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July 4th: Two Meanings

Posted by admin | July 5th, 2007 | Filed under Personal Reflection, Who We Are

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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.

6 Responses to “July 4th: Two Meanings”

  • July 5, 2007 at 10:35 am | Mark says

    Ian,

    First of congratulations! Nice to see a thoughtful look at what differences there are in those choosing to fully join in the American experience. Don’t worry about the ‘churn’ in your stomach, all of us have that feeling everyday. Sometimes more often recently, than before…but, it really is about having the bar set high. Any failure to clear that bar seems dissappointing to us all.

    Don’t forget, and hopefully this is true, that all politics are local and we can force change from the smaller community outword.

    Best,

    Mark

  • July 6, 2007 at 11:24 am | Amy Weissfeld says

    Ian: Quite a moving tribute and I second Mark, Congratulations! I must admit, at various times over the past 8 years I have thought about running away to Canada. Never seriously, but still, there’s something very attractive about Canada’s pacifism. Sometimes it’s downright embarrassing to be an American. But when I remember the ideals this country is founded upon, and how lucky we are to live here and be able to disagree with our President, to loudly and profoundly disagree with some of the administration’s policies, I am grateful. Your voice is a welcome one!

    –Amy

  • July 6, 2007 at 11:42 am | ian says

    Amy,

    I just saw Michael Moore’s new film Sicko. It made we want to run back to Canada.
    On dissent, I too marvel at the breath of political opinion that is expressed freely and openly in this country. It makes we wonder why the political system seems so rigidified and immune to change given the chorus of voices and dominant public opinion that has obviously moved in another direction from the status quo. I contrast that to the Canadian political scene where not long ago the liberal party, who had been in power for a decade, were thrown out because they misappropriated some funds. It was a scandal that had immediate political repercussion’s. What’s it going to take in this country to produce change?

  • July 6, 2007 at 2:26 pm | Austin Ramsland says

    Ian,
    Thanks for sharing your story. I think it helps to remind us all that being a citizen doesn’t mean being locked into a specific narrow identity, but a chance to live those ideals and the responsibility to participate in their evolution.

    The question: “What’s it going to take in this country to produce change?” reminds me of a fascinating article I saw in the New Yorker a week or so ago. One possible answer: The Independent Candidate.

    http://tinyurl.com/2jsbnn

    It suggests that while probably not enough to bring the full palette of political discourse to the forefront, it might be enough to nudge the two main parties closer towards public opinion. And while it presents an interesting concept of the American conversation, I am not sure that it fully respects the power of savvy political marketing.

  • July 8, 2007 at 9:12 pm | Al says

    Congratulations! Welcome! I have one quibble with your comments. I don’t think people in the future will think the “war effort” is “misguided” if we don’t deal with Militant Islam. It may not turn out to be a Caliphate, but the conflicts with the West have gone on for centuries. It doesn’t look like Militant Islam is interested in “talking” either. You guys can talk about “change” all you want, but you can’t keep ignoring these people to some extent and appease them to another extent. The “religion of peace” will tear down our freedoms. As for the Pew poll, I think you have to factor in the fear in Europe over dealing with Militant Islam. As the population percentages go up and the native birthrates keep falling, some parts of Europe are or will be in deep trouble. You guys are into design and you probably love Italian design. Search in Google on “+italy +birthrate” and you’ll see what is happening there. These problems cannot be ignored and the solutions are not “better design” or “technological”. Yes, creativity is required, but it’s creativity around dealing with significant problems ” low native birth rate and a large unassimilated population that does not want to assimilate. And Italy isn’t alone.

    Bush said from early on that we are dealing with terrorists (i.e. Militant Islam), that the war would take many, many years and it is like a no other war that the civilized world has had to deal with. The Democrats and other Socialists ignore all the real problems and just focus on us losing. Just today, the NT Times demands that we should exit Iraq and they admit that it is okay for Iraqi’s to die rather then for us to help them. They totally ignore the bigger issues. We are not very far away from major problems in Europe because of this Militant Islam. The idea to democratize Iraq in the face of Iran and Militant Islam is bold. We cannot afford to lose there because of the bigger issues. The anti-war people are wrong. Actually, “anti-war” is not a good word. Maybe Anti-civilization or anti-US are better phrases? I don’t have a problem with being against the war, but I do have a problem with a) people not learning about the issues and b) not offering any alternatives.

    Something is wrong with the Democrats when all they can focus on are eight US Attorneys whose jobs are politically appointed and there are very difficult and real problems that we face.

    Finally, here’s an excerpt from JFK’s inaugural address: “Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.4 This much we pledge”and more.”

    This is why we are in Iraq and why we need to help Europe. Welcome to the US. As they say, Live Free or Die.

  • July 18, 2007 at 5:14 pm | Chloe Hallock says

    Ian,

    Although I am American, I feel a very strong kinship to Canada after attending university there for the past two years. It has been difficult making the transition back to living in the States, especially with all of the pressing political issues encircling our lives. It often feels hopeless when numerous people and organizations are trying so hard to make a change and not producing the desired results. However, in response to your question “What’s it going to take in this country to produce change?” I believe we are slowly but surely travelling the path. Everytime I speak with someone about the state of our country, it seems like I am informed of a new program or idea aimed at producing change. In the midst of war, poverty, and just downright fustration, this can be very uplifting. Then again, its nice to know Canada is always there…

    Chloe

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