i voted

"And may I ask you, 'What took you so long?" the interviewer at Immigration and Naturalization asked me.

I had to chuckle a little bit. I had been living in the United States for about 30 years at the time I applied to become a citizen. I had a lot of time to think about it. There were a few reasons, I sometimes thought I may want to return to the home of my birth. After my son was born I argued with myself that I wanted to keep an option open in case he didn't want to become a soldier. I also felt that if a person were to change their citizenship, which was really changing their loyalty, they had better be 100% positive. I didn't think changing one's allegiance should be taken lightly.

citizen

I had most of the benefits of being a US citizen, I could work at most any job I wanted, I could live where I wanted, I paid taxes and I paid into Social Security so I questioned what would be the advantage of changing citizenship? The only thing I could NOT do was VOTE or participate in political activities. When I was a teenager that didn't matter. When I was a young woman working and raising 3 children I didn't have the time to be involved in political activities. I met other immigrants who had come to the US under arduous and difficult circumstances and were grateful to be here because of war, famine, political strife or oppressive governments in their own country. Canada isn't like that- it's a lovely, peaceful place with fine people and good laws and justice so I didn't feel compelled to stake a claim here so that I would never have to return.

As my children grew and started going to high school and working discussions started taking place in the house. Why was this politician doing this? Why was this group fighting for this issue or that cause? I could give them my opinion but I couldn't do anything about it. Then my first born became 18 and registered to vote immediately. I was really proud of her especially since so many young people don't vote. I watched as employee's rights and salaries and benefits were continually being hacked away. What would be left for my children? But still I wouldn't commit.

When The Towers came down I started to realize that I was a citizen whether I admitted it or not, that I was part of the US even though I hadn't made a commitment. It occurred to me that I felt hurt and wounded and attacked and I began to consider why I felt that way. I have always considered myself a citizen of the world, that all the planet was my home and I still feel that way. I am a human of the world first and a citizen of the US second. When I saw how people came together in grief I realized how good we could be and I wanted to share in that. As the drums of war started to beat I was not sure that was the answer but I could not speak about it. I was not allowed to be political due to my status. I had no voice.

Entering into the Afghanistan war was something that I felt a lot of trepidation about, entering into the war with Iraq was something I could not agree with at all. My husband grumbled at George Bush JR on TV as he told America of his plan to invade Iraq, "It's a damn mistake! We'll be there for 20 years. These politicians don't understand how easy it is to get into war and how damn difficult it is to get out." My husband had served in Vietnam and he believed Iraq was going to be Vietnam in the desert. He turned out to be right- we're still fighting there. My husband always voted. My husband was a disabled veteran and the last 10 years of his I spent a lot of time with him at VA hospitals. Initially, I would joke with him and say, "You have an appointment at the 'old man's hospital' tomorrow." Because that was the primary patient there, older men. Slowly, very slowly I started noticing young men as patients, then young women and then posters about PTSD therapy and I was saddened- we now had a new generation of soldiers coming back from the field.

I printed an application for citizenship and mailed it in. I had my finger prints taken. I had my picture taken. I stood in a theater with hundreds of other people and pledged allegiance to my new old home. As I stood with my hand on my heart I looked down and my 3 year old grandson was standing next to me with his little hand on his little heart. That's why I decided after 30 years to become a citizen; because if I was going to live here, if I was going to work here and raise my family here then I needed to participate. I need to be able to speak freely and vote and discuss and debate and be a part of the messy business of being part of something bigger than myself. I want to be an example to my grandson, to my children, of what it means to be a citizen. It means being active. It means speaking out when things are wrong. It means marching in a parade or protest to support issues that are important. I recently joined my local party chapter and have become a member of the council.

The difference between someone like me and all my other immigrant friends is that we are the fresh batch. This country has been built by immigrants and they are still coming. The difference between me and Americans who were born on US soil is that I am choosing to live in this country and not another country. Natural born citizens had the luck and good fortune to be born here. Immigrants have to choose. I could have returned to Canada or gone to another country because I have always had the freedom to do so but I decided to commit and commitment means participating. It saddens me to read that in the election last Tuesday some places had voter turnout as low as 30.7% (Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes said voter turnout in Kentucky was 30.7 percent.)Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes said voter turnout in Kentucky was 30.7 percent.)  However challenging it may seem and however unresponsive our government seems it is only as good as we make it and we can only do that by our voice and our vote.

iraq vote

Many have suffered and died for the honor of voting don't make their efforts pointless. Some people in other countries walk through war zones to get to polls. If they can do that we can get up and go to the particpate in our own elections.

Participate in your own history and the history of your home. Leave your mark.

Vote. It still matters.

 

Deborah Baron

Deborah Baron

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