I can now say what blessed few can say, but which millions more would like to be able to say: "I am an American."
I came to this country in 1985 to pursue graduate studies in political science at Boston College. That was 25 years ago. I have lived here ever since. F1 student visa. Free Trade Agreement work visa. Another F1 student visa. Religious worker visa. Green card. Even though I have been thinking like an American for many years now, it will take a while for my new status to sink in.
Why did I become an American? The practical reason is that I live and work here. My wife and children are American, and my life is here. That does not necessitate citizenship, but it removes the need to deal with the immigration authorities every ten years. But it's more than a matter of convenience.
The deeper reason is simply that I can. The United States of America is by far the greatest country in the world. I don't mean that chauvinistically. America is not just a country like others. We are a people who are defined and measured by the greatness of our principles. And those principles are historically unprecedented in their decency and nobility, as well as in their practical embodiment. We take them seriously. They ennoble us, and we have a noble history of demonstrating our fidelity to them, both at home and abroad. Other countries may have principles, but whereas those countries are separable from their principles, what it is to be an American is defined by what we commonly accept as our moral foundation. We expressed those fundamental principles in the Declaration of Independence at the moment of our national birth in 1776.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
Notice that the Declaration does not affirm these things in the abstract. "We hold these truths." Our common embrace of these truths is what unites us as a political community. We are committed to viewing one another as rights bearers who hold those rights not by force of popular will or by any ancient tradition, but by virtue of having been created equally by God. And we insist that the government treat all people under its care with the same respect.
Of course, America never fully lives up those ideals, but we strive to do so, sometimes more, sometimes less. We are a nation of tender conscience. So Martin Luther King Jr could say, "I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.'" America is always rising because we are always falling short, and when we fall too far short our national moral failure provokes us to mend our ways as a people and return more faithfully to our high aspirations. Because our principles are true and because we are frail human beings, our principles are always beyond us. But as such, they draw us upward.
In some ways, we are no longer the nation we once were. In some other ways, we are better. But if we hold to our principles of liberty, then what Ronald Reagan said at the 1992 Republican National Convention will continue to be true: “America’s best days are yet to come. Our proudest moments are yet to be. Our most glorious achievements are just ahead.”
That's why I love this country, and that's why I'm proud to be an American.
(Sadly, because of over-reaction to the terrorist threat, I was not able to bring a camera into the courthouse.)