The Advantage of Citizenship

Let me take you on a trip. It’s right about the turn of the century, and I’m a 15-year-old engrossed in everything normal and expected: blink 182, school, friends, and boys. Except there is one aspect that’s not so normal in my suburban upbringing: my father is not a U.S. citizen.

And that didn’t mean much to me at all growing up. He was a legal resident, so deportation wasn’t a fear in his case. But after my parents got divorced, it found itself a constant cause for concern as it related to my stepmom, who had moved here from Spain to marry my dad. There were weeks and months at a time she would disappear, returning to her homeland as a condition of her visa—sometimes overstaying it—and therefore facing the consequences of that decision.

So when I tell you that I vaguely remember the day my father became a U.S. citizen, it’s because it was never posed as a lifelong dream of his. It was sold as something practical and necessary in keeping my stepmom from having to jet back and forth from Spain every few months. But now, twenty years later, as a married mother of three…I am transported back to the large auditorium where they were all “naturalized.” Bustling crowds, faces of every color, eyes of every shape. Scores and scores of brown, black, yellow, and white people lined up in the stands, raising their right hands, pledging allegiance to a country to which they now call home.

Few people get to witness this experience: citizenship as a choice. Relinquishment of where you were born in exchange for a guarantee of where you could legally die. And yet, I don’t think I shed a tear, I don’t recall taking it in then logically, or even being profoundly moved. But it lives somewhere in my bones, somewhere I can transplant myself back to when I am in a sea of people who don’t look like me. A resonance in my body picking up on hope, and strife, and pride. A bodily sensation emerges when “The Pledge of Allegiance” is sung in unison among a crowd.

The motion brings me back to those words being recited in dozens of accents, said unlike any time you’ve heard it during the morning announcements as a child. Sung better than any time you’ve heard the “National Anthem” at a baseball game as an adult. A reminder of people who actually believe in indivisibility and justice for all. People who chose to be a part of the land of the free, the home of the brave.

People who did more than just emerge from the body of an American woman to get the right to vote.

I vote for them. And I don’t insist you vote progressive or conservative for them (though I really, really have my ideas about which way would work out better!). Just go to the polls and vote. There are people who cross oceans with their bodies, cram themselves in trunks, in shipping containers, live by the dozens in tiny one-bedroom apartments just to be American. Drag their disinterested American teenagers to auditoriums full of immigrants just to watch them say “The Pledge of Allegiance” (something I could have seen any morning in school), but when I tell you it’s the only time I ever really believed the people saying it, let it be a reminder of what we are called to do now:

Vote.

Christina Baquero Dudley is a writer of poems and narrative essays exploring the American feminist perspective as the daughter of an immigrant. She earned her BA in Psychology from UT Austin and has worked in public mental health organizations serving adults with severe and persistent mental illness. These experiences inform her writing and her heart. Christina has been published in print and online through various publications such as Lucky Jefferson, the Toho Journal, and Jen Pastiloff’s The Manifest-Station.

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