Becoming a Citizen...
Citizenship By Alison R.G. van Diggelen From the archives of Silicon Valley Biz Ink columns I was a victim of anti-American propaganda. Yet, on August 22, 2001, I became a citizen of the United States. If you’d asked me, at age 15 if I’d ever even visit America, I’d have said, “Never!” I was a peregrine even then, exploring my native Scotland and later Europe and Asia. But America just wasn’t on my list. It’s a bit like how I feel about Las Vegas today. I had a burning desire never to visit. Growing up in Scotland in the 70’s and 80’s my perception of the US was shaped by television. I envisioned a crime-riddled country that heroes like Stasky and Hutch put to rights with their big guns and fast cars. Upper class women swanning around in their padded shoulders and shimmering taffeta dresses trading lovers and limos a la JR Ewing crowd. I’d see loud American tourists in their Burberry tartan trousers walking the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, buying up Scottish shortbread and tartan scarves like there was no tomorrow. I associated the United States with all things brash and tasteless. The anti-American propaganda in Britain is shameless; the idea that all worthwhile culture and arts come out of Europe, that in America there is no appreciation of history because everything is new. In reality, most of this “propaganda” is based on jealousy. As a teenager what you see is the perceived imperialism of American pop music, Hollywood blockbusters, and wall to wall McDonalds from Land’s End to John O’Groats. As you get older the issues of economics, foreign policy and high-tech prowess get on your wick. Many Brits wouldn’t admit it, but they’re even mad about the weather being better across the pond. When my husband, Frank landed a plum job in Colorado, I focused on the prospect of skiing. I thought, if I hate it, we can always come home. After several months of hating it, we were invited to a party by a new French friend, Segolene. As I sipped snacked on quiche tartlets I chatted with a house painter and manual laborer. Later, I hobnobbed with a local neurosurgeon. I began to get an inkling of one of the core differences between American and British culture. You’d never have that mix at a party in Britain! Brits cling to the Victorian era. You could say Tradition tradition! is a silent pledge of theirs. After two years in Colorado, I still felt like a peregrine, a traveler in a foreign land. It wasn’t until I arrived in the Bay Area in 1994, that I started to feel at home. The cosmopolitan atmosphere, the rich diversity of peoples, the proximity of ocean and mountain, and dare I say, the weather, all helped me put roots down. Having children here, little blond Californians, fixed me to the soil. I was won over gradually to the American way of thinking. Small things like that Safeway employee who’ll take you by the hand to locate that elusive jar of dried rosemary. Big things like the optimism and friendliness of the people, the reality of the American dream, and did I mention the weather? Now, after almost ten years here and having filled in more forms, been photographed till my eyes hurt and being finger printed more times than your typical criminal, I was invited to become a citizen. When I stood in Civic Auditorium with 1,400 other immigrants from 104 different countries, I was overcome by an immense feeling of elation tinged with grief for coming so far from Bonnie Scotland, both physically and emotionally: finally coming to rest, allowing myself to stop. Yet I reveled in becoming a rightful part of the land of the free, home of the brave. I was finally going to be one of you guys now, I could even say “you guys” now. My permanent resident card was tossed into a cardboard box with all the others. Alien status to American Citizenship. As I put my hand on my heart, and said the words “I pledge allegiance to the flag”, tears came, and I recited from heart; “Of the United States of America,” united we stand “And to the Republic for which it stands,” I thought back to that teenager attitude I’d outgrown, of judging people before knowing them. “One nation, under God, indivisible With liberty and justice for all.” I looked around with blurry eyes at the exotic faces, all shades of brown and white, all ages, turbaned, blond and bald. All quietly composed and proud. All citizens of the world. In that moment I felt fully-fledged. “Welcome to America!” the judge boomed. That did it, the tears came fast. I looked up at my family in the balcony. Frank grinning manically, camera in hand. By his side, six-year old Lewis sitting solemnly, aware of the enormity of the occasion. Little four-year-old Tanera looking fidgety and bored, oblivious that a peregrine had finally reached the end of a journey. About the author: Alison van Diggelen is founder and editor of siliconmom.com. She lives in San Jose with her husband and American born children. © Siliconmom.