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Confessions of a Born-Again Citizen

Naturalization: The process of becoming an American stirs community pride and involvement

March 29, 1998|JAIRO MARIN | Jairo Marin, a native of Colombia, is news director at Univision's KMEX Channel 34

I thought that becoming an American citizen was going to be easier. At this writing, I am still waiting for the postman to bring the notice of my swearing-in ceremony. But while the bureacratic process has been tedious, the real obstacle was the debate that occured in my head for many nights, usually between 2 and 4 a.m.

That debate was about the meaning of citizenship. Nationality is part of our identity, part of who we are. It reflects our culture, our personal history.

We can only earn, not acquire, a new nationality. It is making a conscious decision to join a society and contribute to it. We inherit this new country with its glories, its pride and its weaknesses.

But still there is a feeling of guilt for many going through the naturalization process. Many believe that changing nationalities is akin to turning your back on your country of origin. The realities of globalization and the fact that many countries allow dual citizenship hasn't obliterated those feelings.

I used to take my citizenship for granted. Now I take it very seriously. I wonder why I did not vote in my country of birth or why I was not more involved in the political process.

The naturalization process makes us born-again citizens; we look around and see that we can be a mentor or a volunteer in a community organization or be involved in a neighborhood watch program. That is what makes an American a good citizen and it is curious to see myself this patriotic.

This wave of new citizens could be a breath of fresh air for American democracy, a new fuel for the political process. Without a doubt, these new citizens will reshape the power structure. They come with novel ideas and a desire to participate in the decision-making process. Many have been victims of political oppression or persecution in their country of origin. The bad experiences with politics or the so-called democracy in our countries of birth will make us better Americans, more vocal, more willing to participate.

The greatest of the privileges we earn as new citizens is the right to vote and the confidence that our opinions can make a difference.

One of the great values of these new citizens is that they consciously chose to become Americans. They had to decide to settle here, picking between two countries.

Those who were born here shouldn't resent us for our accents, our languages, our culture, our values or our customs. Remember that it was different contributions from people around the world that made this a great nation.

No, becoming an American is not as easy as I believed it would be. But it is a rich experience that will change me forever. Meanwhile, I still wait for the postman bearing a letter with my long-awaited documents. Only then will I feel justified in complaining how slow the mail is.

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