Today, for the first time, I celebrated Independence Day as an American citizen. A week ago, I stood in a large reception room along with a hundred and seventy-two others and our families, representing forty-seven nations, and we took an oath of allegiance to this country.
For me, it had been a long time coming. Twenty-seven years to be exact. The majority of us come looking for a better quality of life than we could have expected if we’d stayed in our country of birth. Some cannot wait to shed the shackles of an oppressive government, or a miserable life of poverty and violence. I was one of the lucky ones. Leaving Dublin in the late 1980’s, I became part of the brain-drain—college graduates looking for challenging job opportunities that were not available in a depressed economy. The path across the Atlantic was a well-worn one.
But unlike many immigrants, my family had no desire to follow me. Instead, I make the pilgrimage home a couple of times a year. And part of me remains firmly rooted in Ireland.
It’s always irked me that although I’ve long been active in my community, and paid taxes for decades, I could not vote, not even on local issues. The importance of this privilege was brought home to me when my oldest children turned eighteen and took on the lifelong responsibility. With all the international political turbulence, the tenets of a democracy are all the more important to uphold. I needed to show my children that I respect their country of birth and embrace the extraordinary document on which it was founded.
As a family we’ve never been big on fireworks and barbecues. So I found myself pondering how I should celebrate this day, and what being an American really means to me. The USCIS calls the process of becoming a citizen a naturalization process. Adapting to a way of life, and adopting a country’s social mores takes time. But becoming enmeshed in a landscape, taking ownership of a space and calling it home is a more subtle and binding tie.
This morning, finding the patch of sunlight waiting for me on the bench at the top of the garden, I understood that I have found my natural place in this landscape. Season by season, I’ve raised my family, made friends, planted a garden, put down roots. I belong. And what better way to celebrate than to sit there and enjoy the bounty of this amazing country.