Words that Mean Something
Before I became a naturalized American, after twenty hard-working years in this country, I was not very enthusiastic about it. I felt that I was losing something of me, something of my Venezuelan being, by becoming a citizen of this country. However, I did it mostly because I didn’t want to risk living here with a permanent resident “alien” card, presumably renewable every ten years, and to make my family and myself “alien” citizens forever. So we went through the process of naturalization that required to fill a long questionnaire, an interview to demonstrate certain knowledge of the US constitution and history, and to show your ability to speak English. After we passed the interview, the immigration authorities set a day for the naturalization ceremony. For my delight, being a baseball fan, the ceremony happened in the Detroit Tigers’ baseball field because one of the Tigers players was also becoming American. It was a Summer day, and we were standing between the third base and home plate, along with a group of about 100 people from multiple nationalities. The judge who lead the ceremony was short and to the point, and in less than 20 minutes we were done and heading to the seats to watch the baseball game as part of the “package” of the entire ceremony.
Along with the naturalization certificate, which looks like a high school diploma with your picture in it, and with the name you choose to use in America (any name you wish), you also receive a short letter signed by the President of the United States of America (yes, I write it in capital initials to make it sound important). I now show the main paragraph of that letter. These words mean something:
“Americans are united across the generations by grand and enduring ideals. The grandest of these ideals is an unfolding promise that everyone belongs, that everyone deserves a chance, and that no insignificant person was ever born. Our country has never been united by blood or birth or soil. We are bound by principles that move us beyond our backgrounds, lift us above our interests, and teach us what it means to be citizens. Every citizen must uphold these principles. And every new citizen, by embracing these ideals makes our country more not less American.”
When I read this letter, signed by the US president of that time, I said to myself: these ideals are universal, not just American ideals. It meant that I have lived all my life being American, or better, being a universal citizen. Let us exam the letter in detail:
When he wrote: “everyone belongs” tells me that nobody should feel displaced.
When he wrote: “everyone deserves a chance” tells me that there is room to let every well behaved human being to stay here.
When he wrote: “no insignificant person was ever born” tells me that we all have the right to be heard.
When he wrote: “Our country has never been united by blood or birth or soil” tells me that all citizens of the world are Americans as long as they abide to the American (universal) ideals he mentioned.
When he wrote: “We are bound by principles” tells me that it doesn’t matter where you come from, what skin color you have, what god you pray to, or what nationality you have. What matter is to follow the ideals and principles he mentioned, and that must suffice to “feel” part of this country.
I read that letter several times in the following weeks after the Tigers’ game, and each time I read it, I felt more and more of a citizen, not just of America, but even more citizen of my dear Venezuela where I learned those ideals, and also a better citizen of this world were we all live.
That letter was written by a Republican president, George W. Bush, but that is irrelevant. I am convinced that any Democrat president would have written something similar. However, the fact that was written by a Republican president is at odds with the current position of the Republican party against the Obama’s executive actions. They are missing the point. As more and more foreigners come to America, the more American this country is. Republicans need to commit to the spirit of the letter I received, where it says “we are bound by principles that lift us above our interests” rather than thinking in the next election cycle, otherwise, a democrat president, likely a woman, will receive the majority of the votes from those naturalized Americans.
C.A. Soto Aguirre©