This is my first Independence Day as a citizen. I was naturalized in May, at a ceremony with 3,000 other immigrants in Los Angeles. (Photo above from the actual ceremony at the LA Convention Center).
It’s astounding that in Los Angeles, a ceremony like the one I attended happens about every other month, and thousands become citizens. At my ceremony, people were crying. Crying after ending their long migration journey, and officially being welcomed as an American.
I’ve grown up in this country as a legal permanent resident with a ‘green card’ for more than two decades. I always felt American, and did not expect to feel any different after acquiring a piece of paper that says citizen on it.
And it is a credit to this country that I did indeed NOT feel different after acquiring my citizenship certificate. I still felt as American as I always did. I still felt embraced and welcomed, and felt I had the same opportunities and rights I’ve always had.
But then imagine my surprise when I first filled out my voter registration form. I was elated. That was something unexpected. Something I had missed all these years as every election day a slight pang in my heart reminded me that I was in fact not fully American – not yet.
And when I applied for my American passport, I was again overjoyed. It felt so good to be applying for an AMERICAN passport. I was legitimate, official, recognized on paper as the same American I have always felt in my heart.
Independence Day has a different feel for me this year. It is not one of celebration, but introspection. I feel reborn on this Independence Day. I am no longer an American. I am an American citizen.
I can’t wait to vote. I can’t wait to travel with that passport.