A couple years ago I took the leap: I decided to become an American citizen. I came here from Canada 12 years ago, and after weighing in on numerous conversations about the state of America’s political direction, I finally reached the conclusion that if I was going to live here, I wanted to be able to vote. The steps to become a citizen are rather daunting, but I treated it as just another bureaucratic process. That is, until my day came to be sworn in as an American citizen.
On the appointed day, at the appointed hour, I showed up at the local courthouse for the ceremony. I took my seat in the waiting room and quickly realized that of the twenty or so people that were becoming citizens that day, I was the only native English speaker in the group. I was also the only person who came on my own. All of my fellow citizens to be were accompanied by family members and friends who were there to witness the occasion. After being ushered from the waiting room to the official room we took our seats and one by one were asked to stand, say our name and indicate what country we were from. Vietnam, Cuba, Slovenia, Chad, Albania, Nicaragua. The list went on. It was like the United Nations.
Then the video played. It was George Bush himself, in a disembodied virtual form, welcoming us into this fine country. My stomach started to churn. Then, under oath, we had to renounce our relationship with our mother country and agree to bear arms to serve and protect the good old US of A if circumstance demanded it. Now my stomach was really churning. What I had framed as “just another bureaucratic process” was in fact turning into emotional turmoil. What was I doing?
Then a funny thing happened. I looked around me and realized that for every other participant in the ceremony this was a moment of supreme joy. It seemed that all my fellow citizens-to-be had made significant journeys to come to this country. For them, citizenship meant a new beginning ripe with opportunity. I realized that regardless of the current political realities, America, at its best, represented a moral center to the world. I thought about the Bill of Rights, framing democracy in the constitution, and America’s leadership in defeating fascism during World War II. Maybe our current reality obscures some fundamental truths about what this country really represents. It’s true that the latest Pew global opinion poll indicates that the misguided war effort continues to drag the United States down in the world’s eye’s, finding that 33 of 47 countries polled expressed a dislike for American ideas about democracy. But perhaps what the poll actually reflects is a profound disappointment in America’s failure to live up to its own high ideals and standards.