6/30/09

The American Dream


Today was the fulfillment of a dream, many an immigrant's dream in fact. I, along with 231 other citizens from 46 countries, took our oath of allegiance as citizens of the United States of America. Inside the cavernous US Eastern District Court in Brooklyn, a judge - whose father he recounts is also an immigrant like us - solemnly administered our oath. If happiness and pride has a face, it certainly showed in all of us. But what I realize in this momentous occasion is that each one of us had stories to tell - of aspirations, struggles and a dream that just won't go away.

Almost eight years ago, on July 16, 2001, I first arrived in the United States. I got out of the plane and into the warmth of an American summer full of hope and loaded with excitement. My good friend Neneng and husband Jojo were the only familiar faces who met me at the airport. Having lived and worked in Saudi Arabia for many years, I felt confident about what I'm about to face - a new life in the United States. Neneng's family was the epitome of Pinoy hospitality, allowing me to stay with them as I slowly absorb the realities of American living.

Barely two months later, I moved to Flushing in Queens, New York to live with Ate Emma, Neneng's older sister. But September 11 came and the unfolding tragic events struck me. It almost felt like my American dream imploded along with the Twin Towers. I was scared - very scared. But Ate Emma and husband Carlos were there to support me, reassuring me that we were still safe. This at a time when then Pres. Bush was riding high in a wave of American pride, when all red, white and blue was festooned on cars and homes and everyone proudly screamed "U.S.A!" Yeah right, we shouldn't let terrorists win their game. My immigrant life has to move on.

FROM GREEN TO BLUE

I got my first paying job, enough to let me move to my own apartment in Flushing, Queens. I've grown to like the neighborhood, Flushing being an immigrant community dominated by Asians. It has become my comfort zone that I've decided to stay. I couldn't possibly let go of the convenience of it all so close to my apartment - Asian restaurants, grocery stores, shops, Macy's, post office, Catholic church, even a fire house in case of you know what. In other words, this is my kind of place. I know everyone wants to live in Manhattan but why do I have to spend stupendous amounts of rental money when I can just hop on the No. 7 train and be in Times Square in 35 minutes?

And so my life as a New Yorker continued. I worked and worked and decided I need a break just after my parents visited me. I took my Green Card for my first foreign trip to Toronto, Canada in May 2003. I was ecstatic at the thought of being able to enter our northerly neighbor just by flashing my card to the immigration officer. After my short trip, I went through US immigration and the first thing I was asked: how long have you been gone? Oh, I didn't know Uncle Sam will miss me so soon. Just a month later, I took a much longer vacation to the Philippines and as I expected when I returned, I had to admit I miss Uncle Sam alright.

More overseas jaunts of course followed which led to the birth of Nomadic Pinoy - if that's not obvious enough. In many of the trips I've made, I realized how important it is to become a US passport holder. I may have a Green Card but it's not enough to let me enter other countries. Applying for visas became a part of my routine as I noted in my previous post. But even with a visa I still felt like my Philippine passport was eyed suspiciously, holding up a conga line like my experience in Chile.

But what truly made me want to become an American was that one shining moment in November 2008. My group traveling through the sub-Saharan desert of Morocco finally reached a town connected to cable news where the US election took center stage. The election results were leaning towards an Obama victory and there we were inside a cafe, watching Al Jazeera news on TV with other Moroccans. Even if locals were happily trying to translate for us, I already sensed how happy they were of an Obama presidency. One said "Alhamdulillah!" - "Thanks to God!". My point is, there's been a lot of antagonism towards the US since Bush waged his war on terror in Iraq and Afghanistan. If Obama can change all that negative image, then it becomes easier and safer to flash an American passport in remote parts of the world. More importantly I believe, Obama is the face of hope, the poster child of change not just for America but for the rest of the world.

The American flag as seen from my apartment

A week before Barack Obama's inauguration last January, I went to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services website, downloaded application forms, filled it, enclosed a check for $675 (ouch!) and mailed it the next day. It was quite a task filling the forms especially the part that involve listing all trips taken outside of the US with dates of departure/arrival since becoming a legal resident. I've been on 22 foreign trips with a total of 262 days -no wonder Uncle Sam misses me a lot. The whole process took just 5 months: from mailing my application, fingerprinting, interview, civics test and finally the oath-taking.

