Immigration and America

Immigrantsonboat

A few days ago, my longtime friend, Rodolfo Ramirez, became an American citizen. I was honored to be able to travel by train to New Haven, CT to witness his naturalization ceremony, along with his partner, John, and his dear friends, Maria, Gitte, Marge and Roberto. I have witnessed this wonderful, loving and talented man transition over the years from a young and magnetic coworker in Mexico City, to a wizened, mature and passionate teacher and resident of Connecticut, to a lifelong friend and confidant – and full-fledged citizen of the United States, to boot!

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The train ride through New England, and the purpose for the journey, awakened the ghosts of the original American patriots who lived, defended and died here. It made me reflective of my own sense of what patriotism feels like, and what role immigration plays in the spirit of national pride.

Upon arrival at the grand, column-flanked steps of New Haven’s US District Court, overlooking the well-manicured and snow-flecked New Haven Green and the stately, brownstone buildings of Yale University beyond,  a sense of formality, tradition and solemnity overwhelmed me. It was intimidating enough for an American-born citizen such as myself; but I can only guess at the magnitude of feeling instilled in those being naturalized today as they scaled these same, daunting steps, heard the clickety-clack of their heels echoing in the hallowed halls, lowered their voices to whispers soft enough that the sound of their racing heartbeats emerged. What must it feel like, the joy and sadness, of renouncing allegiance to your Motherland, but to finally be able to partake of the American Dream?

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As I passed through the metal detectors – a sad sign of the times – and surrendered my “deadly” Blackberry, i-Touch and NYC subway pass to the attending authorities, I marveled at the sheer diversity of ethnicities ahead of me in line, all going through the motions of surrendering their own, “dangerous contraband”.  (Can you tell I’m just slightly peeved by all this threat-of-terrorism brouhaha?!)  Mexicans, Colombians, Russians, Romanians, Indians, Filipinos, Portuguese, Chinese, Jamaicans, Ghanaians – it was so beautiful: the gorgeous, colorful, varied, happy, nervous faces.

As Rodolfo’s equally-nervous-and-excited cheering section, we settled into our row of seats in the soaring, wood-paneled-and-gilded courtroom; and it struck me that our row alone – each of us flanking our dear friend on his special day – were as diverse and varied ethnically as the crowd filing in.  Each one of us has proud, immigrant roots:  Rodolfo and Maria emigrated from Mexico, Roberto from Argentina, Gitte from Denmark.  John’s family emigrated from Portugal; and Marge’s family escaped the great Potato Famine in Ireland.  Some of my ancestors immigrated to Hawaii from Portugal and China, others from New Jersey via England and Ireland.  Even my “kanaka maoli” ancestors, the native Hawaiians, left their original homelands of Tahiti and the Marquesas Islands to establish a life in paradise.

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One of the things I love most about living in New York City is its thrilling cultural diversity.  I love being able to stand on a street corner and hear dozens of languages spoken all around me.  (Ralph and I love to eavesdrop, trying to identify all the musical, foreign tongues!)  I cherish the ability to have breakfast at a Ukranian deli, lunch at a Tibetan cafe, dinner at a chic, Peruvian hot spot – and then repeat the next day, with 3 completely different cuisines!  I feel fortunate to be able to cheer and clap along with the myriads lining the streets during Manhattan’s parades, celebrating the people and cultures of Puerto Rico, China, Ireland, India, etc.

On May 1, 2006, a year and half after moving to this amazing city, I left the office on my lunch break to attend the “Day without Immigrants” rally in Union Square.  This was a day in which immigrants nationwide didn’t show up for work (attending the rally, instead), to show how much their adopted cities depended on them to function smoothly.  It was a brilliant response to the anti-immigrant sentiment spreading through our nation at the time – a sentiment that concerned and troubled me.  I figured this sentiment had, at its base, a simple and understandable fear of the unknown.  I reflected on my own feelings; and though I had always had an open mind about it, I did find little “specks” of fear and discomfort in myself.

Day Without Immigrants - May 01, 2006, Union Square, New York - Photo by Daniel Alexander

Day Without Immigrants – May 01, 2006, Union Square, New York – Photo by Daniel Alexander

Attending that NYC rally was just what I needed.  Rather than mobs of conniving, opportunistic devils caricatured in political lampoons, here were masses (over 100,000 people) expressing their love for the United States and the American dream, appreciative of opportunity, with a willingness to work their fingers to the bone for little pay, few or no benefits and very little respect – just to be able to make a better life for their children.  I imagine my deeply-revered immigrant ancestors, as well as those of my fellow row-mates in this courtroom (and, quite frankly, all those here today to pledge their allegiance to our country), possessed the same dreams, hopes, determination, self-sacrifice and love for the U.S.

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I stood in awe of, and in solidarity with, this triumphant, unstoppable force of humanity.  My fears diminishing, an awakening began in me.  It became clear that this spirit, this influx of determination and drive, this willingness to “make do”, to improvise, to invent, to bring to the table a completely new range of achievements and experiences in overcoming adversity, is what made this country great – and will make it great, again.

