What It Means to Be a Citizen of the United States

What It Means to Be a Citizen of the United States

As one of an endless stream of boats filled with immigrants approached the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island in New York Harbor, a sight many millions of people have given almost everything they had to get a glimpse of, smiles filled with hope invaded the immigrants’ wretched expressionless faces. These people endured hardship to reach America’s shores, shores filled with promise, shores filled from coast to coast with opportunity, shores teaming with freedom. Like many an immigrant before them, these promising displaced Americans from all walks of life victoriously raised their voices in unison:

“America! America!”

For these newcomers, the American Dream was finally at hand. A dream our forefathers fought and died for, to create a nation where all are treated with equality, where all get a fair shake, and where all people are free to believe in what they want, to worship, as they please and to create a life they can be proud of and enjoy.

Suddenly the ship’s atmosphere exploded, filled with electricity. The immigrants, soon to be real Americans with any luck, embraced each other, hugging and kissing as they danced with joy. Gone were the saddened faces, heavy hearts and feelings of regret. Gone were the fears and trepidations that America was not real, that it was a myth, a whopping lie used to fill the downtrodden with hope. Tears flowed in abundance while many fell to their knees kissing the floor of the vessel that brought them to the shores of their dream. There she stood, and still stands, tall and proud, Lady Liberty, signifying the freedom that all humans actually crave.

Across the entire deck, hands raised towards the heavens could be seen from miles around. Prayers of thanks were uttered in various tongues for their safe arrival. For the first time, in that particular magical moment, this mass of immigrants like many other immigrants for decades and now centuries before, became unified. Another eclectic mix of different cultures with different backgrounds from different parts of the world were now of one mind, one soul and one spirit. They were overcome by the American spirit, a pioneering spirit filled with courage and determination. It is what willed these people to drag themselves and their family half way across the world to take a chance on themselves, to see what they could do without limits, in a truly free society. Whatever awaited them, it had to be better than what they had left behind.

This of course is a generic description of many voyages and many ships that have filled America with the wonderful immigrants that have helped build this country, truly the most wonderful country on the planet, the Great Melting Pot. Stop and think about this for a moment. America has always been a haven for so many who have suffered tremendous hardships in other countries, in their own homelands. They have suffered wars, famine, calamities generating poverty, racial prejudices, religious persecution, and political oppression of all types. However here, in America, they were given an opportunity to carve out their own niche and to prosper and grow, and they have given back to America a piece of its wondrous, giving, enduring personality. The Land of the Free, Home of the Brave.

Centuries ago, a great majority of emigrants from different origins left their places of birth in pursuit of the “American Dream”, which symbolized for them democracy, equality, liberty, justice and most of all, material well-being. They were persecuted in their own lands for their religious beliefs, cast aside as miscreants and wastes of space. However, here, on these grand shores, they worked hard and built a community and a booming economy that became the envy of the world, against long odds.

“The American Dream,” a term first used by James Truslow Adams in his book the Epic of America written in 1931, is stated as such: “…that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement. It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.”

America has always been viewed as a country of opportunity. We are a nation built on immigration, built by those that endured hardship to come here and build a better life for themselves and for their community. That is what has made America so great. It’s not historically a birth right. It’s earned, and therefore, appreciated. Its mixture of culture, race and languages has been combined throughout the years to make us the great, diverse and respected nation that we are today. Our remarkable democratic structure has contributed to this diversity. We depend on each other. We need each other to form a consensus to create the boundaries by which we all strive to better ourselves. America to many, perhaps, has become an entitled nation. We are simply supposed to be given the house, the white picket fence, the TV and the 2 cars. Nonetheless, that isn’t and never has been the case. The reason we’ve accrued so much wealth and prosperity is because most Americans have worked for and have earned it. Especially immigrants, who had to earn their way through the door just to earn the right to get a chance to prosper.

Our early ancestors, in pursuit of the American Dream and the “Hope” that it inspired, dared to explore new horizons, freedom of choices and action. They endured enormous injustices along the way, inhumanities, and severe hardships, as they were woven into the texture of earning the American way of life. Often stereotyped and discriminated against, immigrants over the years have suffered verbal and physical abuses because they were “different.” Undaunted by poverty, illiteracy, discrimination and discouragement, they sacrificed and toiled, continually making significant contributions to the economic strength of America and to a richer cultural diversity in the department of arts, music, education, language and Cuisine.

In fact, the Forefathers themselves were immigrants. We often forget that. The new image carved out of the distant wilderness helped mold and maintain the enterprise system that has made America what it is today, the financial center of the World. Whether immigrants worked on farms, in factories, building railroads, bridges, towns or cities, their rewards were greater than any nation could ever offer. Because of their hard work, perseverance and sweat, America is now a nation among all nations. A nation where every William M. Webster IV enjoys his or her liberty, especially in the area of choice and opportunity, in comparison to the limited freedoms found in other countries.

Now, centuries later, America is still providing the same freedom and opportunities that our ancestors once pursued when they founded this magnificent Nation, in whose footsteps we follow. The American Dream is still our dream to embrace if we want to receive it. The problem is too many native-born citizens take that opportunity for granted. However, ask any immigrant, if freedom and the American Dream aren’t a birth right. They are a God Send that must be earned and respected if we are to keep America strong, at the vanguard of the World’s Super Powers.

What does it mean to be a citizen of the United States? To an immigrant it means everything, because that is what they give up to receive the opportunity to become an American, and for that reason, they respect it for what it doubtlessly is, an opportunity to make the world an exceptional place as we see fit. It not only is an opportunity to better ourselves, but it also is an opportunity to remain a beacon of hope for oppressed people. So let’s say that America is a land of unbridled opportunity. What more could you ask for? I assure you opportunity is more than the Forefathers ever hoped for before they founded this extraordinary nation, and look what they accomplished with their opportunity. Now what will you do with yours?

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