When you travel by rail between New York and Ontario, there’s a bridge over the Niagara River where the train, briefly, lies in mid-air between Canada and the U.S, the mist from Niagara Falls drifting toward the train windows, tantalizingly out of sight. On one side of the river, the Stars and Stripes flutters in the wind, on the other, Canada’s red maple leaf.
It’s an odd feeling, every time, to hang suspended between my two nations, my two identities. They’re so close, but – especially now – so very far apart politically.
Now that Donald Trump sits in the Oval Office, I wonder, daily, why, with a perfectly good, safe country to return to, I haven’t moved back home. A place where the nation’s best universities cost less than $10,000 a year, sometimes much less. Where single-payer government-run healthcare keeps millions of people healthy, whatever their age or employment status.
Unlike many immigrants – who arrive fleeing weak economies, religious persecution, political strife, even war – I chose to leave Canada for the United States under no duress. I initially came to follow a man, later my first husband, a New Jersey native who I met when he was finishing medical school in Montreal and where I was working as a newspaper reporter. The week before we met and fell in love, he had committed to a four-year residency in New Hampshire. If we were to be together, it was time for me to change countries.
I have a green card, and have now lived here long enough to apply for citizenship, but I haven’t, for a variety of reasons. I wonder how many fellow green-card holders are now thinking the same – that I might finally do it for the pure pleasure of voting Trump and his minions out of power. As someone with fewer rights and protections, and with a demonstrably impulsive and incompetent President, I’m more nervous than I’ve ever been in my 28 years here.
I came to the U.S. at the age of 30, then the unmarried child of an American citizen — my mother was born in New York but is now a Canadian citizen after decades living there. I came, as every immigrant does, with hope and optimism and crossed fingers, the wish to create a new life for myself with better opportunities than were available in Canada.
[pullquote]“I was always mistaken for an American when I lived in Canada, for walking too fast and talking too fast and being too nakedly ambitious.”[/pullquote]
I love my home country, admire its values and return north often to visit old friends. But with a population one-tenth that of the U.S. and an aversion to risk that’s endemic to a smaller place, I knew my work opportunities within journalism and publishing would be greater south of the border.
It hasn’t been easy. I arrived in New York in June 1989 just in time for a recession, with no job or leads or alumni network, having attended the University of Toronto, most of whose New York based grads work in corporate jobs or law. I’ve since been married and divorced and re-married here. In 1998, I became the victim of a convicted con man, whose crimes had made the front page of the Chicago Tribune before he moved east to find fresh prey. Even when I collected and showed them evidence of his six felonies, my local DA and police laughed me off. “It’s only fraud,” they sneered.
In other words, there were many times I thought – why stay? It’s just too difficult. But I did.
Faced with Trump’s xenophobia, racism and greed, why — now — indeed keep paying taxes to a government whose values and actions disgust me?
The morning after he was elected a friend called from Toronto, at 8:00 a.m.: “Come home!”
My husband and I have no children and both of us work full-time freelance, so we are free to go. But his work is based here and we own an apartment we’re not allowed to rent.
I love our town on the Hudson River, with Manhattan glittering in the distance like Oz. Our friends and colleagues are here. Our values, in many ways, are deeply American – a ferocious belief in the rights to free speech and assembly, an openness and welcome to refugees and immigrants and the personal experience that hard work can lead to success. My husband’s grandfather moved from Torreon, Mexico to Topeka, Kansas to work on the railroad. He started a food company producing mole and salsa and other Mexican foods that’s still in business.
And — which any Canadian knows is not a compliment — I was always mistaken for an American when I lived in Canada, for walking too fast and talking too fast and being too nakedly ambitious. I wanted to move ahead in my career, and quickly, and to write work that would be read by millions. I was always intrigued by my American cousins, one of whom served in the diplomatic corps for years, one of whom owned a large farm in Bakersfield, California. There’s a skyscraper in downtown Chicago that my great-grandfather helped to develop in 1912. Half my roots are American.
What does that mean?
Turning tail when the shit hits the fan?
I don’t know yet what we’ll do. I don’t want to sell our home and flee, even though we’ve found a Toronto realtor and mortgage broker. We enjoy our lives here. And I highly doubt, as two journalists in their late 50s, we’d find well-paid jobs in Toronto, a city whose real estate is out-of-control expensive.
Staying, for now, is a matter of practicality. Of loyalty. Of ambivalence. Of confusion.
I’m as frightened as anyone born in the U.S., even while my Canadian passport offers me an escape route many now openly envy.
Only time will tell what we’ll choose.