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My Dual Loyalties Problem

Posted: 10/ 1/2011 7:00 am

I have a dual loyalties problem and, given the paranoia in Washington, D.C., it may prevent me from ever serving in a sensitive national security position.

The problem first revealed itself during the last Winter Olympics.  On Feb. 28, 2010, 200 witnesses at a Maryland pub saw me stand up and cheer as Sidney Crosby scored in overtime to give Canada the gold medal against the U.S. men's Olympic team. Two hundred people who F.B.I. agents doing a security check might contact one day to check on my patriotic bona fides if I'm ever fortunate enough to be called for U.S. government service.  The greatest hockey match of all time -- yes, even greater than when the USA beat the USSR in "the miracle on ice" in 1980 -- made me reflect on my identity and America's.

Now, with a new hockey season ramping up, I'm terrified that this will be an issue once more.

I'm a Canadian living in Washington, D.C., with a green card and an American-born son. I've loved the United States since I was a kid growing up in South Africa.   My second grade teacher once called my parents to complain about my excessive pro-American sentiment (1976 was a tough year to be an American partisan). "Mrs. Dubowitz, I know that America has the biggest army and economy but, please tell him to stop. Mark is being very disruptive in my class."

At the time, my folks were deciding between immigration to Chicago or Toronto. Since my dad wasn't a Jimmy Carter fan, he chose the Great White North only to question his decision when Reagan won four years later (it took me an additional two years to figure out that, much to my dismay, Canada wasn't an American state).

Canada has been very, very good to the family and, on my round-the-world travels, I've proudly worn the maple leaf on my backpack as an affirmation and not just to avoid getting accused of being a Yank. So when it came time to decide whom to support in this gold medal match, I had divided loyalties. Hockey is in my blood not by birth but by transfusion. As an eight-year-old boy and new immigrant, I was looking for acceptance despite a thick South African accent and immigrant parents. 

Then and now, hockey has been a means for me to emotionally gain entry to a foreign land -- a sporting way for a man to fortify the ideas and habits that define patriotism. 

As a Washingtonian, I've become a die-hard Caps fan supporting the fabulous Russian Alexanders (Ovechkin and Semin) as they fight for Washington's sports pride, which has brought regular season elation and playoff heartbreak.

A Canadian living in America rooting for Russians -- see how quickly that security clearance is slipping away. I've also lost a few Toronto friends for my traitorous abandonment of the Leafs.

But all these things in me -- and no doubt countless others -- have produced a powerful cocktail of American patriotism. There was no contradiction whatsoever for an American patriot to cheer loudly when Team Canada, the better team, defeated the younger, American upstarts, or when my Russian hockey stars, beginning their new season on Oct. 8, skate circles around their American and Canadian opponents. 

The idea of America is so big, so embracing, and so fundamentally liberal in its imagination that it permits a miscreant like me to root for Canucks and Russkies.  This is indeed an affirmation of America's greatness and part of my natural, smooth evolution -- South Africa, Canada, America -- because it's a liberal, and Anglo-Saxon, voyage.

Whether or not that's good enough for the F.B.I., I'm confident that the liberal, inclusive nature of America will permit me to remain a passionate pro-American while supporting Canada in the next Olympics -- and praying for a Stanley Cup lifted in the air by a Russian should that inshallah come to pass.

 

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