The courtroom is quiet and I can feel the gaze of everyone present on me as I raise my hand to my heart. My eyes are welling up and my heart is bursting at the seams with love. As the “The Star-Spangled Banner” plays I can hardly breathe as the last 11 years flash by in my mind.
I was 12 years old when I first moved to the United States of America from London, England. I thought I knew what living in America would be like; I had watched all the classic American movies — “Clueless,” “Mean Girls” and “Lizzie McGuire.” I felt prepared. What I wasn’t prepared for was the language barrier and culture shock that I experienced.
Columbus, Ohio was not London, England, and I found it hard to make America my home.
To become a citizen of the United States of America there is an involved process. First, you must be qualified to apply by being a permanent resident for at least five years.
Second, you must fill out a lengthy application detailing your life history and your attempt to naturalize yourself into the American culture.
Third, you must pass a background check and take a biometrics test. Then, you take the dreaded citizenship test, which actually is easy if you paid attention in your high school U.S. history class and you have picked up a newspaper from time to time.
If everything looks good and your application goes through, they send you a letter telling you where your naturalization ceremony will take place. You show up, hand in your permanent residency card and take an oath to the United States. Then you say the pledge of allegiance and sing the “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
It is a lengthy process and a serious one, so you can understand my hesitation in order to make sure I was ready for such a commitment.
The stereotypes of Americans being ignorant, arrogant, boisterous, uncultured and barbaric had been perpetuated in my mind for so long, and I had a hard time getting past it. Of course I knew that this was just a stereotype, and I had many American friends that were the opposite of this stereotype, but it was a pride-filled stumbling block on my way to becoming an American. I didn’t want to be a ‘Merican, or be a part of the ‘Merica culture.
My father sent me an email that listed all the reasons I should become a citizen: I could travel between the countries freely; I wouldn’t have to keep renewing my permanent residency card; and I could vote. The only one that really appealed to me was voting: Representation for my taxation, right? That is when I realized what being American really meant.
At the beginning of the Constitution of the United States of America it reads:
“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
“We the people,” three simple but powerful words. To me being American means being part of “We the people.” It means defending the Constitution, defending the First Amendment, standing up for what I believe in, and fighting against the American stereotype.
Becoming American means fighting for the right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” It means being informed and getting involved in local politics. It means exercising my right to vote. I believe in the founding fathers’ vision for this country and believe that the “American Dream” is still attainable.
I am proud to be British, and London will always be my home, but I have another home now. Columbus, Ohio, Spokane, Washington and Provo, Utah will always have special places in my heart.
So I stand here as “The Star-Spangled Banner” plays, choked up because I believe in America, I love America and I am proud to be an American. I am proud to call America home.
“I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”