I am more 100 percent American than some of the born Americans. I resent some loss of freedom more quickly. I mean I want to be proud of my country, I think more than a born American does. That way I feel that I am an immigrant. Otherwise I have never felt like one.
– Rachel Goldman, Jewish, from Russia. Arrived 1916.
The above is my most favorite quote, because I am an immigrant. It comes from a wonderful book by David M. Brownstone, Irene M. Franck, and Douglass Brownstone, titled Island of Hope, Island of Tears: The Story of Those Who Entered the New World through Ellis Island – In Their Own Words. Since the time when Rachel Goldman was interviewed for the book, her words have not lost their impact. I recognized that after the US Government’s reaction to the events of September 11, 2001, which are now eerily mirrored and distorted by the current administration, however, in absence of provocation.
I was born and raised in Germany but have spent (literally) half of my life in the United States of America. I am married to my red-haired, green-eyed, Irish-American wife and our son Patrick was born in Greenfield, Massachusetts at the Baystate Franklin Medical Center in 2007. Within less than six months after my arrival I had realized that I was home. The most intriguing feature of American life was the focus on individual rights, while life in Germany, due to its long history and, especially, density of population, is more about community. Nothing wrong with either way of life, but America won.
The greatest American values, at least in my mind, are the fight against discrimination, the celebration of diversity, and the profound belief that men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. I call it the “American Virus.” Everybody who visits this country, may it be for pleasure or business, short-term or long-term, will be infected with a sense for liberty, and that includes refugees from Syria and other predominantly Muslim countries.
This view, however, is not necessarily shared by all people who know me, who conveniently forget that I am, after all, an immigrant. Yes, I am still a German citizen, but, to quote Mahatma Gandhi, “Yes, I am, I am also a Muslim, a Christian, a Buddhist, and a Jew.” In other words, if you talk about immigrants, you can’t just focus on Mexicans and Muslims. Talking about immigrants includes me. That makes me a Mexican. And it makes me a Muslim.
But let’s talk about American citizenship. American citizenship is a privilege. I know that better than too many Americans who rest on their born privileges. In my case, I have to apply for citizenship. I have to pay for citizenship. I will be interviewed to determine if I am worth being an American citizen. Ask yourself this question: Would you pass the test?
Last, but not least, let’s end this with a positive note. I love my wife and I love my son. I love the friends we have. I love hugging my gay friends, male or female. I’d like to hug every black and Asian person that arrives in our little town that is in such dire need of diversity. And I love this country with all its strengths and weaknesses. All this is the sum of American life as I know it. And, in the end, when I finally get citizenship, I will be a better American than those who go along with the loss of everything that makes this country so great.