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Welcome to American

The notion exists that, in some way, every person who leaves their nation to settle in the United States is running away from something bad and towards something good.

Frankly, nothing could be further from the truth for a great deal of the immigrants that I know.  The truth is that in this nation there are many foreign born individuals who were neither tired nor hungry when they arrived on our shores.

The leaving of one’s homeland is a concept that is more than familiar to me.  I’ve often referred to my family as jet setter bedouins of the modern era.  In my head, of course.

Nearly sixty years ago, both of my grandfathers left their ancestral homes in India and crossed a man made border and became Pakistanis.  Twenty years after that, their children left Pakistan and magically became Americans.

I am a woman who is quite aware of the artificial aspects of the construct we call “nationality.”.

Still, nearly two weeks ago when we received a letter from INS instructing my husband to report to his oath ceremony I reacted with a considerable amount of glee.  “Daddy is going to be an American,” I cried to our daughter, “Isn’t that wonderful? Congratulations Daddy, isn’t this exciting?!”

My husband smiled an odd smile, not the kind of smile that I expected.  It was not the usual smile, the one that can brighten any room or get us free tickets to Disney while we’re standing at the gates with our wallet out (yes, that happened, twice).

It was... a sad smile.

The kind of smile that you force onto your face when you know that you are leaving something precious and meaningful behind.  The kind of smile that you must put on your face, so that others are unaware of the pain that lives behind it.

You see, like so many immigrants in this country, my husband has nothing to run from.

If he lived in India, his life would be beautiful and amazing.  He would fit in all the time.  He wouldn’t have to bend his mind around the most simple cultural nuances that we take for granted here.  He would never have to mow a lawn, do the dishes, or clean the pool.  Because, back home, they have people for that.

In all ways, his life would most likely have been easier in India.

These things didn’t occur to me until I saw that sad smile on his face.

That smile told me that being the native born American child of immigrants is not the same thing as being a naturalized American.

We, the children, are the beneficiaries.  We do not feel the pain as acutely of turning over the old passport for the new one.  We do not feel the sensations in our hearts that make us feel that we are somehow betraying who we are and those we have left behind.

I have no words for my husband on this day that will quiet those thoughts.  They may very well be true, I don’t know.

I do know this, though.

I can recognize that he did not decide to become American because India is a bad place or that the people were bad there.

I can recognize that opening one door means closing another, and that it is alright and completely understandable to feel ambivalent and even a little sad about that.

I can recognize that he, like my parents, did this for me and for his children.

I can recognize that as our children get older and he tells them that he became an American for them, they will grow up, as I did, with a deep feeling of importance and a sense of destiny because of his actions today.

I can recognize the incredible strength it takes to forgo one set of emotional attachments for another.

I can recognize the wisdom that we live in a world where international alliances are precarious at best, and the borders and hearts of every nation become less welcoming with every year that passes.  At the very least, having matching passports would offer us the perceived comfort of knowing that we will always be together.

I can recognize that like my parents, more than the word, “Congratulations” from me on this slightly bittersweet day, he needs to hear the words “Thank you.”

Thank you, Tariq, for becoming an American today for our family.

May this day open the doors before you to all sorts of joys, prosperity and goodness that will quiet the sad feeling that there may be some that are slowly closing behind you.

Reader Comments (79)

I totally cried when I read this entry, because my dad had that same smile when he got his citizenship a few years back. Your entries about this issue always touch a nerve so deep....and I love every minute of it.

Thank you. :)

September 24, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRobin

I've long suspected that my notions about why people become Americans were fueled by something of a nationalistic mythology (of course everyone wants to be American, why wouldn't they?) - and I am so thankful for this new approach to thinking about the concept. Thank you for writing this post.

September 24, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCoffeeJitters (Judy Haley)

I have a hard time trading in my California driver's license for a Florida one...there is no way that I can even imagine what it's like to turn over my citizenship of my native country for a new one.

Tariq is an amazing man and I wish him the best.

September 24, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterHilly

He's a great man - and we are lucky to have him as a fellow citizen. Also, I'd like him to take me and my family to Disney. :)
I'll say it, anyway - congratulations, Tariq! And thanks. :)

September 24, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSybil Law

This is part of my issue with American citizenship. Many other countries do not require the individual to renounce their citizenship to other countries when becoming a citizen of that country. (Examples: I have a colleague who holds both Canadian and British passports, and my father is both a Canadian and Italian citizen.) It would be nice if Tariq could become an American citizen yet remain a citizen of India as well if he chooses.

Regardless, there must ultimately be benefits to you and your family remaining in the U.S. instead of India or Pakistan, so I would guess Tariq believes it is worth it.

September 24, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSciFi Dad

I'm feeling so much reading this.

Pride and happiness and sadness.

But mostly, I'm felling this big heavy weight in my heart that says that - for many reasons - today is a very, very big deal.

Thinking of Tariq today.

September 24, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMiss Britt

@Miss Britt, *sigh* FEELING, not felling.

