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Valuing the Gift of Citizenship


One of the privileges of being the publisher of a community newspaper is I have the ability to reach out to a diverse audience on any number of issues. I am mindful of the weight of responsibility inherent in such a privilege. As such, I interject myself into the conversation only on rare occasions, thus allowing my editorial team to do their jobs. Every now and then, however, I am moved to write on a topic of particular importance to me. This is one of those occasions. With over 30 years of publishing, I have no doubt earned this right.
As immigrants in this great and beautiful country of ours, it seems we are always doing the two-step: clinging to that which is a sacrosanct part of our histories, while embracing the new vistas our new country has to offer. All of us endeavor in earnest to find the balance between these two worlds. In this seemingly precarious balancing act, we often focus more on where we came from rather than where we are now and where we are headed. As South Asians, we are great at putting together galas, balls and commemorations that pay homage to our Indian heritage. Don’t misunderstand. This preservation of our rich heritage is vital.
In the process, we have often given short shrift to our new identities as Americans. When is the last time any of us have flown an American flag over our homes or businesses? When is the last time we celebrated July 4th or Memorial day, How many of us even own an American flag? When is the last time any of us have paid our respects at a Veterans’ cemetery? Who among us can recite the Pledge of Allegiance by memory or sing the Star Spangled Banner without faltering on the words? When is the last time any of us has gathered together for the sheer gratitude of being Americans? Is the latter not worth celebrating? I suspect the numbers are woefully inadequate.
When we took advantage of the gift of citizenship in the greatest country, we made some promises. Among the promises we made: “I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same…”
Our beautiful country celebrated its 241st anniversary of independence on July 4, 2017. The Indian community will celebrate India’s 71st Independence Day on August 15. We will make a mighty celebration out of the latter, as well we should. It is a pity we didn’t make as big or even bigger commemorative occasion of July 4th when we had the opportunity. Shame on us.
We came here as immigrants, made successful lives for ourselves. We became the envy of some and the gold standard to follow for others. From the luxury of our gated communities, the corner offices of law firms, hospitals full of Indian doctors, investment banks and academic institutions, the gains we have made unequivocally say: we have arrived. From our churches, temples, gurudwaras and mosques, we pray to anyone we want without risking our lives; something many cannot say they can do in India or other parts of South Asia. Our children receive scholarships to the most prestigious institutions of higher learning. Arrogantly, we have come to believe that this is something we are entitled to.
The unvarnished and uncomfortable truth: the lives we live as citizens of the United States of America are not a right we own. It is a privilege that has been given to us.
Somewhere along the way, we forgot what has allowed us to enjoy this way of life. We have forgotten it is the blood of American servicemen and women spilled on the beaches of Normandy, the jungles of Vietnam, Iowa Jima, the forced death marches in Bataan, in the deserts of Iraq and the vastness that is Afghanistan that allow us to live the lives we do. If walking through the rows and rows of white headstones and the freshly dug graves in Section 60 of Arlington National Cemetery doesn’t make you profoundly grateful, nothing will.
Yet we do so little to honor our chosen country.
All is not lost. We still have an opportunity to rectify this error. We can start when we celebrate India’s Independence Day this week. We can start the Indian Independence Day celebrations with homage to the greatest country: the United States of America. This is the land we chose when we left India and other countries of South Asia.
Moving forward, we honor this choice by paying homage to the United States of America as a part of every single celebration wherein we honor our various countries of origin. We instill in our children respect for this country and its history. We inculcate in a new generation the meaning of service to our country, in and out of uniform.
We made a promise to bear allegiance to our chosen country. It is time we honored this promise with outward demonstrations of our profound gratitude and loyalty.
– Koshy Thomas

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