July 4th: Reflections on Choosing Citizenship

dinner held by friends on my  first July 4th as an American Citizen
dinner held by friends on my first July 4th as an American Citizen, The Pines, Fire Island (2002)

It was June 14th, 1994 when I drove up to the border crossing between Canada and the United States in the Thousand Island.  Papers in hand, I embarked on a new journey — my American journey.  Leaving a solid career in politics, public affairs and lobbying, I crossed the border, green card in hand, to embark on new beginnings in Corporate Communications.

Along the road of that new venture a highly respected and prominent DC-based business person told me I would never make it in the USA, my skills/background were not relevant.  Perhaps I should return to Canada where my background mattered. My many new-found American professional colleagues and friends, people like you, have proved him wrong. Ya’ll have been most welcoming indeed, says a former Canadian, now American, living in Texas.

Several months after that negative advice, from a home base in Richmond VA (where Mom and Dad and family had settled sometime earlier) I started a new career in communications. First stop, St Louis (as a PR consultant to companies, one of which was Dell and wining a silver anvil in 1997), the gateway (arch) to the west, learning the midwest and living near the Mississippi. Then it was on to the “communications capital of the world,” New York, again consulting in public relations, and learning the North East, not to mention that great city, New York.  And, now here I am, in the south west, first with Dell and now an entrepreneur. Who’d of thought?  A helluva a great journey and a proud American, who still respects his Canadian roots.

American Citizenship was actually obtained in February 2002. Schooled for my citizenship test by Geraldine Ferraro, I scored 100%.  (When I called Geraldine to tell her, her response was, “I expected no less of you Richard” 🙂 ). And then on a cold day in February of 2008, it was off to Citizenship Court to take the Oath and receive the formal papers.  It was a choice to become a citizen.  And, so I thought a celebration might be in order.

With friends and family from Canada and the United States we went from the Citizenship Court to Fraunces Tavern, where George Washington famously said “good bye” to his troops, for a Citizenship Lunch, hosted by Geraldine; then we walked over to the World Trade Center site and paid our respects; onwards to mid town for a (Boston) Tea Party (as in jazz and cocktails); followed by cocktails and dinner in my neighborhood of Chelsea, and then of course, the ultimate NYC experience — an all-night dance at a NYC club, with a good friend and dj spinning great mixes.

citizenship parties invite

I’m thinking it might soon be time for something like that again, with a whole group of people (including you) whose paths I have had the pleasure and honor to cross since then…although, in some respects, the annual allhat event has some of that flavor (thanks to David :-))

As you might guess, July 4th reminds me of my decision to become an American, as well as the great time we had at the “all-day citizenship celebration”. July 4th reminds me I chose to become an American. There were some luncheon speeches, and here is part of what I said in February 2002 on becoming a citizen:

I think we should reflect on this thing called citizenship. It is not something to be taken for granted, whether we choose it, as I have done, or simply have it because of birth or other circumstances, as used to be my situation.

Citizen. What is it? It’s sort of like, lets discuss “being”

According to the dictionary citizen is a member of a state who has full political privileges and protection. Citizenship is the condition of having all civil rights and duties.

I guess that would be equivalent to “being” with some “obligations”.

Surely, it seems to me, that full political privileges and protections, and the having of civil rights merits some duty. And that duty need not be onerous. I think that duty can be as simple as pausing, every once in a while, to treasure, think about and value this thing we call citizenship.

And one of the values is respect and freedom as partially delineated in the Constitution and the first 10 amendments (see Geraldine, I did get it). Respect for diversity, in all that means, including different opinions, lifestyles/orientations, cultures, ethnic groups and religions. Tolerance for differences and freedom to participate with each other, creating our communities.

This seems to me to be a hallmark of the value of citizenship.

I think it is incumbent on all of us to, at the very least, be cognizant of the fact that our being a citizen confers rights and responsibilities that foster the free, tolerant and respectful society we live in — and often we just take this for granted. “

Great_Seal_of_the_United_States_(obverse).svgHope your Independence Day is special. I hope it means something special to you too.  This is a great country; it is why I chose it!

E pluribus unum for sure. Out of many, One! Have a great 4th!!

PS: We will return to the normal  business content following the “national holidays” :-).  Hope you enjoyed a little interlude…or that it gave you chance to think about other things..

2 thoughts on “July 4th: Reflections on Choosing Citizenship

  1. My dear Cousin!

    Your reflection on the American Independence Day holds indeed some interesting thoughts that have led me, an African born Swiss citizen to reflect a bit on our independence that started some time back in 1291 and is celebrated every year on the 1st of August. Apologies for my probably not so perfect English, but I hope you can at least guess what I want to express.

    The thoughts that came to my mind were – in contrast to what you reflected upon – rather forward directed than looking back, imagining what could happen one day to the “thing” called citizenship.

    Citizenship for many is a mean of identification with a country, with the place they live in (by birth) or by choice as in your case. It helps define who we are, gives us roots. It is associated with values, rights and obligations. They define how we think about things and how we define ourselves: in the western world mostly through external things like things we possess, praise, income, job, etc – or citizenship, claiming that this is what our culture (or the media) tells us that we are.

    An alternative for this identification could be, that we identify ourselves with ourselves.

    When we start to define ourselves from our inner most, from our hearts we allow ourselves to listen to our inner voice and start to define our actions, reactions and moves based on what it tells us. This could define a new culture with values that are based on truth, honesty, openness, ethics, caring, love, support and trust, a culture, where it does not matter anymore, what country someone is from, where it does not matter anymore, what culture you grow up in because these “heart-values” are valid cross-border and cross country. In extremis this could lead us to a point, where we don’t need borders anymore, where we don’t need war’s or fights, countries or presidents anymore, where we recognize, that you are me and that there is no such thing as a thing because we are all one. Consequently it would lead to a world-citizenship – or even make this one obsolete because we’re just being.

    I know, this is probably a dream, far away from today’s reality. However, it is a vision, that appeals to me and if you believe in the fact that thoughts become words and words create our reality in many ways, then it is worth every thought to write this and put it in words.

    What’s your vision for citizenship?

    1. Martin, you are very correct that all European nations roots of citizenship certainly pre-date anything I was discussing :-).

      I also suspect you are right that citzenship as defined from within by ourselves could indeed lead to a more global perspective. However, from days studying political science, I suspect that the nation state is a pretty deeply embedded institution that will be with us for quite some time…as you pointed out the longevity of Switzerland dating to the 1200s. The point to the blog post was less about looking back, and was more about the fact that as a citizen (of a country or a global citizen), we have responsibilities and obligations in exchange for the “rights” we call our homes, irrespective of country. Hope that makes a little more sense in the context of your comment.

      Thanks for coming by….always good to see a relative. Next trip to Europe we must connect 🙂

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