On a day in
1998 1988, [Typo — Ed.] I went to the courthouse with my husband and a few friends. I have a picture. I was wearing a pink skirt suit and looked very young, even though I was then 26.
I said the words that made me forever an American, one of you:
I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.
I had been eligible to apply for citizenship for – I think, the laws have changed and I don’t remember clearly – two years before I did so. I wanted to make sure.
Elsewhere I’ve written about “Fit in or f*ck off.” Elsewhere I’ve written about acculturation. Acculturation is the process of — consciously or not — changing cultures. Children do it the most easily, but often the most incompletely. If your parents are still from the originating culture, you’ll learn a bit of that at home, even as you learn the new culture at school and the neighborhood. You’ll be caught in the middle. This is, by the way, the reason second-generation immigrants often hate the new country and provide the largest pool of terrorists.
Acculturation for adults, if it’s to happen at all, must be a conscious process. You must learn to see your old culture and your new culture and choose to change. You have to be aware of the old thought processes and replace them. You have to consciously learn to think in the language and will yourself not to fall back on the old patterns.
It’s work. Depending on how much work you put into it, it can be very complete. It is much the same as any other work of profound internal change.
I did mine before I applied for citizenship. I wanted to be sure. Because if I did go through with it, if I did swear that oath, I was going to be an American. I was not only going to bleed red, but white and blue too. If you cut me in half, you’d find the stars and stripes emblazoned on my heart.
For many reasons, I had no great loyalty to Portugal, but I had a loyalty to my parents, my family, my friends. I knew my renouncing Portuguese citizenship would hurt them. I also knew that more than my simply leaving the physical country, my renouncing and changing my citizenship would make it more difficult for me to go back. Oh, never mind the paperwork. That was easy. Portugal recognizes dual citizenship. But my changing myself to take the citizenship, and that oath — I believe in standing by my word — would make it difficult to acculturate back in Portugal.
But I’d fallen in love with America. Sure, the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, the way people argue and fight to keep as much individual liberty as possible. But with other things too. Proceeding from those documents, from a government by the people and for the people — and people not as an amorphous mass but as a mass of individuals each with rights — there is a goodness about America, a respect of even utter strangers greater than in any country I’d visited till then. The meanest and poorest woman is called a “lady” and the barely brushed-off town drunk a “gentleman.” Salespeople view their job as one of service, not a sinecure. Merchants competing for your dollar try to appeal to you, not dictate to you the conditions of service.
Makes a difference. It does. As does the way people rally when there’s a disaster, and try to take care of themselves and their families, yes, but also total strangers.
And I’d worked. I’d worked at becoming an American.
Afterward came the INS crawling all over our papers and asking the strangest questions about things like the fact we had no children (despite much trying). They wanted to make sure we had a real marriage, see, not a sham to get citizenship. I’m all right with that.
Because it’s important to want to be an American. And it’s important to do it properly so you know you belong. It’s important to believe in the rights of others to their own liberty and their own property. You can be a citizen of this great country with no chicanery.
On that day I took the oath like I took my marriage vows. As words that change you inside. Afterward, we went out to lunch, then came home, and I went out to get the mail, and I felt that this was now my country — that I belonged. We all have a place in the world, and this is mine.
I’m an American. It’s an amazing thing to be, a part of a country that’s something new in the world.
You see, the natural way for humans to live is to be subjected to some tyrant, to the whims of some strong man. Some other countries, like England, have curbed (used to have curbed) the rights of those in power to mistreat them. But no country has devoted itself as fully to the cause of individual liberty as we have.
Sure, we squabble over what that means, and some of our elected officials are disgraces. Sure, we face a very difficult fight to continue existing. Yes, the socialists in the failed state to the South pose a danger, because we can’t afford Venezuela on our doorstep or the streaming hordes coming over the border to make us into copies of what they left behind. (And you thought Californians were bad.) Sure, many of our compatriots are that only in name and seem to want only to bring us low and destroy us.
What? You expected a cake walk?
We are something quite new in the world. You expected the old to accept us with applause?
Our very existence shames them and makes them feel their smallness. And of course they’ve convinced the weak-minded in our midst — many of them self-proclaimed intelligentsia — to fight on their side and against us.
No one said it would be easy. Liberty is always a generation from extinction. And that’s if we’re lucky.
But if you believe, if you carry the idea of the USA in your heart, and the belief in individual liberty in your soul, you’ll pledge your life, your fortune, and your sacred honor to carry it through and make sure generations yet unborn get to experience this miracle, this wondrous place we call America. And you’ll devote your life to making sure that unlike the present, miseducated multitudes, they know how lucky they are.
It is a great price to pay, but the purchase is beyond price. All we can do is struggle towards it, each of us, every day of our lives.