Happy July 4th, all! This time last year I was in NYC by the Hudson lazing around with my closest friends waiting for the sky to explode in an exorbitant display of light. This year in contrast, I am in Russia and the day came and went without much to-do.
However, this year’s 4th of July is especially significant for me because it’s my first as an American citizen. About three months ago, after ten years in the country, five years of “permanent residency” and one year of frequent trips to the US Immigration Office, I was awarded a brand new US passport.
I vividly remember my experience at the oath ceremony, when about a 100 of us took the oath to take on the duties and responsibilities and rights that American citizenship bestowed upon us. It was an appropriately “American” event with President speeches, moving videos, etc. But what I remember most of all is the faces of those around who were taking the same oath as me. Smiles abound, family members were present to take pictures of the momentousness occasion and the joy and celebration in the air was palpable.
I, on the other hand, spent the time stressed about a meeting I had to run to after the ceremony, had no camera with me and restlessly bit my nails through the two hours.
Not because I didn’t appreciate the magnitude of the experience…I did. But because I hadn’t quite come to terms with giving up my Indian citizenship and the responsibilities and rights it came with for acquiring my USA citizenship.
It is probably something most immigrants struggle with on some level… a sense of guilt about moving on and not looking back to pay homage to where they came from.. For some people who come from areas plagued with political strife, bad economic conditions or widespread social ills, I can see why taking on a new national identity (especially that of USA) would be a matter of accomplishment and pride. For me, I have fond memories of family and friends in India and all the fun times I’ve had there. I still participate in a lot of cultural traditions that tie me back to India and love watching bollywood movies. Last year, I backpacked across India for a month to explore places I never had the opportunity to see when I lived in India.
Over the past few months, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what becoming a US citizen means to me. To help explain this, I looked at one of the biggest symbols of a national identity: the national flag. Both the US and Indian flags have white in them. For the US flag, white signifies purity and innocence. For the Indian flag, white represents peace, unity and truth. All are beautiful associations and aspirations to be part of any cultural identity.
To me, white stands for a blank page. It’s about the freedom and the opportunity to look at the values and cultures that I have been blessed enough to be exposed to and decide what’s best for me. If I were to sum up what acquiring USA citizenship means to me, I would say it symbolizes the journey I’ve been on to understand my place in the world a little better. My bi-cultural identity arising from two of the biggest democracies in the world gives me the priviledge and responsibility to understand what to do with this freedom.
“To know how to free oneself is nothing; the arduous thing is to know what to do with one’s freedom”