This past summer, I had the opportunity to witness the naturalization oath ceremony for my parents, who officially became U.S. Citizens. Watching the ceremony, I felt astounded. Old and young alike sat side by side so the rows formed a patchwork quilt of different colored hair and skin. I witnessed parents clutching the hands of children before they’d break free in attempts to run around. As people filed in there was chatter-words and phrases in unfamiliar tongues-that filled every corner of the room. Tears and wide smiles were all prevalent as they swore their allegiance to the United States and heard the powerful words,
“You are now, officially, a U.S citizen.”
It was interesting to observe everyone in the room- this diverse group of people, of all ages and ethnicities- deciding to renounce their citizenship to their former countries in favor of this one. The look of their pride on their face as they shook the hand of the immigration officer and walked back to their seat, smiling from ear to ear. To walk out of that room as American citizens is not a small moment.
As I sat in my chair, I distinctly remember feeling pride for my parents, but probably nowhere close to the emotions anyone else felt in that room. As a citizen of America, I’ve never had to work particularly hard for the rights that I reap. Sure, I cannot be expected to be a contributing member of society just yet, but it seems unfair to just take for granted all the benefits I receive. When I look at my parents, I see the struggles that they’ve gone through, because of the stories they’ve told me. A typical embodiment of the immigrant struggle, their stories relay times of hardship: no food on the table, six people sharing a room no bigger than a standard family room, life in a village, etc. I cannot fully understand the work that they’ve had to put in to build a better life for themselves, to come to America and achieve the amount of success they have. What does it mean to be a citizen? Why do we hold this word in such high value and prestige? What is the significance of having to pledge our allegiance to the flag in our classroom every day (if we so choose)?
Citizenship is an active promise to uphold your country’s values and, from what I learned at the oath ceremony, to defend the constitution. In America’s case, at least. Citizenship is a power, a tool, to create a better life by gaining these special rights that are decided upon by your country. In this way, citizenship is sort of like being part of a communal agreement over who receives what privileges. Citizenship must be a two-way street, however, because in order to accept that you receive certain rights you must make sure that you protect those rights and the ability for you to get them. If America prides itself, constitutionally, on being a country of equality, then for you to receive your rights you must make sure that you protect everyone’s ability to receive their rights. People who do this, display the most citizen-y qualities, in the context of America.
When I think of American Creed, I think of struggle. I think most of immigrants and outsiders and marginalized groups in society who have worked tirelessly to build better lives for their family. To me, they are the most deserving of the title: American. America was built as the land of opportunity, and who better suited to fit the title of American than those who have worked to make sure that they secure their opportunities and have worked to keep opportunities open to others. Individualism will only get you so far. Self-interest doesn’t breed innovation; working towards a better purpose does. Part of my American Creed is striving to create better lives for others- taking the privilege that I have: my rights, my education, my opportunities, and working to make sure that others can also have these privileges. America is a unique country, one where people from all over the world come to, with ideals that not many other countries try to uphold. How, as a nation, can we claim to be E Pluribus Unum, Out of many, one, if we don’t strive to protect what makes this country unique: its people.