Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Now it's official!

Let me make this clear. I love the Philippines - it's just not an easy place to live. Too many petty crimes, cracked sidewalks, garbage everywhere, pesky insects in all shapes and sizes.

Coming here was very exciting for me, although my decision to stay was a bit frightening. I wasn’t automatically eligible for jobs since I didn’t have a work visa, and I knew I would be somewhat dependent on my mom. Fortunately, there were jobs one can do under the table. I baby sat and cleaned houses until I met my husband Ken.

I finally felt safe.

Although Ken was my immigration sponsor, it took a long time to become a citizen: one year to get my green card, then another year for permanent residency and another before I could apply for naturalization. The government doesn’t make the process easy, but it has been worth the wait. Life in the United States has been good to me.

I was fingerprinted, passed citizenship tests last January that challenged my knowledge of the Constitution and was finally called to take the oath today, February 17, a day after the President’s day. This just added one more reason how special this month is for me.

I became an American today at exactly... oops, I don't have a watch. Darn it!

Anyway, my favorite part of the ceremony was when the judge read off the names of all the different countries the attendees represented. She asked us to stand up when our country was called. I wish my son Cedric could have taken a video of that moment. It was truly awe-inspiring. I looked around the room at everyone’s smiling faces. Some were teary-eyed. The feeling of affinity I felt was overpowering. We knew this was a tremendous occasion. Overall, 99 people from over 45 countries became citizens today.

Now it’s official. I can vote and I have a voice in our political system. I can leave the U.S. without being afraid I won’t be able to return. I can worship who or what I want without repercussions. I can speak out against the government, if need be(are you reading this, Patrick?). I can continue to dream big and I’m presented with many more opportunities to make them a reality. I feel safe knowing I live in the wealthiest Country in the world.

My naturalization ceremony was a testament to the American spirit. I looked around me and realized that this wasn't just about the journeys all these people have made. It was about the potential of all that we could achieve in this new nation. I wonder what they were thinking as they, too, became U.S. citizens. Do they have the same emotions I have? Was their joy tinged with the melancholy of giving up a homeland?

My eyes welled as I began the oath. I knew that swearing allegiance to the red, white and blue gave me new nationality. But nothing can ever take away my identity as many other people living in America who were born in other countries must have known.

My Filipino roots run deep, and I will strive to carry with me every day the very best of two lands.

And that's precisely what make this nation great.

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