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Thoughts on Being an American Citizen
On Sunday night a week ago it was very windy in the middle of the night. Big changes often occur in my life when there is a lot of wind.
I woke up and was thinking about something I said in my post Voting for America. After voting intelligently and intentionally for the first time in my life, I wrote, "This feels so good to vote. I feel like a citizen now instead of just a resident. I hadn’t thought about writing those words, they just popped out.
And since, I’ve been wanting to know the difference between a resident and a citizen.
Then I happened to come across a passage in a book that said there was a difference between a member of a society that only paid their dues but didn’t participate and a member who paid their dues and studied the materials of the society and applied what they learned in their lives.
I came to a conclusion that a resident is simply someone who lives in America for some length of time and a citizen is someone who is native-born or naturalized, who owes allegiance to the government and participates in the activities of the nation, and therefore is entitled to benefits and protection from it. A citizen actually participates in the country and doesn’t just go along for the ride.
From this I realized that to be a citizen means some very specific things, and I had no idea what they were. I pay my taxes and benefit from Social Security and Medicare, but other than that I haven’t really been contributing to making my community or state or country a better place to live, for myself and my fellow countrypersons. I haven’t been creating Life on those levels.
If I was not born here in the USA, I would need to meet the eligibility requirements to become a citizen. These include:
- Be a person of good moral character
- Demonstrate an attachment to the principles and ideals of the U.S. Constitution
- Be able to read, write, and speak basic English
- Have a basic understanding of U.S. history and government
- Take an oath of allegiance to the United States.
To become a naturalized citizen there is a naturalization ceremony. It is the moment when you pledge allegiance to the United States and officially become an American. Applicants are not considered an American citizen until they have taken the Oath of Allegiance in front of a USCIS judge during an official citizenship ceremony. Only after the applicant takes the Oath can they participate in the benefits of American citizenship such as obtaining a passport and voting and state and federal assistance programs.
When I read this I immediately thought it is similar to getting married. Two people are not married and cannot enjoy the benefits of marriage until they have the ceremony and take the oath. I remember I did some research once about the marriage ceremony and learned that it was not only for the benefit of the two people making the oath to each other, but it was also to announce to family, friends, and community who were witnessing the oath that these two were now married. I saw that taking the oath of citizenship in a ceremony also makes it known to family, friends, and community that the applicant is now a citizen, of good moral character, who understands the principles and ideals of the US Constitution,and has a basic understanding of US history and government. and agrees with them.
But here’s the thing. How many of those of us who were born here can say we know everything an immigrant is required to know to become a citizen?
Here are the 100 questions you might be asked when applying for citizenship. Applicants are asked 10 questions and must get six right to pass. But even if we can answer the questions, how well do we understand the concepts, and can we use that information in our daily lives as a citizen?
I took this test by covering each answer with another piece of paper as I went down the list, and then Larry took the test with me asking him the questions verbally. I was able to answer correctly 60 out of the 100 questions, Larry answered 87 correctly. It really showed us what we didn't know and what we didn't understand.
I realized that to BE a citizen I needed to do some homework. And once I learn what I need to learn to BE a citizen, I want to take the oath by choice and have it witnessed.
The oath…hmmm…here it is…
This part is only for naturalized citizens [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.”
I may want to add something else when the time comes, which would include whatever personal vow I want to make to my country as well.
I have more to do to sort all this out, but I now know I want to consciously and intentionally be a citizen of the USA, know what that means for myself and to my country, and have the ability to act as a citizen in agreement with and according to the basic principles and documents on which this country was founded.
But there was more. Immediately after writing this I had a whole separate realization about the “be” part of “being a citizen” (or anything else). Read on at To Be or Not To Be.