It was a cold and gray day in mid April 2000, just four months after I finished law school. I was getting ready to leave Michigan and make my move to California. I had no firm plans, no job offers, no job leads and nowhere to live. The future was up in the air and terrifyingly uncertain. There was still so much to be done: pack my life into a moving truck, drive over 3,000 miles to Los Angeles, find a place to live, pass the bar exam, figure out what to do with my life- all the usual things one needs to do when one leaps first and thinks later. I was stressed out, scared and so anxious about the future.
But on that quintessentially cold and gray Michigan day, there was something else to do. There was something else to focus on-something amazing, hope-filled and happy. On that day, I became an American citizen. I remember the day as if it were just last week. I agonized over what to wear, how early to leave Lansing to make sure I’d get to Detroit on time, and whether I’d feel differently after the ceremony. I went with the man who’s now my husband, and another law school friend who had asked if he could come along. I missed my parents and kept thinking how odd it was that they weren’t there to witness such a significant day in my life, but knew it would have been impossible for them to come up from Texas on such short notice.
That was the day I understood what it felt like to feel butterflies in my stomach. I didn’t feel the butterflies again until six years later on my wedding day. The immensity and importance of the day weighed heavily on me. It was, in a sense, a type of death to me. Or, rather, it was a rebirth in every way that mattered. With all the ups and downs throughout my life, and despite having lived on three different continents, I had always been the citizen on one single country-my birthplace. And here was this cold and gray mid April day, when I would take an oath and become another person-an American. I won’t lie, I did feel some sadness. But, what I mostly felt was pride, awe, honor and joy. Tears flooded my face uncontrollably throughout the entire ceremony. My emotions ran high and never let up. And I could feel the magic and promise of the moment.
To this day, I cannot get through hearing the National Anthem without dissolving into tears and the sight of the American flag conjures so many high hopes and emotions in me. But, the pride I felt on that day more than twelve years go revisits me just as strongly every single time I vote. To me, that little “I Voted” sticker feels like a merit badge, a gold star, my very own blue ribbon, the best prize in the world and my personal Olympic medal, all rolled into one. I never take my adopted country for granted. I never take my rights as an American citizen lightly. And I never allow cynicism, ambivalence or the busyness of everyday life to provide me with an excuse to become uninformed about the state of my country.
The beauty of this country is its patchwork of people from all around the world coming together to strive for and achieve life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The amazing thing about this country is the freedom to love it as an individual and to express thoughts, ideas and beliefs freely and without fear. And I try be mindful of all that every single day. But tomorrow is a special day. Tomorrow, we Americans celebrate the birth and independence of this land we love. And on the eve of this holiday, and before the celebrations, BBQ’s, picnics and fireworks begin, I take a quiet moment to remember that cold and gray day in April when I was reborn.
Happy Fourth of July!
Receiving my citizenship certificate from the judge who administered the oath.
Me and the Judge.
A tear-stained me with my love.