(Originally posted to Toastmasters at EraBlog on Fri, 16 May 2003 06:06:39 GMT)
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 of security.
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 State.
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 has problems.
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 late July.