This past week has been one where my personal experience has intersected with greater national political and socioeconomic environment around me. Like most people, a lot of what happens in the world I view from afar. Threw the lenses of media and citizen journalists we get to experience a point of view set out by those who report and the medium they share those experience. When the opportunity to share in something out of our norms presents itself it can enlighten our perception.
My sister-n-law, who was born in Vietnam and came to the states as a child, became a citizen of the United States of America this past week. The ceremony at the ballroom at the Minneapolis convention center was a happy and joyous occasion for the over one thousand people from 93 countries who had chosen this country as their home. Everyone of them had chosen to go threw the process of answering citizenship questions like how many members of congress are there, the background checks, and the nearly thousand dollars it cost. And not one could not hide the pride on their face.
The ceremony itself was moving. The Judge that perceived had the same glow of pride and honor has he encourage photography to capture this moment. As he read the countries represented in the room the applicants stood up. I heard the names of countries I hear in the news so often; Egypt, Greece, Spain, Chili, Indonesia… I also hear the countries that make up my mutt like European heritage; Norway, Germany, Sweden, Ireland… Then there are those countries where deadly conflict still continues; Sudan, Syria, Somalia, Afghanistan… All of these people come here. All came to America. Not only did they come here but they have decided to become a part of a country whose founding was upon the backs of those who did the same.
I couldn’t help but be moved as they took an oath to our country that asks more than any oath I have taken to it. As everyone rose to recite the pledge of allegiance, it was us Americans that were fooled by the repeat-after-me format. In this moment I realized that the gifts of just being born a citizen of these United States have given me. That the free speech I firmly believe in and think is not protected enough here is on a different level than many of the 93 countries represented. That the more perfect union is still a work in progress and these people think ours is closer to that perfect union than most.
I also think of many of my great-grandparents who came to this country for a lot of the same reasons. To escape persecution. To make a new start. For opportunities not offered in their homeland. While the names of the countries being left my not be the same, my forefathers have more in common with them than I do. They want to have the same gifts I had growing up here not for them but for their children and great-grandchildren.
What seem a bit cheesy to me when it started was the song that played at the end of the ceremony. As Lee Greenwood began to sing “God Bless the USA” I rolled my eyes. But at the end of the first verse these new citizens began to wave the little hand held flags as we heard “‘Cause the flag still stands for freedom and they can’t take that away.” By the end of the song I was holding my grandma close and singing “I’d gladly stand up next to you.” as one man in the front row pulled out a big flag and waved it jumping up with pure enthusiasm. For him and everyone present it held true that “There ain’t no doubt I love this land.”
The problems in our world have effect many of these non-citizens more harshly than I will ever know or experience. What I do know is that these people from 93 countries came here and stood up for this country. We came here from 94 countries and left standing for 1.