I’m reminded of it by many current events. The recent 15 year anniversary of 9/11. The current 2016 election less than 2 months away. The Colin Kaepernick/NFL players protest during the national anthem. The recent presidential debate and the many other news stories that continue to inundate us everyday.
For a large majority of us we are born as citizens of the US. We don’t have to go through any active process to get citizenship. It is a right bestowed upon us by our birth in this country. However, it’s not a right we extend to everyone in our communities. True, those of us born in the US learn about what it means to be a citizen as part of our education. We learn about history and politics in the first few years of school. In fact education in-grains certain elements of citizenship. We say the Pledge of Allegiance, we learn about voting and civic engagement. Moreover, we take trips to national monuments, the capital or other institutions that represent aspects of our local government.
Let’s look at what outsiders immigrating here have to know to become a citizen. Is that a better barometer of what a US citizen is?
I would argue not. You are taught a cursory number of facts which have been deemed important. Then you need to use those facts to pass a test that reminds me of the one needed to get a driver’s license. Can you identify the statue of liberty, the length of a senate term, who the speaker of the House is, or the president during WWI? Do you know the word “capital”, “stripes”, “border” or “east”? ie Why are there 13 stripes on the US flag? Name a state that borders Canada. What ocean is on the East coast of the United States? These are real questions that real immigrants study to attain US citizenship. I know because I encountered a person doing this precise studying. That’s what motivated me to write this post.
So what does US citizenship mean? First let’s tackle what it means to me. To me it means being a part of a community. I’m obligated to interact with and contribute to this community. It’s one where everyone deserves our respect, and one in which we share many core values. One of those values is that everyone has value. Sometimes it takes more to discern what that value may be. However we should care enough to try to find that value
In the current climate, and with our country still in a state of constant agita, I find it meaningful to reflect on this. We are very worked up about race relations, about economic uncertainty, about both real and perceived infringements on freedom, about all the social injustice in our imperfect world.
That said, what do we do about it all? For me I’m reflecting on what it personally means to be a citizen of the USA. Why is this important?
It’s important to construct a well thought out personal world-view. For it is collective word-views of a group of individuals that shape a community. That’s where I think we start. My last point is that the diversity of world-views is where we get in trouble. The way we respond to that diversity of opinions is what ultimately decides if the foundation of our community is robust and capable or not.