05. 09. 2016
Mandy hits the play button on the YouTube clip of the Australian National Anthem and all of us assembled in the Bordertown Council Chambers sing along (with varying degrees of fluency) as we follow the bouncing ball on the screen.
Yakob, Saied, Bipemacho and Ninneh have come to Australia from different corners of Africa: Eritrea, Liberia, Sudan and the Congo. Now, they all pledge an oath of allegiance to their new country and, with a handshake from the Mayor, receive their certificates of citizenship. We all applaud enthusiastically – more enthusiastically than what we’ve sung the anthem, in most cases – and then we take photographs. From her place on the back wall, above the Australian flags, the Queen of England casts a benevolent smile over proceedings. (I have to say that she’s looking remarkably young for a 90 year old!)
Our new citizens have friends and family here to help them celebrate this auspicious occasion, including some Afghani men from the citizenship class that’s running at the Migrant Resource Centre across the road. It’s great for these men to witness the ceremony because it gives them hope that they too may one day receive their certificate emblazoned with the Australian coat of arms.
Citizenship bestows certain rights and privileges, but it can also signify a kind of belonging. It’s provides important protection and securities, the value of which is keenly felt by anyone who has migrated from a country where their situation was not so safe or secure. But the most valuable thing about citizenship for many migrants is that they can now apply to bring members of their family to join them in their new country.
Here’s another way of thinking about citizenship: it’s a key to becoming truly settled in a new home. The opposite of being settled is to be just passing through, without any proper connection. A person may be living and working amongst us, present in a physical sense, but their heart and their spirit may be elsewhere, back in the place where their family is still living and to which they themselves may one day have to return. As we share sandwiches and cakes with our new African friends, what we’re really celebrating is that each of these people is now actually one of us. Our awkward singing of the national anthem has somehow had the effect of a magic doorway and, now they’ve passed through, Yakob, Saied, Bipemacho and Ninneh are no longer the same.