My friend, Rodolfo, doesn’t take for granted the benefits, opportunities and privileges now afforded him.  He cannot wait to vote, to serve on a jury, to dive – face first – into the American Pie (one of which, hilariously, Gitte brought to the courthouse as a gift for him!).  He symbolizes the American spirit for me and encourages me to reawaken that spirit in myself.  Thank you, Rodolfo!  I am honored to be your FELLOW American!

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51 responses to “Immigration and America

  1. Rodolfo Ramirez Tirado

    OMG Kanani…The tears in my eyes barely allow me to see clearly, but my heart allows me to read and understand the beauty of these lines, of these thoughts soo beautifully put by you, my dearest friend, brother (and sistah :)…THANK YOU for sharing your love and passion for things in life, for giving us the gift you have to write soo beautiful…every day, every minute after that wonderful day, makes me more proud and reminds me that now I belong to this wonderful country where, ironically, it also allowed me to find the love of my life…and wonderful people…yes, the American dream is no longer a dream, it’s a reality…Thank you, Love you much!

  2. Reblogged this on msktb and commented:
    Consider using this for Gear Up Civics Class

  3. Thank you for sharing this. Such a wonderful post 🙂 its great to see someone’s dreams come true. You friend is truly blessed to have a friend like you.

  4. I did not know about “The Day Without Immigants” until reading this blog. Thanks for sharing!

  5. I think that its great that America is now letting immigrants in!!! 🙂

  6. I don’t think we actually hear enough of these stories in the news and in blogosphere. Glad you enjoyed the special with him.

  7. Ahhh, yes. This entire process really makes us re-think patriotism. Having just become a US Citizen myself, I had no idea the sort of emotional rollercoaster I’d have in that very seat while I waited for my name to be called to accept my certificate. In fact, just remembering still brings me to tears.

    You captured this experience quite well. Thank you for sharing!
    Here is my own take, if you’re curious to read =)
    http://ofwildestheart.com/2014/08/25/i-adopted-a-country/

    – Denise

  8. I’ve been to two ceremonies. They are awesome.

    Welcome to America Rodolfo. I am thrilled you are here. Be proud!

  9. If we wish to continue our nation must allow others to join our halls of citizens. We must be the home of the brave and allow entry with dignity.

  10. Reblogged this on jon4305.

  11. The day I became a US citizen was a special one for me. We came in 1979 from st. Petersburg Russia. I took the oath. Congrats new Americans.

  12. Nice post and even better reminder of the gift we all have as citizens of this great country.

  13. I want to be like them to became American citizens

  14. Reblogged this on Grace Abounding.

  15. My question is, how can someone from Africa get that.?

  16. @salvator900 @kwetsohadrach You can find out all the information you need to apply at the US Immigration website:
    http://www.us-immigration.com/us-citizenship-and-naturalization-application.jsp?lang=en
    Best of luck to you!

  17. Reblogged this on kabooro4u and commented:
    Great

  18. Reblogged this on az2278933 and commented:
    Nice

  19. Very nice narrative 🙂

  20. I learned so much from your post. Thanks for sharing such an amazing story

  21. What a beautiful post, Kanani. Blessings to Rodolfo in his journey and to you in yours

    Love wins,
    Dani

  22. I too find the anti-immigrant sentiment so troubling, especially in light of the fact that we all, at some point in our family histories, were immigrants to this great nation. I can’t imagine the bravery it must take to leave one’s homeland and try to make a new, better life for oneself somewhere new. Those of us born into this country certainly take for granted all that citizenship is. Thank you for reminding us of the great privileges and opportunities we have!

  23. Reblogged this on Onwards Through the Fog and commented:
    A poignant story about a literal journey to naturalization

  24. I loved reading this personal story about immigration. It’s nice to hear such a positive experience after all the negativity we hear from the anti-immigrant crowd. Thank you!

  25. What a wonderful way to celebrate and share the experience. Well done!

  26. Congrats and may God continues to Bless you with all the best. Enjoy and Blessings Always, Mtetar

  27. Beautiful story! Being a dreamer myself, I can’t wait for the day when I take that oath and become an American Citizen. Too many people “born” here take it for granted.

  28. Reblogged this on kaysenior and commented:
    Proud to be an American!

  29. Reblogged this on hossamelhlawany74 and commented:
    Brecint of America

  30. A very heart-warming insight for what really is to live the American dream.

  31. Senatssekretär FREISTAAT DANZIG
  32. As another immigrant (from the UK) I really enjoyed your post. One day I will become a citizen too probably. Thanks for sharing!

  33. Excellent writing and sublime post. Keep it up.

  34. Reblogged this on davidingotdumohar's Blog and commented:
    Such a wonderful post

  35. Lovely post…thrilling

  36. Great read. Thanks so much for sharing. Im sure many of us take this country for granted. thanks for the sutle reminder that we are blessed whether we know it or not.

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