I Was Born American – A Blast From The Past 7-4-2014
Yes, I was born in another country of foreign parents who would no more become American than fly unassisted, (and who desire it less than they wish to have have their heads shaved by a warthog) but I figure that was an accident of circumstance. What really matters is that I was an American in my heart. I just had to get here and become one in truth. (And that, by itself, is an American attitude.)
This week while talking to a friend about his foreign SO, I found myself explaining that other people, in other countries, have a hierarchy in their heads all the time — who is powerful, who isn’t, what attitude is proper. You can find it (if you know where to look) even when reading British novels.
We’re not like that. Whether we were born elsewhere or here, Americans — those of us who are proud of the name — are rebels, revolutionaries, something new under the sun: a people who believe people should be equal in their right to life, the right to liberty, the right to pursue their happiness undisturbed by either inimical neighbors or oppressive “betters.”
We have no betters. We are American. When I got citizenship I had to swear never to accept foreign titles of nobility. I thought it was silly. What title of nobility could compare to being an American?
I’m not saying that Americans are for absolute equality. We’re not. We’re however for equality before the law (and we want it back, thank you very much. Yes, IRS, NSA, the rest of the alphabet soup and Mr. “I got a pen and a phone” I AM talking to you. Who are you to arrogate to yourself the authority of the people?) And that notion, alone, has permeated the country and even in the breach it makes the humblest man feel like he’s able to stand up to the most powerful. Because they’re equal before the law, and even when our law is corrupt, that equality of free citizens lives on in our hearts. We can each of us stand tall, American citizens, unbowed.
In the same way, though I was born very far away, in a very (trust me) strange land, I never fit in there. The hierarchy seemed wrong and contrived. I evaluated people for what they did, not their clothes or their last name. And though years later it would take me conscious effort to fully acculturate, the seeds were there. I had a congenital inability to bow or obey; a tendency to roll up my sleeves and try to fix whatever was wrong, instead of just moaning about it; and a need to look after those people who were “my group”. All I wanted to do was to shoulder my own life and do the best I could to the best of my ability and to call every battler striving along with me a brother or a sister.
I bought Stranger in a Strange Land, based on the title, because that’s how I felt. Then I came here and found I belonged here, all along. The day of my citizenship ceremony, after we came home, I walked out to the mailbox and on the way there it hit me “I am an American now. I belong, in law as I always did in my heart.” Then as now the thought is enough to bring tears to my eyes. Thank you, guys, for accepting me as one of your own. (And that total acceptance regardless of national origin is nowhere else as complete as in the US. (Though some other ex-British-colonies come close.))
In Portugal I felt strange because I believed in life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
I believed in this, in fact:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all 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.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
Still do. Those beliefs make me American.
Oh, say can you see by the dawn’s early light
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars thru the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming?
And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.
Oh, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?
Long may she wave over the land. Long may she wave in our hearts. The price is required of every generation, to keep this radical idea we call America going. Our price might turn out heavier than we bargained for, but great things cost much, and what is greater than liberty?
We are a radical experiment, a nation not of blood and genes, but a nation of heart, of mind, of belief.
Don’t let it perish from this Earth!