Back at my apartment, I look out of my living room window and there in front of the Public School is the American flag, fluttering in the wind, the same flag that I've seen countless times through all these years. Today, that flag is giving me goose pimples, a surge of pride, a swelling of joy. My dream began in the Philippines where I was born and raised, a country that will never be forgotten, a country that will always be a part of who I am. But as I start a new chapter in my life as an American citizen, I know now I'm not dreaming anymore.

12 comments:

  1. chinacks10:25:00 PM

    Dennis!!! Congratulation!!! You didn't tell me. I read it on your blog. This calls for a celebration! I am sooo happy for you. Pareha diay ta nga year ni - anhi ug America but I came in December, exactly 3 months gyud after September 11.

    Haaay Dens, I'm so proud of you. You deserve it. To me, struggle is an understatement. We earned this citizenship after all that we've been through.

    Let me tell you our experience with having a green and a blue passport. I became a citizen last December of 2006. Oniot and I traveled to Europe last year. Lahi ra gyud ang treatment sa tourists with the color of their passports other than blue. Abi bitaw nimo, dirediretso lang ko sa immigration no questions asked whatsoever, si Oniot sige gyud kabilin kay 1 million kabuok questions gipangutana sa iya sa immigration officer with matching grabe na flip flip sa pages sa iyang passport hapit na magisi. Didto gyud nako nakita ang perks of being an American citizen. And when I came back from the Philippines, the immigration officer here said "Welcome back Ma'am". I was speechless.

    But enough about me, for the past week everything was about me. So, aha man ang first na tatak sa imo blue passport?

    Na hala, take care and God bless...

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  2. congrats Nomadic Pinoy! All the best America has to offer.

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  3. Congratulations! I know how it feels. I once had an American dream. I stayed in the US (Texas, NY, California, Nevada) for close to 6 months hoping my tourist visa will be converted into working visa which will enable me to apply for permanent residence later on. But things did not turn out well and I didn't want to stay as TNT. So I came back to Pinas and decided to stay put in our country. No regrets! But I'm happy for you. Some people will give up almost everything just to have that precious American passport. Cheers to you and happier days ahead! :)

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  4. Congrats. Any plans to apply for dual citizenship?

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  5. Congratulations! Isn't there a law in Pinas now that allows you to retain your Philippine citizenship? I know when I became a US citizen decades ago, I automatically lost my Philippine citizenship. With the new law, I can regain it by merely filing an application with any of the consulates here. A couple of my sisters-in-law have already done so and they are now citizens of both US and Pinas.

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  6. wow, what a journey and congratulations! it certainly is easier to flash the american passport now.. obama is helping our national brand.. :)

    and ah yes, i know the green and blue passports well. does that mean you have dual-citizenship??

    i was lucky, in that my birthday was literally months cut-off date of some local law that passed here when i was a kid, that automatically made me a citizen (somethin to do with my step-dad, and american, adopting me.. etc).. i am thinking of moving back to the philippines for a year or two and i feel lucky, again, that i don't need a visa due to balikbayan status!!

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  7. Congratulations, will sure be easier to travel now!

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  8. Hi Fortuitous Faery,
    Thank you!

    Hi Chinacks,
    Your husband's experience was similar to what I went through in Europe as well. But thanks for sharing your story. I'll let you know kung asa una nako dad-on akong blue passport.

    Hi cmsulit,
    Thanks. Hope you're doing well with your travels in Mindanao.

    Hi Abaniko,
    Hats off to you for keeping your part of the bargain, that is, not getting yourself into trouble by doing TNT after a visa expires.

    Hi Noel Y.C.,
    I haven't thought about that yet. Doing my civic duties as an American is what's on top of my head right now.

    Hi bertN,
    Yup, many have done it but it's not on my mind as yet.

    Hi Floreta,
    No, I don't have dual citizenship. I showed the two passports to indicate the change for me from 'green' to 'blue' this time. It would be great for you to do that - retrace your roots for a year or two!

    Hi witsandnuts,
    Thanks!

    Hi Anil,
    That's true. I read somewhere that Americans have the most countries that allow visa-free travel.

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  9. Cheers to more journeys! :)

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  10. Congratulations fellow American :) I can't remember when I had become an Am Citizen. I think I may have to check my records :)

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