I gave the following speech to Toastmasters on January 29th, 2003, as Speech #2, "Sincerity".
Fellow Toastmasters and Guests, last September, on the first
anniversary of 9/11, I made one of the biggest decisions of my life: I
decided to apply for American citizenship, to become naturalized.
Like many of you, I am an immigrant. I have spent most of my adult life
in this country. Fourteen years ago, I came to the US from Ireland to
earn a Masters degree. I moved to Seattle in 1992, the same year that I
became a permanent resident. I have made a career here, as well as many
ties: those of friends, of family, and of assets. I met my wife here
five years ago; together we have bought a lovely house in Seattle.
My two brothers became US citizens last year. Apart from my parents and
some friends in Dublin, my ties to Ireland grow weaker every year. I
have changed and grown since I came here and Ireland has changed too.
It's noticeably different from the country that I left, both better and
worse. I am still proud of being Irish, but I expect to spend the rest
of my life living in America.
It might seem to you that it should have been an obvious decision for
me to become a US citizen. Indeed, you might ask why I didn't do it
much sooner. But this was not an easy decision for me. I dithered about
it for years. Only my decision to come out of the closet as a bisexual
in '91 was harder.
I put this decision off for so long because I have misgivings about
America, the swaggering bully of the world, about the outrageous
consumption of the planet's resources, about the arrogance and
complacency of so many Americans who uncritically believe that America
is better than anywhere else.
I am leery of American patriotism because it is so often identified
with conformity, blind nationalism, and militarism. America: Love It or
Leave It! My Country, Right or Wrong!
I am appalled by a rich country leaving 41 million of its citizens
without health insurance. I am troubled by the intolerance and power of
the Religious Right. I have no liking for the Bush administration,
their war mongering, their unilateralism, their crony capitalism, their
disregard for the environment, their abrogation of rights in the name
This litany is so depressing that you must be wondering by now not why
it took me so long to apply for citizenship, but why I haven't fled to
a more congenial country.
I want to become an American because I believe in the promise of
America, in the ideals of the Founding Fathers: the inalienable rights
of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. I believe in the Bill
of Rights, in Freedom of Speech, and in the Separation of Church and
I want to become an American because for all of its flaws, America has
so much in its favor. This is a beautiful country, full of millions of
the nicest people you'd ever want to meet. Many of them are working
hard to build a better society. America provides great freedoms and
opportunities, not just to make money but to remake oneself.
Freedom of speech is taken seriously here: Europe has chilling libel
laws instead of the First Amendment. In the US, I have the right to
dissent. I can call the Clintons foul fiends from Hell or write that
Bush is a dangerous dolt, without fear that the secret police will kick
down my door one night and haul me off to the gulag. This is why
Operation TIPS and the Pentagon's Office of Total Information Awareness
are so unAmerican.
In Ireland, the Catholic Church had a "special position" written into
the Constitution for several decades, though its authority has been
much diminished in recent years. In America, the principle of
Separation of Church and State means that I am free to be a godless
atheist and my wife is free to be a Wiccan. Some people may object to
that, but the state does not privilege their religious beliefs over
mine, nor mine over theirs.
No other country has come close to the technological ferment of Silicon
Valley. Only in America could Microsoft have been such a success. The
Internet was born here and still remains deeply American. My early
exposure to the Net in the mid-to-late Eighties played a big part in my
initial decision to come here.
Millions of people move here every year, making America the most
heterogenous society in the world. For all of its flaws, this is a good
place to be! There is no perfect country! Every country, every nation
Permanent residents have all the responsibilities of citizenship, save
that of jury duty. I pay taxes, I am subject to the laws of this
country. Had I been slightly younger when I got my green card, I would
have been required to register for the draft.
As a permanent resident, I also have many rights in the US. But there
is one right that I do not have, perhaps the most important right of
all: the vote. I have been of voting age for almost 20 years, but I
have only once had the opportunity to vote in a national election in
Ireland or the U.S, seventeen years ago in 1986.
Even though I have been active in the community for many years, giving
time and money to causes that I care about, I diminish myself by
forgoing the full experience of being an American.
Like many others, I found the events of 9/11 profoundly disturbing. I
was heartened when the country pulled together afterwards, then
disappointed when it drifted back to business as usual.
Nevertheless, in honor of 9/11, I chose to apply for American
citizenship. I hope to become a citizen within a year.
It was time for me to move past my fears and embrace America
wholeheartedly. This is my home now. If there are things that I do not
like about it, then I must work harder to change them.
I'm proud of much that is good in America: its fine people, its
beautiful lands, its Constitution. I'm proud to be part of a country
that gives rise to leaders like Martin Luther King, Abraham Lincoln,
and Thomas Jefferson. America is the wellspring of modern democracy and
it continues to inspire the world.
Naturalization was the right choice for me. I hope American citizenship
is also the right choice for you.
I heard from the INS last week. My "initial interview" is scheduled for