There are 11 passports in my immediate family of 5. My kids are American, British, and Canadian. I moved to the United States from Canada 18 years ago — one Ph.D., one British husband, three cities, and three children later, I am about to become an American citizen.
The timing seems odd to pledge allegiance to the United States of America. Especially when I could so easily go back to Canada. Especially so soon after another devastating school shooting here, something that so rarely happens where I was born. Especially when I’ve spent the past year at protests and marches, making calls and writing letters, joining those attempting to change the course that the U.S. is on right now.
And yet, on Friday, I pledged my allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands.
Why, after nearly two decades as a permanent resident, am I becoming a citizen? Some of my motivation stems from fear. Despite our fancy degrees and fancy pedigrees and very fancy privilege, my green card (or my husband’s) can always be taken away. This is not an auspicious time for immigrants. This is not an auspicious time for Jews. Collecting citizenships — and therefore passports and options and places to run — simply makes sense. After all, Jewish ancestral and cultural memory is long, even if collective American memory seems to be terrifyingly short these days.
Here’s a worry I’ve carried: We are somewhere outside the U.S. as a family. Something goes terribly wrong globally, and there is no single embassy at which we could all easily seek shelter. My children, of course, have three options: American, Canadian, and British. But my husband and I only have one. Which parent would have to say goodbye to our kids?
Yes, since our first child was born, that was always the case. But now, however, the specter of global apocalypse seems to be getting closer. (Not that any embassy could really shelter us in the event of, say, nuclear war, but at least we’d all be together in those moments.) But it seems like a good time to do what I can to ensure the security of my family.
But it’s not just fear that’s motivating me to formalize my relationship to this country. I’m becoming a citizen because I believe in the U.S., and for what it stands.
I moved here to attend my ideal Ph.D. Program — in the history of science — and stayed because I was offered the job of my dreams. I chose to come to the U.S., and I chose to stay. And now, as I pledge allegiance — even as the liberty and justice “for all” continue to be very unfairly distributed — I’m doubling down on that choice.
I’m becoming a citizen precisely because I strongly believe that liberty and justice should really be for all. That’s something to march about, to make phone calls about. And that’s definitely something worth voting for.
Though I’ve been a longtime permanent resident in the U.S., I haven’t been able to vote. For years, I clung to my status as “interested observer.” I rolled my eyes at the discrimination and oppression of aspects of the U.S. system while, at the same time, I distanced myself from it. Even as I participated in it. Even as I benefited from it.
No more. While I admit I’ve found certain pleasure in being able to set myself apart from Trump’s America, my choice to opt out has felt increasingly irresponsible. I could have voted in the last election had I been a citizen. I wasn’t, and that was my choice. But I want to change that now. Too many people who can vote — who aren’t prevented from voting by illegal voter intimidation or identification requirements — don’t. I was one of them.
There were some factors that held me back from applying for American citizenship: the cost (it’s $750 per person for biometrics — doable for me but possibly crippling for others); my enduring affiliation with Canada, where I was born and raised, and where my family still lives; a commitment to file U.S. tax returns for the rest of my life.
But those are all excuses, and they are bad ones. I could have left, and I didn’t. Because my family is here. My life is here. Because there are so many wonderful things about what this country is, and so many wonderful things about what this country could be. So many things worth fighting for.
There are many ways to fight. But the single most powerful way that I can make change is by exercising my right to vote. It’s a massive privilege. It’s a massive responsibility. And it’s time I take it on.