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The Gift Of Citizenship

The Gift of Citizenship

My email inbox and social media feeds have been inundated with the “Go Vote!” message. It definitely needs to be out there, shouted loud and clear. Past low voter turnout and its consequences mean especially in this election and in 2020, there’s a great deal at stake.

The rights and responsibilities we have as US citizens are often buried in the melee of work, family, finances, health issues, drama and the stress of our every day lives. Then we complain when the jury duty summons comes in the mail. We groan when we see the complicated wording on ballot measures. And these only happen once in awhile.

What about the every day stuff? We ask ourselves why no one picks up the trash on our street. We wonder if we should call the cops on the neighbor’s loud music at two in the morning. We lie awake on the 4th of July waiting for the gun shots and fireworks to end.

Life in a democracy is indeed a complicated mix of pursuing our own happiness and dreams, and looking out for the common, greater good.

In the forefront of the international debate right now is the plight of immigrants. In the US, the path for so many toward visas, green cards, and ultimately citizenship comes with strong feelings. About our history and our identity as a nation and as individuals.

It’s very difficult for those of us born in this country to understand how precious citizenship is for those who don’t have it. In my work with immigrants, I have come to know many people who were able to make their dream of being a citizen a reality. For them, it is a valuable gift. Once they receive it, they treasure it. I have learned that it is a process that can take years, requiring patience and persistence. It takes a good deal of money as well. People save every nickel and dime to make this happen.

No one more so than my husband who became a naturalized citizen in 2007. I wanted it for him almost as much as he did. I’ll never forget the day he walked out of his naturalization interview with a smile on his face that said he’d passed all the tests. He was so proud.

The most moving of all though, was the citizenship ceremony. I didn’t expect to feel the excitement and anticipation of the crowd as family and friends smiled and waved to their loved one sitting up front. To see such joy and tears of happiness on the faces of the new citizens as they took their oath. To feel so proud to be part of a country that welcomed diversity.

Because his citizenship is a gift, I’ve never seen my husband take it for granted. He’s upheld the rights and responsibilities of his citizenship in the last 11 years to a greater degree than most people I know. He’s fully immersed in being an active citizen: going to town halls to meet our representatives, phone banking and canvassing neighborhoods before elections, volunteering at voter registration booths at citizenship ceremonies and even being a poll worker for this election.

I am proud of him and inspired to do more. Perhaps next year I’ll be a poll worker alongside him. But for today, I’ll hold my rights as a citizen dear, never take them for granted, and vote.


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