7:14am

Sun May 29, 2011
Opinion

Becoming An American: A Proud Canadian's Story

Jackie Northam covers foreign affairs for NPR news. She has spent two decades covering the world's hot spots, reporting on international and foreign policy issues. She was born in Medicine Hat, Alberta.

The one question that came up repeatedly since I started my U.S. naturalization process nine months ago was: why?

Canada, my birthplace, is a great country. Why, I was asked, would I want to change my nationality? Why not just renew my green card? Why would I want to become a U.S. citizen — especially now — when America is losing influence in the world, and its economy is in shambles?

Well, it's just how things evolved.

I started the process of renewing my green card, and before I knew it, I was completing a naturalization application. It was a simple decision, made without much forethought. As the naturalization process played out, I often found myself questioning my decision. I'm not like countless others before me: people escaping persecution and hardship, coming to this country to experience freedom, democracy and the chance at a better life. I wasn't escaping anything.

Despite the jokes and the weather and my accent, I loved being Canadian, I've always been proud to say I'm Canadian. It's all I've ever known. And here I was turning my back on my home country by deciding to go off with the bigger, bolder, flashier nation.

The months passed and finally the day came. May 10, time to take the oath of allegiance to the United States of America. I woke up feeling emotional. I put on a white and red dress — the colors of the Canadian flag — and headed to the courtroom.

A half-dozen good friends wanted to be in the courtroom to see me take my oath. As I sat on one of the many long benches, along with the other immigrants, I looked over at my friends waiting in the wings, acting up and enjoying the experience.

I realized they were a large part of why I decided to become an American.

I lived for more than a decade overseas: east and west Europe, Asia and Africa. I was always pulling up stakes, starting over somewhere new and having to make new friends. I was always a visitor — a short-timer. I've now lived in the States for more than 15 years. It's home. This country has given me so much: a great job, endless opportunity and, more than anything, people who love and care about me as much I love and care about them.

I knew as I waited in that courtroom that I didn't want to be just a visitor here anymore. I wanted to make the commitment and be a part of the family — to give back to this country. I was ready and willing to take the oath of allegiance.

I stood during the oath, right hand raised and my left hand holding an American flag and a white Kleenex to wipe the tears that were flowing freely.

And then it was over. Along with 101 other people, I had just become an American. There was a great and happy atmosphere in the courtroom. There were lots of hugs from my friends and more pictures.

Despite my months of hesitation, I felt good. No more self doubts about becoming a citizen of the United States. It was the right decision.

And the first thing I did was fill out my voter registration form and put it in the mail.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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