This is a very exciting Memorial Day for me. After 13 years of living in the United States, I was officially sworn in this week as an American citizen and couldn’t be more thrilled. Now, it should be mentioned that I am a die hard Canadian. I love the true North strong and free, but I’ve chosen to live, and work, and build a family in the US. I love the opportunities here, the history, the American pride and patriotism. It feels a lot like when I got married. Though I’ll always be an Elliott, it’s my family, my roots, my home, I chose to marry a McGowan. I actively decided to become part of another family and in doing that, they became my first loyalty. I’m no less an Elliott than I was before, just as I’m no less a Canadian, but my dedication starts now with the McGowan Family, and the McGowan’s are American.
I have to say I was very moved by the Naturalization Ceremony – the swearing in, the Oath of Alligiance, the Pledge of Allegiance, the National Anthem. There was a video message by President Obama, welcoming all 3504 of us to the country, and reminding us of our responsibilities both to ourselves, and our new nation. He encouraged us to be the very best we can be in order to serve this country we’d chosen. Finally there was a video presentation of American pride and landscape set to Lee Greenwood’s song “God Bless the USA”. I’m not ashamed to say I cried a bit. The officiant spoke of the journey it took to get us to this day, and though I didn’t arrive in the bottom of a ship plagued by scurvy, or try and swim from Cuba, or cross the boarder in the dead of night hoping for a new and better life, my journey was long and often difficult. I’ve had 3 different visas, one temporary green card, one permanent green card and I’m finally a citizen. Every step took time, effort and money. I crossed every I and dotted every T, and I can’t believe all the “proving” of my legitimacy is finally at an end. I belong here now and don’t have to keep authenticating it. It fills me with both pride and relief .
I love America. I think it’s a wonderful country. A unique land with a million different voices, sensibilities and opinions. Looking around at my fellow immigrants as we waved our flags and cheered our new citizenship was incredibly moving. Everybody in that room wanted to be there, and though each person had a different reason behind that desire, there was a true sense of camaraderie, regardless of race, gender or religion. Everyone was enthusiastic about being a member of this great country. So, in recognition of my new red, white and blue roots, I’d like to give a shout out to some of my favorite parts of the beautiful US of A. Happy Memorial Day!
American History– Growing up in Canada it always felt to me that American History was so much more fascinating. Canada had some interesting stories but for the most part the settlers were well behaved and docile. To this day we still have the Queen of England on our money and I love that about us. Our allegiance to the Commonwealth even after our independence is a lesson in loyalty and honor, but it’s not something that makes a rip-roaring story. Canadian History is a little like the Dumbo ride at Disneyland. You love it. You go on it every time. It’s safe and pleasant and not at all intimidating. American History on the other hand is like Big Thunder Mountain. It’s high-speed, bumpy at times, but thrilling. From the Boston Tea Party to the War of Independence with the Founding Fathers and their Declaration; through the Civil War where the country fought against itself for it’s future identity; to America’s presence and influence in both World Wars; American history is a wild ride. With the protests during the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights movement and the creation of Unions, American men and women have shown they’re not one to be silenced. The American voice rings out even when others would seek to quash it. Personally, I’ve always loved Francis Scott Key’s “The Star Spangled Banner” over all other anthems. It’s a stirring melody to ground an amazing story. The fact that the song is written about (and during) an actual event, and that the powers that be recognized this epic poem could be a rally cry for generations, is a testament to the ethos of the American people. I still tear up when I hear it. I just wish I could pick a key to sing it in properly.
American Leaders – I’m a big fan of American leaders. I’m crazy about Linclon and FDR. Between the Civil War and The New Deal I mean, how amazing were they? I adore JFK. Whether his father sold his soul to the devil or the mob to get his son in power, I don’t know – that poor family just keeps getting slammed – but his leadership was legendary. “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country?” Absolute genius. We actually own an enormous coffee table book of Kennedy pictures and quotes. What could he have done with more time I wonder? I even really like Regan. Sure he drove the deficit into the trillions but he was also the leader that said, “Tear down this wall Mr. Gorbachov!” He wasn’t afraid to truly LEAD. Sadly, as of late I believe our Commanders-in-Cheif have waffled a bit, but I’d like to see what Obama could do with 4 more years. I believed him when he said, “Yes we can”, and though we currently haven’t, I’m not blind to the fact that he was saddled with one of the worst terms ever to be the President. The financial crisis was like a horror show that never ended, and when you add the oil spill in the Gulf, 3 separate wars, all the back biting and party politics, honestly, who’d want that job? It looks awful. What I’d like to see is more bi-partisan behavior. Less disagreeing for the sake of disagreeing and fewer straight up crazies running for office. Why in today’s world have people resorted to name calling and regressive momentum regarding human rights? Why are we so divided over civil issues? Why in the ‘Land of the Free’ are some so desperate to hold people back? Stop judging and start inspiring.
The Military – I’m so proud of the Military. My Father-in-Law is career Navy, and witnessing the beauty and honor that life has brought to my husband and his family is a true testament to all the good the Armed Forces can do. It’s a life of discipline, respect and committing to something bigger than yourself. I am moved beyond belief at people who volunteer for active duty. People who put their lives on the line to defend a way of life we’ve come to take for granted. I read a bumper sticker once that said, “Freedom isn’t Free” and I believe that’s true. Freedom is paid for by the blood, sweat and tears of those who came before, and those who fight on now. If 9/11 is any indication, there will always be somebody who wants to destroy what America has created, and we must always be able to offer a response. Do I think the Military has flaws? Yes. Of course, it’s a business after all, run by people who are ambitious and fallible but ultimately, the sentiment and purpose is noble and deserves our admiration and due regard. I’m honestly grateful. Grateful that there are people out there looking out for us and our country, so we can look out for ourselves within the safety of that country. Thank you. We couldn’t do it without you.
