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My First Canada Day: Greg Robinson

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GREG ROBINSON UNITED STATES
Greg Robinson

Name: Greg Robinson

Country: United States

Why did you decide to come to Canada?
The immediate reason I came to Canada was that I was offered a job as a professor in Montreal. The History Department at l'Université du Québec à Montréal needed a specialist in history of the United States who could teach in French. They had apparently gone through a search among Canadians, and had been unable to find any qualified francophone candidate. As a result, they were willing to hire a foreigner. I had learned French in high school and had been a French major in college, so even though my French was rusty, it was good enough for me to start work.

The larger reason that I came to Canada, though, was to stay together with my partner. He had come from Southeast Asia to the United States on a student visa, and we had met in New York and moved in together. Once he completed his studies, his student visa expired, and in the aftermath of 9/11 he could not find any business willing to sponsor him for a visa as a foreign national. I had no way to marry my partner or otherwise keep him in the country legally, as I would have if he had been a woman. Instead, he was forced to leave, and we faced permanent separation. It was my great good luck to get the position in Montreal, as I could bring my partner up to live with me and get him legal residence in Canada -- initially as a common-law partner under Canadian law, eventually as my spouse.

How are you celebrating Canada Day?
I have a cousin from Chicago who is visiting Montreal for a conference, and then staying at my house. I will no doubt spend the day taking him around to the Old Port and some of the other touristy parts of Montreal -- the parts that I seldom get to visit on my own.

What's your favourite thing about Canada?
There are many things Canadian that warm my heart -- from smoked meat sandwiches, tourtière, and hard cider to the stunning natural beauty I have found across the country. Still, if I had to name a favourite thing about Canada it would be the bilingual character of the country, and the presence of French Canadians. I am amazed by the formidable cultural and intellectual production of French-speaking artists from Robert Lepage and Michel Tremblay to Ying Chen and Dany Laferrière.

What has been your best moment so far in Canada?
Two rather different moments really stand out for me. One was when I got married at the Palais de Justice in Montreal, in what at that time was a civil union. In addition to feeling the sentiment of the moment, I was charmed by the ceremony. After the attending judge read the applicable provisions of law, she concluded, "By the laws of the province of Quebec, I now pronounce that you are united in bonds of civil union. You may now kiss your spouse."

The other supreme moment for me was attending the swearing-in ceremony and becoming a Canadian citizen. I had not predicted that it would be such an emotional occasion, but as I pronounced the citizenship oath, sang the national anthem, and listened to the speeches, I repeatedly found myself tearing up. No doubt because my leaving my native land and moving to Canada had not been altogether voluntary, being accepted at long last as a full Canadian gave me the feeling of arriving safely home at the end of a long journey.

What would you consider a Canadian attribute?
It would be difficult to isolate one distinctive characteristic of Canadians. Of course, I admire and celebrate the spirit of openness that has made it possible for my spouse and I to be admitted to Canada and to make our lives here on an equal basis. But even as I say this, I also feel concerned about feeding into the kind of uninformed anti-Americanism, mixed with complacency over social injustice in Canada, that I find an irritating attribute of too many of my new fellow citizens.

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