September 24, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMiss Britt

Well, shit. I'll cancel the strip-o-gram I was sending to him.

September 24, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAvitable

@Robin, Thank *you*, I knew you'd understand this all too well. As usual.

September 24, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterFaiqa

@CoffeeJitters (Judy Haley), The funny thing is despite the fact that among a family of American citizens, I am the *only* (in my immediate family besides my kids) one who was born here, I never really understood this until this specific situation.

September 24, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterFaiqa

@Hilly, Thanks. I'll let him know you think so. And you remember that you think so next time he shakes an empty glass at you and says, "Honey!" :D

September 24, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterFaiqa

@Sybil Law, I think it's entirely appropriate for you to say Congratulations! I'll pass it on. And we'd loooove to take your family to Disney as soon as it stops being a blazing inferno from the summer heat.

September 24, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterFaiqa

@SciFi Dad, I guess the idea behind it is that no man can serve two masters? Plus, you hippie Canadians have this weird and annoying habit of not pissing off the rest of the world. But, hey, we have Brad Pitt. DO YOU HAVE BRAD PITT?! I DIDN'T THINK SO.


That's all I got.

September 24, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterFaiqa

To Tariq: the WORLD needs more men like you who will take big huge steps like this for your family. The WORLD, not just the U.S. And you will always be a man of the world.

Faiqa, how is it that your writing gets better better better and better lately? Seriously. Is it a post partum thing? You have always been good but the last ones have given me big ol' goosebumps/

September 24, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterNanna

@Miss Britt, I'll let him know.

And you get it. Big. Surprise.

September 24, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterFaiqa

@Avitable, Hahaha... I just pictured how a "Welcome to America" strip-o-gram would play out .... something about reality TV, Wal Mart and the hypocrisy of nuclear non proliferation.

She's a smart stripper, OK?

September 24, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterFaiqa

Welcome, Tariq.

Remember that no matter what the passport says, no matter where you lay your head, you will always be what you are. And what you are is quite the impressive human being.

September 24, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterFinn

Just in case I needed to shed a few tears today.......

I'd like to throw in a Thank You to Tariq as well, because I love that he loves you and your babies so much....

September 24, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCourtney Haynes

Oh, one more thing.....

Whenever Sarah, Beau or I left the house, as teenagers, my fathers parting words were "Remember who you are". Obviously at that age I thought he was a big dork but as I've gotten older I have realized that these words are appropriate for many reasons and in many ways. As long as we remember who we are it will never matter where we are or what some paperwork says.

September 24, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCourtney Haynes

The best way to judge the character of a man is by what he is willing to do for his family.

Tariq is truly one of the best.

Congratulations and thank you.

September 24, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSheila (Charm School Reject)

@Hilly, Heh, after 2-1/2 years I still haven't traded my Cali license for a Hawaii one, but that's due more to laziness and the fact that they made the process here more difficult than it needs to be.

September 24, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRebTurtle

I'm glad to have been given this perspective. I don't think anything will remove that small sting from his heart, but I hope that being an American will help his quality of life here. He's still Tariq either way, but obviously there are plenty of people who wouldn't view it so open-mindedly.

Regardless of whose political boundaries he fall within, the largest decision has already been made. He married you. I'd say his judgment is fairly sound.. Well, for the most part. ;)

September 24, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRebTurtle

Well I guess that whole moving to Canada thing is out then. Dang!
Once again, you blog about the things some of us are afraid to ask. I have indeed thought about how this would impact someone who has left behind a country they love. When I was a kid/teenager, it was assumed by the adults around me that my friends at school had left behind war-torn countries and the like, and I found it very hard to believe that could be true of the entire rest of the world.
I'll be thinking of Tariq today - I'm sure he is a little torn up over this but I also think you guys will keep India close to your hearts and teach your children about your beloved country and culture.
In the meantime, I hope you write more about it - I find it fascinating.

September 24, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKaren Sugarpants

@Faiqa, Hahaha this little exchange made me laugh out loud. We ARE annoyingly nice, aren't we? :)

September 24, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKaren Sugarpants

@Nanna, It *is* a post partum thing. I'm hoping the baby was sucking up some of my intellect while he was gestating and that now I have it back. OR it could be that my writing got worse for nine months and now it's just back where it was to begin with. Hmmm...

September 24, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterFaiqa

@Finn, That was very sweet. Thank you -- I think more than any other time, he needs to hear these things today.

September 24, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterFaiqa

@Courtney Haynes, Your dad? Rocks. That is all. (Oh, and "As long as we remember who we are it will never matter where we are or what some paperwork says." Brilliant.).

September 24, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterFaiqa
September 24, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterFaiqa

@RebTurtle, For the most part. That made me laugh. And kinda made me want to smack you. In a good natured Aloha sort of way, of course.

September 24, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterFaiqa

@Karen Sugarpants, Hmmm, I don't know. If Barack hadn't won, I'd probably be writing about *my* oath ceremony today. ;)

September 24, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterFaiqa

This is a great perspective to read. As usual.

