Remembering the day I first felt like an American
Posted February 2
At home, we've been talking recently about what it means "to be an American" and how the process unfolds. My daughter's a college freshman and one of her homework assignments is to figure out when various generations of her family came to America. Another part of the assignment — for those born in this country, as she was — is to figure out when she first felt like she was an American.
To decide that, we had some discussions about what it means to feel American — and I've been pondering it since.
I have always felt pride in my status as an American. Being truly glad I was born here and not in certain other countries, especially those that treat women or people who are different poorly, goes back pretty much far enough that I take it for granted.
But I think the first time I ever really, really felt American was during a protest I attended while I was in school myself. Being American gave me the right to pick a side on an issue and stand up for it in a place where others could see me, a kind of visual ballot box. There's something very American about the right to speak your mind and attend a public rally and state your view even when it's contrary to leaders' views or is unpopular. In my head, I award bonus points to those who come up with signs that say what they think in clever or catchy fashion.
The right to peaceful assembly and free speech, the right to dissent in a lawful manner and publicly own your position is powerful and life-enhancing and very American.
When my brother, a veteran who served with honor in Iraq, reminds me he fought for my freedoms, I note with gratitude that one of them is freedom to sometimes disagree with his or others' takes on current events. And I love him and other soldiers even more for helping me secure that right to see things as I see them. It's one of the things that makes America unique and being American so special. Families can be simultaneously divided on issues and united in appreciation for their country and what it affords them.
Any American who objects to freedom of speech, the right to assemble or petition the government, the right to worship as one wishes or similar can-dos misses fundamentals of our national identity.
These days, I show up at rallies if I'm covering them as a journalist. And there's something very American about that role, too.
I was American as I watched the horror of Sept. 11 and the beauty of my country's united response.
I felt intensely American attending a naturalization ceremony, which happens to be one my favorite activities. There is something raw and emotional and incredibly touching about watching people choose the country you might even take for granted on occasion because it's always been yours, and then learning what they went through to arrive at that ceremony — and I'm not talking about cross-town traffic. Many of them endure unbelievable challenges and yet they persevered until they made it. For joy and raw emotion, I have never in my life seen anything to top such a ceremony. If you've never seen one, I highly recommend you correct that oversight. It's life-affirming and spectacular.
I feel intensely American watching the U.S. Olympic team march into a stadium anywhere in the world.
I am, in fact, American on good days and bad days, when the reminders are big and when they are small. I will go to bed tonight an American and wake up the same in the morning.
And I want the best both for my country and of it.
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