Today, March 29, 2016, I became a naturalized U.S. citizen. I chose to become one. and here I am! After 20+ years of living in the States, I finally got the opportunity to submit the appropriate paperwork (over the course of a year, but who’s counting?), hand over all necessary fees, go through biometrics appointments, pass the corresponding examinations (with a perfect score, may I boast) and present myself in front of a district judge to recite the Oath of Allegiance, loudly and proudly, in the company of dozens of others fulfilling the same choice — saying, “Yes, America, yes I choose you.”
The ceremony was more emotional than I had imagined. Seeing dozens of people gathered to take the very same step, regardless of origin, reminded me how truly colorful and multifaceted this country’s cultural tapestry is. How special. 47 countries were represented in that room today – from Argentina to Zimbabwe, Brazil to Ghana, the Philippines to Vietnam, England to Jamaica and every corner of the world in between. As I thought of their distinct journeys, their hopes, unknown to me, I couldn’t help but be reminded of my own — of my parents, their sacrifices, their hopes and their pursuits…all of which have led me here, to that very moment. “I, Valeria Lento Palmertree… will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies.”
When I was a child, my parents took the first step in the journey that ultimately opened up the winding roads ahead, the ones that have led me to my own paths and realizations. Today, I didn’t just realize my own desire of becoming an American Citizen. By way of that accomplishment – call it what you will – I checked off my parents’ ultimate vision. They were in that courtroom today – of that, I am certain.
As you think of your own journeys and hopes and visions for the future, I hope you’ll take a pause to give thanks for the freedom to walk them and pursue them — and do so, every single day. We throw our gratitude for freedom around in such cliches these days. Consider what it would signify to choose that freedom, to be given the opportunity to pursue it and accept it and declare it loud and proud. We are American.
As an elderly Cuban lady so excitedly and emotionally proclaimed upon receiving her Certificate of Naturalization today: “Finally! Finally!”