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Entries in naturalization (1)

Wednesday
Sep232009

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.