On May 27, 2014, forty-four men and women from 28 different countries became naturalized citizens of the United States of America in Charlotte, NC. One of them was my friend Sonali.
I had never been to a citizenship ceremony before. I went because I felt it was important to bear witness to this landmark event in a friend’s life—it seemed wrong that she should have to drive alone more than 2 hours each way and make this transition without any support from her community. But I didn’t know quite what to expect of the experience.
I’m not a very nationalistic person. I don’t think the USA is the best country for everyone and anyone, all the time. I am sometimes ashamed, embarrassed, or appalled by what my government does in my name, or by the way I and my fellow citizens behave. But I am a patriot: I believe that our fundamental ideals are good and noble ones, and that citizenship is a privilege and a responsibility to be exercised thoughtfully and diligently.
The videos were cheesy, the President’s greeting canned and predictable. The immigration officer’s delivery was stilted and rote. There were a surprising number of references to God.
I shed a tear anyway. Here were 44 people for whom the United States still represents opportunity and welcome. They will make our country richer—as much in wisdom, experience, and perspective as economically. I hope they will become politically engaged and actively take part in making us a better nation.