What does your America look like?
For myself, America remains a nation that often falls short of its promise. Like Barack Obama would often say, we are still working to achieve a more perfect union. It is a long, slow process. Injustices happen every day. We still have not reconciled our unpleasant past from Native American genocide to slavery to our current criminal justice system that intentionally targets people of color. Our political system that promises to give everyone a voice frequently places unnecessary barriers for those who simply want to cast their ballot. We have those who use their religious beliefs to persecute others and we have those who believe they are genetically superior simply because of their family's region of origin. And we have an entire political party that has abdicated his basic oath to protect and defend our constitution, and instead, coddle a wannabe dictator and his cabal of criminals.
But through it all, America ensures. Like the protagonists in Brokeback Mountain, I simply cannot quit America. She is my home. She is my family's home. She is my friends' home. Outside of a semester spent abroad and occasional international travel, she is all I have ever known. She's like your annoying little sibling: you keep waiting for her to mature and stop acting up. You know that she knows better. You know she'll get it right eventually. But in the meantime, she drives you absolutely crazy.
And like your annoying little sibling, you have to simply marvel at her when she gets it right.
Earlier today, I attended my first naturalization ceremony. It had been on my radar since I started my current job and the stars just happened to align and I had a free morning with which I could attend the event. As much as this was for me, this was also for the community. I was there with an amazing group of leaders from the local League of Women Voters chapter, who not only set up tables and handed out American flags but also distributed voter registration forms to each and every soon-to-be new citizen. They even were part of the ceremony itself as the League's president spoke those in attendance and walked them through the voter registration form. At the end of the event, we collected and reviewed the forms to mail to over two dozen town and city clerks ahead of the fall election.
But this event was not about us. It was about the 613 new citizens who came here from 78 countries. They ranged in age from college students to senior citizens. They brought their spouses, their extended families, and their children to a midday ceremony. They were diverse in their faiths, their cultures, their languages, and their reasons for coming to this country. Yet, there they were. Together. Taking an oath, pledging the flag, and hearing the national anthem. Their families took pictures from the balcony, waved down below, and shed a few tears of joy. Their small American flags were their second most treasured item behind only their newly acquired citizenship document that they held onto and kept safe like it was worth a million dollars. Because for them, this new, hard-earned, simple piece of paper was beyond value.
This is my America. A melting pot of those willing to sacrifice everything to come to a country that we take for granted. We still have our flaws, don't get me wrong. We have a lot of them. But in no other country can we see 613 individuals come together at a single time, to hear an audio recording of the president welcoming them to a country while simultaneously advocating for their removal. This irony is not lost on our newest citizens and honestly, it drives them to prove the president wrong. These are people who have been fighting their whole lives and have been told they are unworthy either for how they look, what faith they practice, what professional they want to pursue, or whom they love. The president is only the latest in a line of people in power who doesn't believe them to be worthy. They see this, and there is nothing they would want to do more than to succeed in spite of him.
In that way, they are already American. They face challenges that their predecessors faced when it comes to a large segment of the population that would love to see them fail. Like their predecessors, they face those in power that are scared of the changing face of the country, a face that their wide range of complexions perfectly exhibits. But they are undeterred. They've already endured the past 20 months at a time when there were countless days when they woke up not knowing if they would be allowed to continue their citizenship process. They've heard their home countries referred to as shitholes. They've had those that share their faith denied entry to this country. They've seen and heard the worst America has to offer and yet at the end of today, there they stood, proud to call America their home.
And I, for one, am proud to be there, standing right behind them.
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