Catriona describes her horrified reaction as a child to her father’s decision that the family would become Canadian. Her story reveals how our understandings of the past can affect our comprehension of the present. The stories told to her by family members, particularly her grandmother, about her relatives’ involvement in Irish efforts for independence fit into a larger pattern of romanticizing this moment. However, it is the personal connection Catriona had to this history that affected how she felt about acquiring Canadian citizenship.
Kirsten Emiko McAllister (2006), a scholar of culture and communications, has written on her experience of examining photographs of families taken in a Canadian Japanese internment camp during the Second World War. Her interest was due in large part to her mother’s family history of incarceration in one of these camps during this period. As she examined these photos and wrestled to interpret them, “I realized that I was replaying my mother’s story, a story I had made for her.” (101) Her family’s story (particularly her mother’s) had been internalized and she could not separate it from her reading of the photographs in the archives. She explained “I had to contend with the way family photograph bears ‘a huge burden of meaning and feeling’.” (106) The signs of tensions and distress she saw in the photos were both familiar and frightening as she recognized her investment in her family’s story and how these emotions shaped her research.
Personal histories shape our understanding of larger histories. As with McAllister, Catriona’s emotional connection to the stories of her relatives’ struggle against English oppression affected her perception of her family’s efforts to become Canadian. From her perspective as a young girl, her father seemed willing to give up the stories that had captured her imagination and had considerable emotional significance for her.
Photo: The Ulster American Folk Park, Co. Tyrone.