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Citizenship and Birthright

It is such a shame that no one I knew was with me on the most memorable important day of my life.

I will never forget the day I got the letter from U.S. Immigration telling me the date I was to take the oath of U.S. Citizenship. This red-letter day was the result of many months of agonizing, soul searching and counseling with my own conscience.

No one could help me with this decision. A decision that every immigrant to this country faces

After leaving my homeland my life took me to live in many countries and I always maintained my British nationality. Living and travelling in and out of countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia my British Passport had advantages. I did not give any thought about giving it up and besides, what better embassy from which to seek advice than the British who have been in the diplomatic business a very long time.

I have been fortunate to be able to go back to Scotland frequently and that inborn magnet to “get back home” has been easy for me over the 60 years I have been away.

When we flew into Honolulu Hawaii from Tokyo Japan, the flight attendant made an announcement that only U.S. Passport holders could disembark, and all others would be notified when they could leave the plane. We were seasoned travellers and knew that patience is essential in these situations.

However, after a couple of hours on the plane followed by 3 or 4 more hours in a warehouse with two or three hundred passengers my patience was wearing thin.

Coming from Japan most of the passengers were Japanese and therefore all announcements were in Japanese.

It transpired that five jumbo jets had arrived at Honolulu Airport at the same time and there had been a strike that morning of Customs Officers, that is why there was such a long delay in processing foreigners through Passport Control.

After this experience I resolved to become a U.S. Citizen.

I drove to the Department of Immigration downtown Honolulu for information – no internet back then. Since we lived in the township of Mililani it was quite a long drive.

I got all the paperwork and guidelines on how to become a citizen of the United States. Upon perusal of page after page of requirements, I discovered that not only do you have to be resident in the actual United States of America for five continuous years, but if you move from one state to another then there is another waiting period before you can apply. I read all the material thoroughly and thought that it would not be too difficult for me, since I would not have a problem with the language.

What I was not prepared for was the dilemma of making this decision about swearing allegiance to a foreign power.

Many of my American friends felt insulted that I was hesitating to become a fully-fledged member of this Utopian Society.

I don’t think many of us know what “Citizenship” really means. Do you? How do you define “Citizeship”?

Most natural born U.S. Citizens take this forgranted, unless like our family, have lived in a foreign country on the local economy (not on a military base) and have a chance to observe the shortcomings in foreign lands.

Did I really want to stop being British? What made me British? Did I want to give up my birthright? Who taught me to stand and sing the National Anthem and to revere the King and Queen? There were Brownie leaders who taught me honesty and loyalty and other virtues. I had two Scottish grandmothers who took me to Church and taught me to respect the elderly. Scottish Sunday School teachers who taught me the tenets of Christianity.

I lived through World War II which bonded all the British people (Scots, Irish, Welsh and English) as no other conflict has. Everyone pulled together to face the threat of the Nazis and all the hardships and sacrifices. We knew we could all depend on each other because we were all British and we were in it together.

I thought about my years of Scottish school and all those dedicated teachers who taught me everything from reading to French, Shorthand, Typing and business economics. Teachers who instilled discipline and hard work. It was a teacher who recommended that I be part of a choir which sang “I Vow To Thee My Country” to Queen Elizabeth II when she came to Scotland.

There all the were various bosses from whom I learned ethics, dependability, reliability, punctuality, professionalism, and so many colleagues who showed me kindness and how to behave appropriately.

I had started to cry as I thought about Scotland’s beautiful glens, waterfalls and mountains and my beautiful hometown, Edinburgh.

A very good friend of mine was shocked when I told her

I told her I could not go through with the application for citizenship.

She asked me if I did not think America was the grandest place in the world. She asked me if I would have the same standard of living in Scotland that I had in America.

All I said to her was “Could you ever swear allegiance to a foreign power?” and she answered emphatically – “No, never”.

I know what it means to defend your country against a foreign potentate as we in Britain did in World War II against the Nazis.

The words that are spoken and the oath that you swear at the Citizenship swearing-in cannot be taken lightly. I know because a few years later I did become a Citizen of the United States, knowing full well all the responsibility that brings.

It is a very serious step. I studied for all the exams and the ceremony was conducted at the Richard B. Russell Building in Atlanta. I received a package in the mail to say that I had passed all the tests and was told the date, time and place for the swearing in.

We were told not to bring anyone with us to witness the ceremony, which was not a problem for me as my two sons were in college and my husband was away on a business trip.

I felt that there should be a class of High School Seniors in the room to witness this and they should have to take all the same tests too.

This ceremony was the most moving thing I have ever done, and I really thought a family member should have been with me to see me take part in this very important event.

The gentleman who sat next to me was Estonian and he and I were amazed at the variety of nationalities represented there that day. French, Germans, Italians, Britons (Scots and English), Russians, Spaniards.

I am fortunate because Britain allows me to keep my British Nationality. I have a British Passport and an American Passport.

Fortunately, there is “The Special Relationship” between Britain and the United States and I will not have to take up arms against Britain.

When I left the Richard B. Russell building I made a stop at the Administration Offices for Cobb County eager to show them my new Certificate of Citizenship and to register to vote. They took all the forms I filled out, but never asked to see any proof of Citizenship!

from the Musical “Chess”

No man, no madness Though their sad power may prevail Can possess, conquer, my country's heart They rise to fail She is eternal Long before nations' lines were drawn When no flags flew, when no armies stood My land was born And you ask me why I love her Through wars, death and despair She is the constant, we who do not care And you wonder will I leave her - but how? I cross over borders but I'm still there now How can I leave her? Where would I start? Let man's petty nations tear themselves apart My land's only borders lie around my heart

Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, formerly of ABBA, and with lyrics by Tim Rice.

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