I am an immigrant. I naturalized in 2011 at the height of Operation Enduring Freedom. My husband was deployed to Afghanistan and I felt as if I was sitting between two chairs. We were stationed in Germany at the time; my home country. Yes, I was home, but my heart was far away. It beat for him and all American service members in the desert. That was when I decided to apply for American citizenship.
The process was easy and short. They had a special offer for military spouses who were already married for a certain amount of time. In as little as four weeks, I found myself driving to the American consulate in Frankfurt, Germany.
Earlier, during the many military ceremonies that I had attended, I often asked myself if I should place my right hand on top of my heart during the Star Spangled Banner. When I drove to Frankfurt that day to become an American, I knew it was time. I knew where my heart belonged and I knew that my hand would always be placed over my heart when I swore the oath.
That day something changed. I asked the lady at the consulate if I had to surrender my German passport. She told me just to keep it. A few years later, I would find out that it was not as easy as just to keep it. That was when I revoked my birthright to be German. They took my German citizenship away, which completed my transformation of becoming an American. My husband would always joke that I was American as soon as I liked to eat peanut butter, but it was not that easy and continues to be a struggle for my family on the other side of the ocean. They do not quite understand why my heart beats for this country and the men and women who fight for its freedom.
Freedom – the American freedom. Do so many people not dream of it? As an immigrant, I ask myself often what this freedom means and why I can feel it. Can I feel it? Yes, I can. I can when I drive on the highway and think of all I have gone through during my husband’s military career. I can feel it when I think about the choice I had when we homeschooled our three children. Coming from a country where home education is illegal, this was quite the stretch. Moreover, I can feel it every time I go to the store and people are friendly, ask you how you are doing, chat with you – stranger or not, just because they are American and it is in their nature.
However, over the years I have seen change. Maybe I see the change better than Americans do because I am an American by choice. I know the difference and I see it when it unfolds in front of my eyes. That is when I ask myself questions like: Why is it that the most powerful nation in this world is also one of the sickest nations in the world? Why are we not the leading country in education, renewable energy, sustainable agriculture, and environmental conservation? Why is it that we have statistics like 22 veteran suicides per day? Why is it that our politicians seem to care more about themselves, their income, and the corporations that fund their next campaign than for the American people they are supposed to serve?
This morning when I drove my children to school, we listened to a song by Toby Keith, “Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue.” I am not a die-hard country fan, but there are a few songs that really strike me to the bone. This is one of them. When he sings about us Americans always recognizing and saluting Old Glory flying and our fight for peace and freedom, I get all teary-eyed. That is when I feel my heart beat again for this country. That is when I feel more patriotic than many Americans ever will. That is when I know that my choice was right and that my hand belongs over my heart when I sing the Star Spangled Banner.
So many people stopped flying the flag in their yards. It is sad, because that was what I admired so much when I first visited this country with my fiancé in the 1990s. In Germany, after WWII patriotism is almost non-existent. However, is this not what makes us or breaks us? Our social bonds, our communities, our beliefs, belonging, and what we stand for?
I want to see this nation of my choice stand tall. I want Americans to unite and stand strong together. I want us to take care of one another, be respectful and responsible not only for our families, but for friends, neighbors, and the lonely stranger on the street. I want our American service members and veterans to be honored by all and treated for what they are, the best asset this country has to offer.
I want, I want, I want… my mother would say, “Dear child, you can’t always have what you want.” But, this is what I believe in and this is what I will fight for. A strong American military, a strong American veteran community, a strong American society, because that is what my heart beats for.