then again, she wasn't just off the boat.
I was.
Three months after I was born, my parents sailed to America.
As soon as they could my parents got their American citizenship.
Five months after my sister was born.

Since funds were tight, Pop didn't bother paying the $10 to get my papers in order.
It was cheaper to send in a green "Alien Registration" postcard every January for me.
I wasn't going to vote for quite a while, so it didn't matter. 
I was just the family's alien.

The immigrant experience has been the stuff of books and movies for quite a while.
Who can forget little Vito in The Godfather, nine years old and running for his life.

Okay, most of the time it isn't that dramatic.

Kathryn Forbes' book about being the daughter of Norwegian immigrants was turned into a play, I Remember Mama, which then became a movie, and finally a TV series, Mama.
Tarantino wouldn't touch anything like it, but it was still good. 

Every eldest immigrant kid could relate to being the go-between, the translator.
To being shown documents and asked what they meant.
By the parents.
To being in a middle ground: 
helping the adults, yet expected to act as a European child.
The European child being more obedient and reserved than the American child.
Old before your time, yet regarded as a nerd.
By the classmates.
A totally no-win situation.

This month I received my passport.
A Canadian passport.
My very first passport.

It was a bit of a hassle.
I had become a Canadian citizen a few years ago.
Still the forms require the usual "Where were you born?" and "What name is on your birth certificate?"
Being a Canadian citizen wasn't enough.
The clerk at the counter didn't understand why there's an apostrophe in a town's name.
The town where I was born.

I had to show my father's British passport which listed me as an immigrant to America, along with the little green card with my photo as a three months old infant.
All because I was born three months before my parents came to New York.
The paper trail I have to show to explain where I was born.
The paper trail my sister - and brother - don't have or need.

Born in New York.  The USA.  What's your problem?

I didn't expect to feel the way I did when I got my passport.
I finally had 'my own country'.
I finally belonged.

The citizenship paper was okay.
As long as I stayed in Canada.
It didn't feel much different from being a registered alien.

But now I have a document that says I am from a country.
A recognizable country.
A country that people know.

I'm a real person now.

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