I’d set his alarm for 5am. I can only assume that it was only moments after that I felt him elbowing me to wake up. I’d only been asleep for a few hours and my groaning as he woke me was testament to that fact. I didn’t fully understand his almost palpable excitement. I was cranky and slowly dragged myself off to the shower. He seemed to have a little extra pep in his step as well as an understandable nervousness. Of course I’d accompany him on his big day. It was a day that I would never have myself but one that he’d been waiting for since his arrival to the United States. It was the day he hoped he’d become an American citizen.
We fought, as many married couples do, prior to even exiting our neighborhood. It was early in the morning and tensions were high. I’d still been on edge about our finances. It was a constant weight that I’ve carried for months. My mood and thoughts were forever in that space. I’m sure that I could’ve and should’ve been far more understanding of what he must’ve been feeling. I was born in the United States. Like many others, I often take that for granted. I wake up most mornings never thinking about the fact that I’m in pursuit of my own American Dream, a dream that was essentially my own birthright. I suppose that as someone who’s born here it’s lost on us. We have expectations and demands that many want and dream of. My husband, having moved to the US from Trinidad in the late nineties, was always in pursuit of this dream. After years of waiting he was finally reached the point where he could seek citizenship on his own. He’s never had the opportunity to do the handful of things that we as Americans often lament. He’s not yet experienced the excitement of casting his ballot nor has he had the privilege of being summoned for jury duty. These were both among the list of things he’d desperately wanted to do.
When I take the time to look, to really look, I can see it in his eyes and in some of his words. It’s important for him to be accepted into the ranks of American citizens. I, having grown up in Jamaica, now felt ashamed that I did not more immediately remember how I felt knowing the dramatic differences between it and the United States. I’ve always been an American. I’ve always enjoyed the rights, privileges and customs of being an American citizen. Even in Jamaica there were so many who wanted, and have never been granted, the chance to merely visit our country. And here I was, absorbed in my emotions and life’s circumstances, forgetting how truly blessed I am by simply being a US citizen. Sometimes we simply need to remind ourselves of the little things that make our lives what they are. It’s so easy to complain about the problems and the issues of our lives that we forget that we do in fact lead privileged lives.
My husband was excited. He’d been studying the civics questions for the naturalization test. As we drove to his appointment I inserted the CD with the questions and answers into the car’s CD player. In those moments I smiled. My heart warmed. I remembered what it was like learning about the various topics in my youth. In those very moments I couldn’t help but to feel proud to be an American and even prouder still that my husband would soon become one too. I’d be able to experience a few firsts with him as well. Among them we’d be able to share in him voting for the first time as well as easier international travel. Most importantly, we’d both be able to share in being a part of a nation that, for all its struggles and hardships, is still the land of the free and the home of the brave.
This article appeared on page 5A in the 4/9/14 issue of The Union-Recorder. It appeared under the title, Land of the Free and Home of the Brave.