On becoming American
Sometimes the rug gets pulled right out from under you. You don’t know until you hit the ground. And then it makes you think a bit about what you have taken for granted.
It has been a while since someone I know has actually taken the plunge to become American. It happened a lot after college when classmates from far off lands forswore princes and potentates and joined Team America. I attended a number of swearing in ceremonies. There were tears of joy, little American flags, tons of food and cake, and nothing but pride. It was moving but it was a long time ago. In the 80’s and 90’s becoming American was a no-brainer.
There were a few instances in the early 2000’s when a spouse would throw in the towel and join the team because, well, what the heck. After the 9/11 attacks threatened to turn green card spouses into IRS hounded foreign enemies with frozen bank accounts, it just made sense. Call your congressman/woman and get it sorted. It seemed more administrative.
Then, the other day, a friend of mine let me know that he had pulled the trigger on US citizenship. Apparently, because he wanted to.
He didn’t have to. He was from Canada. We have loads of people from Canada who spend their whole lives south of the border. You might be surprised that some of these aliens have lived amongst us for decades.
No, this was a case of someone who decided he wanted to be American.
Like the movies.
I wish I could have said something more profound than “congratulations”. Something more meaningful like “Welcome Home” to convey that I considered him just as American as me and the other 330m of his new country men and women. That being an American was not about how many generations your family has in the US but the fact that the person just out of the courthouse is as American as someone whose ancestor crossed the Delaware with George Washington. I always thought that was the coolest thing about being American. This was a nationality of choice, of a desire to fulfill the lofty ideals of the Declaration and the Constitution, not a historical accident.
I stumbled over my response, too late and definitely more than a dollar short. But, my friend was American now. He understood. It’s all good because we agree on the key points while we are free to fuss about the details.
My fumbled response combined with his gracious demeanor…yup, we are all just Americans now. And that is the good and important thing to remember.