The fourth of July. It’s a date that resonates with many of us– young, old, male, female, citizens and immigrants. It’s a time when families and communities come together, cook burgers on the grill, and watch the night sky boom with fireworks as people from across the nation commemorate America’s Independence Day. The fourth of July arguably generates the biggest displays of patriotism, pride, and nationalism within the US. There is something magical about Independence Day; for one day, despite the politics or beliefs that divide us, Americans come together to celebrate the country’s heritage, history, laws, and citizenship.
While, for some, it is a time to kick back and relax, I encourage you to think about what it means to be a citizen of the United States. From personal experience, my American identity and citizenship have not always been the most salient aspect of my life.
Growing up primarily in Belgium and The Netherlands, I felt very connected to European culture. This, at times, made me feel alienated from my American citizenship. Each Fourth of July, however, my family and friends celebrated American culture and, at those times, I understand the importance of my heritage. For some, American citizenship provides a sense of nationalism and patriotism, for others, legal and economic advantages; for me, I most value that citizenship provides a sense of belonging, security, and identity. Despite where our ancestors came from – whether arriving at Ellis Island from Europe and Asia or traveling from Latin and South America – all of us celebrate our shared cultural heritage and differences to unify on this important day.
This unity is what makes the work of CLINIC and its affiliates unique and invaluable: their fundamental mission to help give twenty-first century immigrants the same sense of belonging, security, and identity that many American-born citizens already feel. Obtaining American citizenship is about more than papers . Many of the individuals helped though legal assistance from CLINIC affiliates experienced alienation in their home countries, fled dangers like gang and drug violence, or faced political oppression. Some immigrants strive for a new beginning in America, a clean slate to provide for themselves and their families. After all, the Declaration of Independence affirms that all individuals have “the right to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness.” Many immigrants are simply seeking these rights as well; the ability to have a safe life and pursuit their dreams and the dreams of their children.
*McKenzie Roese is an intern with CLINIC's Advancement, Marketing and Communications Section