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Husband, father, grandfather, friend...a few of the roles acquired in 62 years of living.  I keep an upbeat attitude, loving humor and the singular freedom of a perfect laugh.  I don't let curmudgeons ruin my day; that only gives them power over me.  Having experienced death once, I no longer fear it, although I am still frightened by the process of dying.  I love to write because it allows me the freedom to vent those complex feelings that bounce restlessly off the walls of my mind; and express the beauty that can only be found within the human heart.

Astronomy Picture of the Day

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Becoming an American

Copyright © 2013 by Ralph Couey
Words and photo, except cited quotations.
Americanism is a question of principles, of idealism, of character:
 it is not a matter of birthplace or creed or line of descent.
 — Theodore Roosevelt
About 10 years ago, give or take, our son fell in love.  In the experience of raising children and turning them loose on adulthood, this is something that can only be described as inevitable.  While stationed in Seoul, Korea with the Navy, he met a charming young lady with a dimpled smile and a delightful laugh.  She struck a spark somewhere deep inside of him, making him aware that he had an empty space in his heart, a space only she could fill.

I guess you could say that it was there that he found his...um..."Seoul" mate.
In the years since, Yukyung has become as honored and loved a daughter as the three we already had.  Their family has grown to include two children, a bright, effervescent, loving girl with her mother's dimples named Diana, and a smart, active, incredibly articulate and loquacious boy named Ian.  Robert and Yukyung have proven themselves to be a great team, having weathered some storms and celebrated joys as any married couple do these days.

Yukyung was born in Seoul, Republic of Korea, something she has always been proud of.  The Korean people, at least the southern ones, have accomplished a great deal in the industrial and economic areas despite a terrible and endemic problem with governmental corruption.  These achievements are fed mostly by a work ethic one has to witness to believe.  Seoul may not be high on many people's vacation lists, but if you want to be awed by a people and a country that few in the U.S. understand, or even know about, I highly recommend a visit.

She loves her homeland, as any of us would.  So it was a surprise when she announced to us that she was intending to become an American citizen. 

There were a host of reasons, most the result of her highly logical and pragmatic mind.  But mainly, she has been here long enough to see and experience the United States with all its warts and boils, as well as attributes and qualities.  You see, she has observed and studied our government and our way of life.  She earned her green card the hard way, by following the rules and climbing the sometimes substantial bureaucratic mountains put in her way.  She gets incensed at talk about direct legalization of the several million "undocumented" people in this country.  To her, it's not fair to give away something so valuable to someone else as a reward for evading the rules when she's had to work so hard and sacrifice so much within the law to get to this point.

But enough of politics.

Over the past few weeks, she has studied hard the information needed to pass the oral examination for citizenship.  We all helped her to study, and looking over the questions, I thought they would be a great source for a new game show, "Are You Smarter Than an Immigrant?"  After seeing some of the embarrassing interviews of native-born Americans over the July 4th holiday, I feel certain that there are many, far too many, who could not pass that test.

This morning, she went to the Customs and Immigration office for her interview and test.  She called a few hours later with two pieces of ecstatic news.  She had passed the test with flying colors, and she could take the oath at 1:00.

All previous plans were scuttled without a second thought and we gathered at the office in Fairfax, VA.  At the appointed time, a USCIS official came into the room and after a few introductory remarks, invited the soon-to-be-new citizens to come up front and stand in a row.  They all raised their right hands and swore the following oath: 
"I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure
all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty
of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen;
 that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America
 against all enemies, foreign and domestic;
 that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same;
 that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law;
 that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States
 when required by the law;
that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion;
so help me God."
With that said, the official put the official "Amen" on the ceremony, saying, "Congratulations!  You are now all officially American citizens!"
A cheer went up from those assembled, families and friends, and handshakes all around.  Looking at their faces, I could see that this meant something very deep to each one of them.  I didn't know their stories;  but I know of many others who left countries torn apart by war, violence, and corruption, leaving behind everything they had ever known and loved to come here.  Here, in this place called America where dreams can still come true.
The calendar flips by us every year, the days mainly crowded with the busy and mundane details of our daily lives.  Scattered among those pages are various holidays, most of them recognizing some aspect of our shared history and culture.  Martin Luther King Day, President's Day, Memorial Day, Flag Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Veterans Day, and a new one added in the last decade, Patriot Day which happens September 11th.  For most of us born here, citizenship, and all that means, is largely taken for granted.  We look to those days mainly as vacation, days to sleep in, barbecue, go to the lake, and otherwise take part in leisure activities.  For veterans, however, especially those who have served in battle, those days never pass without notice; without a quiet remembrance of those who never came home.  And those who did return broken and shattered by physical wounds, as well as the hidden wounds inside, torn open by horrific experience.
To immigrants, those days are also special.  For they know full well the path they had to take to get here.  And for those naturalized Americans, those who made that fateful decision to commit fully to their new home, those days will always be celebrated. 
For all the right reasons.
It is easy, far too easy in these difficult times to become cynical about our country, our government, and especially our future.  But each one of us needs to spend time with those who weren't born here; those who came of their own accord, obeyed the rules, took the oath, and became citizens.  Their experience and outlook will invigorate us all, and bring new life "...to that great task remaining before us."
I think often of a quote from the Tolkien epic "Lord of the Rings."  At the point when Frodo is at his last thread of will, he is encouraged by his loyal friend, Samwise Gamgee:
 I know. It's all wrong. By rights we shouldn't even be here. But we are.
It's like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered.
Full of darkness and danger, they were. And sometimes you didn't want to know the end.
Because how could the end be happy?
How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened?
But in the end, it's only a passing thing, this shadow.
Even darkness must pass. A new day will come.
And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer.
Those were the stories that stayed with you.
That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why.
But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now.
Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn't.
They kept going. Because they were holding on to something.

Frodo: What are we holding onto, Sam?

Sam: That there's some good in this world, Mr. Frodo... and that's worth fighting for.”
Today, I watched seven people become American citizens.  I know now that there is good in this world; in this country, and in her people.

And that is worth fighting for. 
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