How I Became a Citizen of the United States of America

My parents had sex; nine months later I was born. My citizenship is a result of dumb luck. I did not work for it or yearn for it. I did not have to struggle to get to this country. Citizenship was a gift.

I have not felt the burn of bigotry or prejudice because of where I come from. I have not been made to feel unwanted because of the way I look, dress, speak, worship, or otherwise live my life. So many have suffered discrimination because they were not born here. My grandparents came here to escape poverty in hopes of building better lives for themselves, their families, and I imagine it was not easy. I cannot claim their struggle as my own; I slid into this citizenship the day I was born.

This seems to be, at least in my case, a pretty good nation in which to live. However, my experience is limited as I have only ever lived here. I love our nation’s professed belief in human rights; the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; freedom of speech and religion; equality and justice for all. Wonderful ideals to strive for; perhaps one day we will come close to achieving those proclamations. As for patriotism, I quote George Bernard Shaw: “Patriotism is your conviction that this country is superior to all others because you were born in it.”

When I read about how so many immigrants and refugees come here to escape war, terror, injustice, persecution, famine, poverty, and so many other hardships, it becomes clear to me that my life has been easy in comparison — all because of where and when and to whom I was born. Luck. For me to believe I deserve or am owed my citizenship is presumptuous. To claim I earned it is a lie.

Those who wish, hope, and dream to come to this country because it is the “land of opportunity,” they are no different from my grandparents.

We have so much need in our country. Poverty, hunger, unemployment, and much work to be done in the areas of justice and equality. At the same time, I can’t help but feel overwhelmed by sadness thinking about those who want to come here out of desperation and are denied refuge. Children being taken from their mother’s arms. Families divided, separated. Why do you think people risk their lives, the lives of their children, leaving everything familiar that they have ever known, to come here? Do you ever try to put yourself in their place, to understand their fear/need/hunger/pain, and realize how lucky you are?

This nation of plenty, has it not the resources to help our own as well as those who desire to become one of our own? The top one percent. The deficit. Taxes. The military budget. Entitlements. Inequities. Luxuries. Consumerism. Charity. Excess. Waste. Mismanagement of funds and resources. A complicated, multitudinous, intricate mess.

The lines drawn on our maps are phantoms. Once there were none. Then over time, they were scribbled in, erased, redrawn, changed, forced upon peoples and their cultures. The imperialist drive to divide and conquer.

I was born within the borders of the United States of America. What if I had been born elsewhere? What if within those other borders I was unable to live my life without fear, or hunger, or bombs raining down on my home, or abuse and torture at the hands of terrorists? What if the country into which I had been born was led by corrupt, violent, oppressive leaders who daily threatened me? Because I was born there, does that mean I am condemned to die there? If somehow I were able to leave; if I were able to find the funds or means or strength or assistance to escape, where could I go? If I had been born in Syria, or Honduras, or Somalia, and I came to your border, would you let me in?

And, what if you were me?

Photo Credit: Mrs Airwolfhound Flickr via Compfight cc

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