I would be interested to read more about why it's good for the kids, though. (Both you and yours.)

September 24, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRen

I don't have that notion. I know enough people who moved here for a variety of reasons that it doesn't even occur to me to assume people are trying to escape something. Life's just a big adventure and you follow it where it takes you...

...or you're running from a scary dictator. That too.

September 24, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterPoppy

I had to get that comment out of the way before I could read anymore.

Tariq, thank you for making a personal sacrifice for the betterment of your family. I cannot imagine how hard that must be for you to do, to give up your birth nationality in exchange for this melting pot of craziness.

You're still the same lovable Tariq to me no matter which oath you take.

September 24, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterPoppy

@Faiqa, I have my own wife for that.

September 24, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRebTurtle

@Poppy, Scary dictators are definitely good reasons to run.

September 24, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterFaiqa

@Poppy, That was really sweet... I'll be sure that he reads this.

September 24, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterFaiqa

@Ren, Hmmm. Yeah, I guess that would be a good post. Apparently, the fact that I turned out TOTALLY awesome is not a good enough of a "why". :)

September 24, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterFaiqa

@RebTurtle, Well, YEAH. I said I *felt* like smacking you, not that I was *going* to smack you.

September 24, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterFaiqa

@Faiqa, Are you implying that you would have turned out less awesome in India or Pakistan?

September 24, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRen

@Ren, Of course not. I would just be awesome in a different way.

See what I did there?

September 25, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterFaiqa

i can certainly understand his reaction. It must be a hell of a conflict for someone to put the official finishing touches on his own heritage, in a sense, for another.

September 25, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSlyde

@Faiqa, I'm still wondering why it's better for the kids....

September 25, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRen

Faiqa, I have felt sad, divided, confused, happy, amongst other things this week and in the classic Tariq style, i managed to internalize most of it...until I read this post. I just want to tell you that I love you and with the passing of each major event in our lives, I am reminded how marrying you was the best decision of my life. Thanks for understanding exactly how I was feeling about this decision and communicating exactly what I wanted to hear.

As to the rest of your readers: thank you for the wonderful comments each one of you left.

September 25, 2009 | Unregistered Commentertariq

@tariq, *sniffle* I wish it was October 24 already.

September 25, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterPoppy

@Ren, Fine. I was trying to go funny, but since you want to get all *serious*. I don't think I ever intimated that it's necessarily better for *all* kids to be raised here, or even that it's better for my kids to be raised here.

I only know the reasons that my parents had when they came here. In the 70s, my parents felt that their children would get a better education here. Adding to that was the fact the I am a girl, and there is no denying that because I grew up here there has been a lot more flexibility regarding the ways that I choose to live or the educational paths I have taken. And they were right, even barring that I'm a girl. My brother, who grew up here, is the most educated man in this generation of our family. I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that he grew up here. I think about who he would have been if he had grown up there, and I know the outcome would have been vastly different.

The situation snce the 70s has evolved much. I think the better Pakistani and Indian universities and the educational system can actively compete with that of the US, so that's not an issue. Also, if you're rich enough there, an American life can be replicated there quite easily. So, the situation for my kids would not specifically be better, and that was an undertone in this post.

Tariq didn't become an American citizen because it would give his kids a necessarily *better* life. He has resided in the United States for 13 years, now. Since his parents are Indian expats living in Saudi, he has only lived in India for 8 years. Also, he has a great job here and as any sane person would do has actively assimilated into the lifestyle of people around him. Furthermore, I have never lived in India and have no family there. Including the kids, his passport was the odd man out.

The truth is that we're not confident that the discussions surrounding immigration in this country are going to allow the status of permanent resident (green card holder) to remain as steadfast as it has been in the past. Citizenship, unless the circumstances are dire, cannot be revoked or subverted. Ten years ago, this argument would have sounded silly to me, but the suspicions and disrespect that we've had to endure as a family has completely changed my mind. Many of the people in this nation showed me very clearly that they do not trust *me* or cared to protect *my* rights, a woman who was born here and loves this nation deeply, I have no hopes for their initiative to protect someone who is a measly green card holder.

In short, it's better for MY kids because they won't have to worry about their dad being detained at an immigration checkpoint for four hours for no good reason or, worse, not being given permission to re-enter. It will be better because it ensures that we'll always be *together*.

September 26, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterFaiqa

Thank you, Tariq, and welcome to this wacky country we call America. :)

September 26, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterElizabeth Kaylene

@Faiqa, Thank you for indulging me. Honestly, I already expected that my question wasn't really applicable to Tariq and your kids.

September 26, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRen

Tariq is a great guy. And thank you for providing another much needed perspective.

September 27, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJason

I loved this post. Loved it. Congratulations on the "matching passports"... I'm sure it would have made a wife with OCD just *crazy*! Hahaha

September 27, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBre

@Elizabeth Kaylene, We are wacky, aren't we? In the most awesome and fear inspiring way possible. Like Alice from the Brady Brunch. With nuclear capabilities.

September 27, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterFaiqa

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