I am proud to be an American. This sentence really has special meaning to me for several reasons. Number 1: I was not born an American. Number 2: I really made the sacrifice. Number 3: I am still here. This post is about Number 1: My not-so-stereotypical journey to becoming a U.S. citizen.
No, I was not born an American. Before you ask: I was born German. Before you ask again: I am from the South West, right across the French Border. Close to Ramstein Airforce Base, close to Frankfurt. Last question: I barely have an accent (sorry) and I’ve lived here for almost 9 years now. (Ok, I think I covered all the immediate questions 😉 ). So yes, I was born and raised in Germany and graduated high school there, even started college. So to me personally, saying that I am proud to be an American has a different meaning than to people born here. Because I actually made the choice to be an American, and to be proud of it.
More than anything, I actually have a real global experience, I know what it looks like in a different (even if similar) country, which allows me to really understand how differently things can be. And how difficult (or easier) it can be when things are different. I bet everyone who’s ever gone on a mission’s trip (or any other humanitarian trip) living among natives in a very poor country has a similar experience as background. So when I say I am proud to be an American, I really mean it. I really realize what that means. To me, it really means more “I am GLAD to be an American” more than anything. I get a lot of stinky looks and negative thoughts from my family about that (who are all still Germans in Germany). But it’s still true. I am very glad I get to live in this country, despite all of its imperfections, because as much bad comes with the U.S., the more good comes with it, too.
The Naturalization Decision
I became a citizen about four years ago. I was here on a green card for years, which I got immediately before moving here because I was married to a U.S. soldier. Becoming a citizen was just as easy because of that fact. I always thought I wouldn’t change my citizenship, though, because it was just such a weird concept to me. I was born and raised in Germany, I was a full German. How could I ever NOT be one? The thought of “switching to the other side” almost made me feel like a traitor. But since I was here for good, I finally decided it would only make sense to also get the according passport. Plus, at that time (to be perfectly honest), the divorce cloud was sort of hanging over our heads and I wanted to make certain that if we did end up getting divorced, I wouldn’t be in for a deportation surprise (having a kid here, I couldn’t risk that). So for safety’s sake really, I decided it would only make sense to switch citizenship.
(Have You Ever Sold Drugs?)
So after applying, getting fingerprinted and waiting for a few months (and of course A LOT of paperwork), the next step to naturalization was a written and verbal “test” – meaning I was given a set of questions, which I had to memorize the answers to and then come in to answer some of them. I thought they were so easy, an educated person didn’t have to study them in the first place (who doesn’t know the longest river in the U.S. or the President’s name. Just saying). But that’s just me.
So I had to drive into the city to take that test and talk to a naturalization officer and answer questions such as “Have you ever sold drugs?” As a matter of fact, as I was waiting for my interview, I couldn’t help but overhear another interview. And I heard the officer ask that particular question to whomever was in his office. “Have you ever sold any drugs?” I didn’t hear that applicant’s answer, but I heard the officer say repeatedly: “Are you sure?” “Are you really sure?” So I thought there’s either a really huge moron sitting in there admitting to selling drugs, or a real bad boy who was found out and tried to lie his way out of it. Either way, this step was obviously going to be a breeze for me.
So to ME, the first step to becoming a citizen felt rather silly. I did have to give up my German citizenship (on paper anyway), which was a really hard decision to make. And that thought slowly started to settle in a bit. After all, I was not a fugitive, an illegal immigrant, or someone who, for any reason, just had to get away from the country they were born into. Becoming a U.S. citizen was not some sort of a “safe myself” operation. I was just as proud to be German (and no, I don’t think there’s anything wrong for my generation to say that).
Congratulations! Here’s Your Emotions Catching You Off Guard
Now in America, you don’t just get a new passport and that’s it. We celebrate everything in style! It’s a huge ceremony with hundreds of applicants and their families. Stand up for the national anthem (oh that’s right, hand over heart for real!), some high ranking officials gave speeches, we all had to stand up and renounce our allegiance to our old country and swear allegiance to the USA. A video of the President (Obama had just been voted into office, so I remember having an “Oh, that’s right!” reaction) was shown welcoming us officially as the newest U.S. citizens and congratulated us on the achievement. Achievement. See, to ME, this really wasn’t an achievement. It was just another process of paperwork with a certain outcome. I never realized how much of an achievement it was for most until that very day. This was like a special graduation ceremony, very formal. It also felt like that afterwards, when families had parties, brought flowers, had their naturalization certificates framed… it was everything I had not at all expected! As a matter of fact, I went there all by myself, simply not realizing the significance of the event… and because of that felt completely embarrassed and out of place! And then I started feeling sad, thinking: I was supposed to bring everyone and make this the most glorious day of my life. But here I was, all by myself.
But as I was sitting there during the ceremony, with hundreds of others, it was very moving (and a little scary) when I had to say the Pledge of Allegiance for the first time with a different mind set, realizing I really have to mean it now. It was also sad, because I swore to put America first and give up Germany. I can honestly say that I had very mixed feelings about the whole thing… but I can also honestly say that it didn’t feel like I had made a bad decision. And after living here for 9 years now, it is hard to imagine to go back. America really has become my home… even though I often feel like home is still in Germany and I feel lost here. Different story, though.
The Place Where Dreams Do Come True (NOT Disneyland)
Fast forward to now. Just a few days ago, I talked to my adopted grandpa here. Since I have no more family at all around me, I found myself an adopted family to stave off loneliness. So here was my adopted grandpa, who immigrated here with his wife when they were in their 20s. He is now 86. He’s fought in WW2 for Germany and had then moved to the States to start a better life here. When I asked him why they decided to move here, he said it was because America gave them opportunities to succeed that Germany would have never had available. He said he made three times more money than he would have ever been able to make in Germany with the same education. And he’s right. As cut throat as the U.S. can be, as many opportunities it has waiting for anyone who’s savvy enough to take advantage of them. Despite it all, America truly is the land of opportunities and dreams… it’s just that Americans aren’t able to see that (because they literally don’t know what it looks like in other countries), because they never had to make a choice. Because they never had to decide whether or not to live in a place that gives you so many opportunities and freedoms. They just take it for granted. And that’s not a taking a stab at people who were born here, it’s just explaining the outsider’s perspective and putting it into that very perspective. It’s easy to constantly complain about all our first world problems (bad news on our flat screen TV) and forget to see all the good things we’re blessed with.
So Point 1: I am proud to be an American because I wasn’t born American. Yes, I am proud, because I actually made the choice. I feel that it is always more meaningful to be proud of something you did than something that just happened to happen to you. So in this sense: I really am proud to have made that decision. Because living here comes with so many perks you couldn’t have anywhere else in the world. And to go full circle to my original point in Part 1 of this series, there really isn’t much reason to complain about anything here. We are very fortunate to live in this country. I hope everyone who takes it for granted to have all the luxuries we have at our constant beck and call, can actually appreciate them again. We should be proud and glad to be Americans because, really, we have nothing to complain about here.