On November 19th, 2020, a long time friend became a naturalized United States citizen. He is one of more than 800 thousand newly minted American citizens. Total (834,000) new citizens in FY 2019. Below are his reflections on becoming a citizen by choice after 25 years living in the country. I first learned about his naturalization journey on a Facebook post when he shared the process of taking the citizenship test, The post invited his Facebook friends to
take the USCIS - Civics Test Introduction, a test that was soon after changed. A new and expanded version of the civics test went into effect on Dec. 1. I had taken a citizen exam decades ago on the path to becoming a citizen. In the past decades, many millions have become citizens by choice and naturalization. New Americans from nearly every corner and nation of the world. Different races, religions, political ideologies skills, financial situations, enlarging the tapestry of the body politic. In reflecting on the process, I am intrigued with the opportunities, potential and energy of the new Americans to help the rest of us immigrants and those brutally forced into slavery and of course the native Americans who were treated so harshly, to shed a light on the vision that had been at the core of our founding. I am intrigued with the idea of infusing meaningful shared rituals that accompany the becoming a citizen process. The idea for an Americanization Day, when we reflect and celebrate the new citizens, can be part of the process. Anyone interested to learn more and to share their thoughts is invited.
Today I became an American.
I am not the first and will not be the last Canadian to become a naturalized American citizen. But today, I did it. After 25 years here, I finally jumped in with both feet. And although I'm not unique, I have a few thoughts to share on what this all means to me.
America's been very very good to me. I am grateful for what I have been able to achieve since coming here, for myself, and for my family. As a family, we appreciate our good fortune and the freedoms we do, in fact, enjoy. And we are keenly aware of the privilege of our position as well.
But this was not an easy choice for me. For 25 years, my personal identity was defined by being "Not American." Even more than by being Canadian. Having left Canada at age 24 for 12 years in Israel, and 25 here, I've been out of Canada way longer than I was in.
Many friends have asked, Why now? Of all times, now you want to become an American? What's up with that?
There were a few practical considerations. And some deep personal factors, based on what it means to me to engage in a community.
It's less complicated to deal with finances upon one partner's death if both are citizens. That's a vague notion we never fully explored - perhaps a contributing factor. Similarly, we developed a concern for Nancy's future ability to access my Social Security if I were not a citizen; maybe unfounded, but a consideration in the current political climate. Becoming a citizen would improve our peace of mind around those issues.
But most important was the decision I made to put my second foot in. To embrace the political process, to vote, and to participate fully.
Many years ago, an American friend said to me, "The USA is the best country in the world." I'm not sure he stills feels that way, or would still make that assertion, but that stark idea has stuck with me and haunted me for all the years I live here.
Is America the best country in the world? Certainly not at the moment; but then which is? It would be easy for me to say Canada. But as I get older, and have lived in 3 countries, I see no simple, objective answer. Different countries are better at different things.
I am grateful to have a choice and to have chosen 2 citizenships in my life besides the one I was born into.
As I prepared this morning for the Naturalization Oath Ceremony, I was a bit nervous. I shaved carefully and dressed neatly. This is the only completely secular ritual I've participated in that I can remember. But it felt like getting ready for Rosh Hashanah! I kept feeling the urge to grab a kippah!
COVID-19 made the ceremony complicated. But it was very moving. It took over an hour to process everyone's paperwork, and to collect our green cards. The judge presided over a video connection. There were 38 people in my group, representing every continent except Australia. Most had waited years for this day, with apprehension and fear. Most with hope and dreams for their families. You could feel it in the room and see it in their eyes, above their masks!
The US was created in revolution with an exaggerated belief in individual freedom. That has stood the test of time for the most part, but every so often needs to be pulled back from the extremes. America depends on the tension between the individual and the whole. Canada was an act of the British parliament. The American railway was created by capitalism and entrepreneurs. The Canadian railway was largely a national project.
Is America a great country? Unlike so many other countries, America's greatness is in its promise.
Barbara Jordan, was an American lawyer, educator, and a leader of the Civil Rights Movement. She was a Democrat, and the first African American elected to the Texas Senate after Reconstruction. Jordan was also the first Southern African-American woman elected to the Congress. Jordan wrote: "What the people want is very simple - they want an America as good as its promise."
Like her, that seems to me like something worth working for. And I am indeed proud to join the struggle.