Columnists > Soul Food

The drive to arrive

An immigrant's 4th of July commitment to America

Issue: "Larry Woiwode: By the book," July 4, 1998

I want to be an American. I am not just seeking U.S. citizenship: I want to become an American. The Apostle Paul wrote that "our citizenship is in heaven" (Philippians 3:20). We Christians often minimize or disregard the importance of our earthly citizenship. But Paul was also fully aware of the value of his Roman citizenship: In Acts 16:37 he demands an apology from the authorities for having punished and imprisoned him without a trial. The book of Acts goes on to describe at length Paul's legal appeals based on his rights as a Roman citizen (Acts 21 through 27). Earthly citizenship, thus, is not a small matter, even in God's eyes. Or else, why would it be important for me to take the Oath of Allegiance to the United States that requires me to "renounce and abjure all allegiance" to my country of origin, thus creating a permanent division between myself and family, friends, and the land of my birth? Why not just get "the best of both worlds" and continue as an American resident, while maintaining a foreign citizenship "in case I decide to go back"? After all, most rights afforded by the American system are there to be enjoyed by foreign residents. Or, why not take the oath but become in my own mind and in public identification a "Hispanic-American," so I can keep my "identity" without "selling out" to the "others"? Or, why not reason, as some Christians do, "I am a citizen of the Kingdom of God, therefore it does not matter what nationality I have, or if I have two or more." Why not? Because America deserves a commitment from her immigrants, and making that commitment is good for immigrants themselves. If we immigrants are going to live here and benefit from all America has to offer, then let us make this our home. Let us unpack, not just our luggage, but also our minds. Let us seek not just rights, but also responsibilities. Ultimately, like those who came before us, let us pledge "our lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor" for the betterment of the United States of America. The continued viability of the United States may largely depend on the attitudes and choices of her millions of unassimilated immigrants and other ethnic groups, as well as on the mentality of native-born Americans (especially those pushing a multicultural agenda that encourages immigrants not to assimilate). Unless welcomed, accepted, and assimilated, immigrants will continue to live as aliens, even after becoming citizens. A reciprocal process is needed, with immigrants mingling willfully and freely with the rest of society, and other Americans actively welcoming them. America should be the treasured possession of all Americans,unified by what Peter D. Salins, author of Assimilation, American Style, identifies as three fundamental components of Americanness: the American Idea (democracy, freedom and justice for all), the Protestant ethic (hard work and self-reliance), and English as our national language. This process can be illustrated by what could be called the Delta Effect. The Mississippi River, fed by many tributaries, runs its course and at its delta freely joins the ocean. The ocean, for its part, welcomes the river's fresh-different-waters and is enriched by them, but its essence as salt water remains unchanged. The river illustrates the flow of immigrants, and the ocean, America. The United States, a nation of immigrants, benefits from a constant flow (under certain conditions) of new immigrants. Ultimately, it is the pressure of the continually arriving waters that facilitates the mingling at the point of contact between salty and fresh water. This revitalizing process, however, only works if we immigrants "arrive"-that word literally means, "to come to the shore." That is what assimilation is all about. If we immigrants do not arrive, then we may become rivals, forming conflicting streams striving for supremacy. That is certainly not the solution to America's problems. We need to make up our minds. Once we are here, let us be all here. No more double-mindedness, no more dual national allegiance. Let us remember that unless the seed falls on the ground and dies, it cannot give fruit (John 12:24). My decision to seek American citizenship is the result of prayerful and lengthy deliberation. I cannot change the color of my skin, and I need not change my name. But I can and in fact have made up my mind. I want to be an American.

-Pedro C. Moreno, international coordinator for The Rutherford Institute, immigrated from Bolivia four years ago.

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