CITIZENSHIP – we think we know what it means. Of course we do. It’s a significant identity. Most Americans are born with the title. An automatic stamp on a passport. But for me and my parents, the journey took a little longer. The process was called Naturalization.
We had to go through the process of learning about citizenship, citizenry, its history and rules. We were provided with two pocket size books. One was the United States Constitution (which I still have and use) and the other, ‘How to Prepare for the Naturalization Test’. Both were in English and therefore the word for word translation was a test unto itself.
The night school teacher emphasized words, “E pluribus unum – acclimation – assimilation – Melting Pot – Color Blindness – American Dream and to learn the English”
We learned that the meaning of citizenship was one of the most significant reasons why education is required and why life-long learning about our citizenship was encouraged.
Its ethos and essence was said to be directly connected to our Democracy and would determine the quality of our lives. It was said to be our protection from foreign and domestic terrorism.
We were told that each citizen had equal rights and that we would be treated equality with dignity and mutual respect. The messages were inspirational and filled with hope. Especially for those of us who had fled autocracies, unscrupulous despots, violence and where political lying was a national norm.
Yes, citizenship for immigrants – raising our right hand – taking the oath – went far beyond any civic’s class. I remember my parents and I getting dressed up for such a day. It was a holiday to be remembered and treasured. The ride home even seemed different – one of fulfillment. We now needed to keep our oath and contribute for the greater good.
So how does the rest of America learn about this honorable and significant title bestowed at birth?
Some would argue that the meaning is determined by how each citizen views themselves and how we view each other.
Wow, that leaves a great deal to interpretation and much taken for granted. Does this mean that it’s left to each citizen to figure out what citizenry and citizenship is all about? Wow – quite a leap of faith.
Do we think of ourselves as citizens of a region of the country, a state or do we, as human beings, see ourselves as citizens of a world beyond flags and borders. Can we do both without compromising our oath to our country and to each other as Americans?
Supposedly, we could and would when needed. We were willing to take up arms to defend others far from our borders – to defend their citizenry and their humanity.
So is Citizenship a subtitle to our inherent title of Human Being? Great question for a Civic’s Class to ponder or maybe a Humanities Class. Do they teach Civics and Humanities any more?
The following are some lessons and questions that my parents and I continued to learn and discuss beyond that day when we took the oath.
So how is Citizenship taught in real life? Citizenship is not only learned in schools but also by lessons taught by ancestors, family, mentors who teach the universality of its meaning – its connections to next door neighbors, those across town, states and across oceans.
Citizenship comes with the responsibility to seek veracity and credibility socially, culturally and politically in our institutions and to pursue the truth as fellow citizens. How else can we have an honest conversation if not substantiated by credibility and trust?
Citizenship is not static but dynamic, ever morphing including segments of society – fellow citizens that were invisible and voiceless.
Citizenship urges the critical review of history in order to not repeat past atrocities.
Citizenship is connected to the principles of our democracy, social justice, rule of law, inclusivity, equity and the inalienable rights declared and affirmed by the Declaration of Independence, Constitution and Bill of Rights.
With each incoming generation, Citizenship advocates for the authentication and amplification of civil norms and principles as they pertain to collaborations and responsibilities to enhance the quality of life of all current and future citizens.
Citizenship by Naturalization does not excuse immigrants from reflecting upon and learning about the legacy of injustices and multigenerational trauma faced by women, Native Americans, African Americans, Latinos/as, Asians and other minorities. The entire history of the USA beckons truth telling rather than denialism and revisionism.
Citizenship encourages civil discourse and debate in order to arrive at compromise and consensus for the greater good.
Citizenship provides an empathic voice to those who immigrate seeking asylum, sanctuary, protections and opportunities of worth. Citizenship urges us to keep in mind, that aside from Native Americans, all of us were, at one time or another, immigrants and non-citizens.
Citizenship is non-partisan in respect to voting rights and advocates that all citizens be provided opportunities to vote without needless obstructions to availability and access to vote.
Citizenship is worthy of our daily mutual awareness, respect and recognition of its essence. So how about not just talking or writing about it but rather what every Civic’s and Humanities Class would advocate – living it.