Thoughts of an Expat on Anzac Morning
Today is Anzac Day.
I am an American.
My mother’s family arrived in the 1680’s. I am a descendent of men who signed the Declaration of Independence and hammered out the details of our Constitution and Bill of Rights. My father’s family can point to tribes that were on the land thousands of years before that land became Mexico, then after some wars and deals, America. I am proud of my heritage and I am probably about as close to being genetically American as you are going to get.
And yet through a series snap decisions, manic moments, and economic shifts I find myself living in New Zealand. My partner is a New Zealander, True Blue as the say. My children who are planned for the next few years will be New Zealanders. They will have accents, probably eat Marmite, their head of state will be Queen Elizabeth II followed by King Charles, and if they ever go to the Olympics the odds are good that they’ll be wearing black and silver instead of red, white and blue. Though I would be very proud either way.
I do have plans to teach them about their ancestry. I will do my best to convey the importance of the men who were members of the Second Continental Congress, and who threw rocks in Boston, and did their best to stand against the Spanish then Americans despite guns and flu and alcohol. But my children’s ancestral home will be on the other side of a vast ocean from the little island country where they will almost certainly grow up. These things will be abstract to them compared to their father’s side of the family. They will be able to say they had family at the creation of two countries because their father had family at the signing of the treaty of Waitangi, and Waitangi will be a place that we drive by on family vacations. And when they tell their friends that their family was at Waitangi that will mean something to those friends.
Why am I thinking about all this?
It’s Anzac day. All over the country dawn services have just completed. At 6am they march out the veterans, the ones who can still march, medals pinned to their old suit jackets, followed by the young soldiers and sailors who look all of twelve in their crisp new uniforms. The Salvation Army Band plays hymns and a local children’s choir sings. Prayer are said and some public official of note recites They shall not grow old, and everyone watches the sun rise to remember April 25, 1915 when the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps landed on the Gallipoli Peninsula in an attempt to capture the Dardanelles. Almost one in every four New Zealander didn’t make it home from that. There are other wars they didn’t come home from either.
My family has seen its share of wars. From the Revolution to Vietnam to a cousin who was in the wrong part of the Pentagon on a September day in 2001. Despite that I can’t say I ever got up in the dark of night for a Memorial Day service.
But for Anzac day I did.
Here in Auckland, where I am able to see the Auckland War Memorial from my apartment, I am an immigrant, and no matter how much I acclimate or assimilate I will be an American first and therefor always apart. I can’t say ‘this is my iwi’, or ‘those are the gum fields my great grandfather toiled in’. There was no three month sea voyage to get here. There was an 18 hour layover in Hong Kong because I bought my ticket with frequent flyer miles. My children will be able to say those things and feel a connection to their community but the best I can do pay two dollars for a red paper poppy and stand in the chill to remember people who served a country that will never be truly mine but has been pretty nice to me so far. It’s the same reason I stood in the rain for two hours after midnight to pay my respects to Sir Ed as he lay in the cathedral the night before his funeral. Or why I cringed at the fact that John Key couldn’t manage two words of Maori during the Rugby World Cup opening ceremonies. They are little tenuous threads of connection so I feel a little less like a woman lost from her home.
So those are just my random thoughts on this Anzac Day morning. I’ll leave you with the appropriate words for the day then I’m going back to bed. Everyone be well and safe and may your loved ones always come home.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.