The Taxi Driver from Yemen. A Teacher from Congo. A Marketing Consultant from Ecuador. The Radiology Technologist from Vietnam. There were 51 new American Citizens representing 25 countries and 5 continents including these 4 along with the Speaker/Author from Canada. That last one is my wife.
Yemen is the poorest county in the Arab World. 5.4 Million have been killed since 1998 in the Second Congo War. Ecuador is constantly tied into the Drug Trafficking that runs rampant with its neighbor to the North, Columbia. And, then there’s Vietnam, where the Media (including the internet with a “Bamboo Firewall”) are still controlled by the Communist Government 37 years after the War ended.
As I sat in a United States Federal Court room decorated with official looking Mahogany Desks and Granite Columns, splashed with Red, White and Blue, I looked into their tear-filled eyes and tried to imagine what our new American brethren must have been through to get to this point. Well, now, they made it. They are all citizens of the United States of America.
As mentioned above, this group of 50 Stars, plus one bright shining star in my sky, included a 39-year old extraordinary mommy of 2 and business owner, also known as my wife, Danielle Smith. “D” sat on the other side of the line of scrimmage which was that partition in a courtroom separating those that are involved in the court proceedings and those that are present just to observe (in this case, document with our iPhones). So, I turned my igadget in her direction as she stood up and proudly recited the oath with the others in the room. Recording this event will allow us to watch it and re-watch it, but for me, it was a time for reflection on how lucky I am to live in the “free-est” country on earth.
As I’ve told my two children over and over and over, we can be anything we want to be. Anything!!! It really is amazing. We receive a free education until we’re 18years of age, and at that point, there are many ways to receive a college education deferring payment until after a degree and hopefully that first job are secure. Easy, no. Possible, yes. I’m confident that the 40-year old Mother of two would have taken that when she was growing up in the Human Rights Violating Country of Nigeria.
We, also, live in a country where we all get a say in who leads our country. Well, all of us, that are 18 years of age … and registered to vote. Yet, the percentage of registered voters hovers between 60-70% depending on which statistic you believe. Let’s say that it’s 75% which is on the high side. Where are the other 25%? I’m not trying to turn this into a political speech. I’m just thinking about this statistic after watching two of our newly sworn in citizens pay the money, study and pass the test, and do all that was necessary to become American citizens after spending all of their lives in Communist China where they don’t get a say in much of anything.
As I glanced around the room, my eyes kept coming back to the most amazing woman I’ve ever met, my wife. She, too, was crying. Why? Danielle was born in Canada and migrated to this country at the age of five when her Dad took a new job in Florida. Why would she be so emotional? She’s had a Social Security number for 34 years now, and has been a taxpayer since she turned 18 years of age. She answered the question this way “Look around Jeff. The people in this room are so excited to live here now. I’ve lived here almost my entire life, but have always kind of felt like an outsider. I’ve always been intrigued by this country’s political process and been involved, of course, as a news reporter, but never been able to express my own opinion in the form of casting a ballot. I’m not sure everyone understands what it’s like to NOT have your opinion matter, not officially anyway. Well, now it does matter, for me, and that woman from Congo, and that man over there from Bosnia, and those folks from Pakistan, Iraq, and Somalia. This is the only country in the world where all of us can come together and be completely equal and relevant. Is this country perfect? No, not by a long shot, but it’s pretty darn good. And all of us are lucky to call it home.”
I couldn’t have put it better myself. Her first stop after the swearing-in ceremony: the League of Women Voters. She’s all set now to vote in her first election. My wife is pretty amazing isn’t she? And so is the ole U-S-A.
This is Danielle’s experience in her words (including video….have a tissue nearby, as she is a bit emotional.)