The Capitalist System– I’m not a fan of the greedy Wall Street 3 million dollar bonus doled out after everyone else’s money was lost, or the gross opulence of the Housewives of Anywhere, but I do love the free market system. There is a reason we used to say you could be anything in America. The Land of Opportunity was created on the back of the capitalist system. I love the idea that if you work hard enough for long enough with enough tenacity, you too can be a success. Though I think today’s America has made it harder for us than ever, with the weakening public school system, the astronomical student fees that start everybody in a hole of debt, and the nepotism that seems to increase daily with the rich getting richer and the poor struggling harder, there’s still a place for upstart, entrepreneurial visionaries to soar. Say what you will about Mark Zuckerberg, he’s a hell of a success story for the American system (and no, I’m not forgetting he went to Harvard and quite possibly stole his idea).
I also love that Americans aren’t embarrassed to succeed. It’s not something they feel the need to downplay. It’s in America’s DNA to reach for the brass ring every time and I find that admirable. What we have to avoid is living like we’ve made it before we actually have. You don’t deserve it until you’ve earned it. I try and remind myself of that all the time.
The Entrepreneural Spirit – I love the American ‘Can Do’ attitude. It’s my hope that despite, or maybe because of, our country’s recent financial woes we can fully embrace that attitude again. Though I believe we’ve been riding the credit train for too long, living beyond our means and turning the American Dream into a race for “stuff”, I believe this can still be the Land of Innovation. We created the internet, the laser, the motercycle, the artificial heart, even toilet paper is credited to an American. Could I do without the atomic bomb? Sure, but the American ideal of ‘dream it and it can be real’ is what makes an environment ripe for innovators like Steve Jobs, the Wright brothers, and Walt Disney. Heck, it’s what gives us Hollywood. Alexander Graham Bell, though born in Scotland, didn’t start working on his lovely little invention of the telephone until he moved to Boston and became and American citizen. I just hope we don’t forget the ingenuity that can be garnered by living in the land of the free. We should never stop seeking to create, or believe that we can. Imagination is at the heart of so many American success stories. We must continue to aspire to greatness.
The Independent Spirit– Just as the first settlers ventured out to see what they could find, staking a claim for themselves in this new land, those of us living here today have the choice to carve our own path even when the task or road ahead may seem daunting. Though the country’s referred to as a melting pot, we are encouraged to follow our individual hearts and dreams as we pursue our happiness, which is really quite something to build a nation on. The question becomes, what path do we choose? What new way is there to forge? If my voice matters, what will I use it for?
The First Amendment– Freedom of Religion, Speech, Assembly, Press and the ability to petition the Government. How amazing is the Bill of Rights in general? To set up a Government that was for the people, by the people, and to lay out the rights of the individual so clearly is something that should continue to be admired. Each voice, no matter how diverse, matters. I just wish more people would exercise their right to use it and vote. I for one can’t wait to finally vote this year. 13 years as part of the system and I can finally have my say. I may be just one voice, but one voice a million times over, can change the world.
The American Aesthetic– I love Americana. Apple pie, mom and baseball. Soda shops with burgers and fries. J.Crew, Tommy Hilfiger, anything Ralph Lauren. The American flag with all it’s beautiful stars and stripes. I love clam digger pants on a beach, convertible cars and ray ban sunglasses. Though I couldn’t live there, I love small town America. Knowing your neighbor, boy next door, golden retriever, main street life. I love New York City and their let’s take on the world confidence. I love Texas and their boots and guns and style. I love a cowboy. I love the whole thing. From coast to coast, sea to shining sea, I think the American style is marvelous.
American Music– I once said, when asked to choose between the Beatles or Rolling Stones, that I’d take the The Beach Boys over either any day. What’s better than music inspired by the wholesomeness of 50’s and 60’s America on the California coast? I love that kind of music – Elvis, The Four Seasons, Dion, and The Turtles. I love Big Band music and the golden sound of Bing Crosby, Dean Martin or Frank Sinatra. I love the American pop group like the spectacular Jackson 5, or the cheesy glory of The Backstreet Boys. I love the great American singer/songwriter like Billy Joel, Neil Diamond or Paul Simon. I love Motown and the breakout sound of American stars like a grown up Michael Jackson, Beyonce or Gwen Stefani. I even love Country Music. Living stateside has shown me I’m far from isolated in that enjoyment. It’s the only genre that still makes money off albums, and come on, how can you not love a song with a story?
I am proud to be an American. For all it’s colored history and perceived arrogance, it’s a country of strength and perseverance. A country willing to allow you to be who you are and succeed if you can. Time after time America has stood up for the weaker man and been criticized for doing so. But so many countries, so many fights, have been settled or saved by America’s vested interest. Have we done everything right? No. Are we flawless? No. The United States may be powerful but it’s also young. We’re brash and headstrong but we’re still learning, and with any hope, growing. I am proud of my Canadian heritage. I love the cities in close proximity to the wilderness. I love the values and manners. I know how to ski, skate and canoe. I say couch, howse and sore-ree and make no apologies for it. I love the beaver, the moose and the loon. I will always want to spell color with a U, and will continue to summer North of the 49th Parallel for as long as I’m able. My future and fortune however, will be made in America, and I enthusiastically embrace the country that has actively embraced me.
I am delighted to be one of the WE.