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My First July 4th – As an American Citizen…

I am a born and raised Jamaican – a detail of my life that I am extremely proud of. Like most individuals, I believe in the value of my culture and gladly boast my heritage.

For this reason, I never expected or realized the impact that becoming a ‘Naturalized American’ would have on me.

The process to become an American Citizen can be taxing. It requires several years of continued residency, a hefty application fee, a biometrics appointment, civics test and a personal interview – all while  demonstrating upright moral character.

While going through this process, with each interaction, a federal agent makes it clear that it is to be taken very seriously. Yet, even with those constant reminders and through all of the hard work, I did not quite understand the weight of what I was doing. In my mind becoming an American was a matter of practicality and necessity – “I live here now, it only follows that I should become an actual citizen,” I thought.  Even while studying for the civics test and recognizing the greatness of American history, I still did not feel necessarily ‘patriotic‘.

The Naturalization Ceremony is the last the step in the process, it “seals the deal.” It was during that ceremony that I truly understood the inheritance and honor that comes from being an American.

As I stood in a line to go through security clearance along with over 100 other immigrants, I looked around at the diversity. There were Asians (all types, Indians, Chinese, etc), African Americans, Spanish – it seemed like every ethnicity within the human race.  During the ceremony the M.C said that we, the soon-to-be-American citizens, represented 88 different countries!

The M.C called each country by name and asked us to stand when our country of birth was called. It felt great to stand and represent for Jamaica – but the most humbling part of the ceremony was yet to come. After talking about what the United States represents, showing a few films and pictures of immigrants to America and singing the national anthem, it was time to be “sworn in.” This requires taking an oath of allegiance to the United States of America. With my right hand on my heart, I swore my allegiance to the Republic and with those words became an American Citizen.

I am not sure if it was the solemness of the ceremony, the fact that I have lived in the states for approximately 12 years or perhaps I am just sappy but I felt my eyes swelling with tears as I said the oath.

I was not alone, many of the participants were also crying. The ceremony ended with the showing of a music video for the song “Proud to be an American” by Lee Greenwood – and for the first time, I sang it with true sentiment. It was an extremely emotional moment, one which I will not soon forget.

As an immigrant and someone who is well traveled, I believe I am in a unique position to evaluate American society from a comparative perspective.

The United States is not short of critics – both its citizens and foreigners alike express judgment on the nation. However, the freedoms, conveniences and comfort I experience living in the States is not easily found elsewhere.  I do not take for granted the blessing it is to call this great land my home.

I will never forget where I come from and I still (and will always) refer to Jamaica as “home.”  However, as I experience my first July 4th as a U.S citizen I can honestly say that I am proud to be an American. I am grateful that I have been afforded the opportunity to be a part of this great nation.

Happy Birthday, America, my ‘home away from home’.

Suzanna     ~  Jamaican by birth, American by choice.