I was born in Havana, Cuba. My family came to America in early the 60's to escape the communist takeover of our beloved island home.
We were called “refugees.” For our first five years in this country, we were Cuban Refugees. Sometimes we were called “Exiles.” There was never any shame attached to this. We would have stayed in Cuba if the Castros had not come to power. America opened its generous and hospitable arms to us. We were happy to be here and felt welcomed.
By the time I was 12 years old, we were able to apply to become “Permanent Residents.” In case you don't know how this process works, this is when we were issued “Green Cards.”
I carried my Green Card with me at all times as was required by law. It was quite a challenge for a tween and then teenager to be responsible enough to do this, but I was more afraid of The Wrath of Papi (who was a serious stickler for this sort of thing - duh!) than of breaking one of the laws of the land, but that's not important right now.
In 1971, 18 year olds were given the right to vote, and it was a big deal at the time, but I would not be turning 18 until 1973. Just after my 18th birthday, I began the application process to become a Naturalized American Citizen.
The process involved:
- The Application
- The Naturalization Test
- Speaking and Writing English
- The Test (American History and Government)
- Learning the Rights and Responsibilities of American Citizenship
It took months (!) for the INS to acknowledge just the receipt of my application. (Things may be different now. This was back in the mid-70's.) I had to get myself down to the local police department and get fingerprinted. And wait. And go to the INS offices in Downtown LA to sign papers on multiple occasions which made me hate bureaucracies which made me a firm believer in small government. I finally got a date in early 1974 to take my Citizenship Test. And then I had to study. A lot.
It was an intense Civics course and I was serious about this. I remember reviewing some questions with my friends who had NO IDEA what the answers were to these questions. (If you're curious as to how you would do, try this test for yourself: Naturalization Test.
I was already in love with America, but it was at that time that it started to dawn on me what a truly exceptional country this is. My mom would take ESL* classes for over a year so she could pass her test. (*English as a Second Language.) My dad and I had many review conversations that involved the branches of government, the separation of powers, the wording of the Constitution, the genius that was this great experiment in freedom and democracy.
In my family, becoming an American Citizen was an important and serious business and we treated it as such.
I finally went to my Naturalization hearing on April 17, 1974, where I received a certificate that named me, Marta Maria Verdés, a Citizen of the United States of America. The Daughters of the American Revolution had a red, white and blue cake for us and gave us each an American flag. I remember feeling so proud and sighing a great, big, emotional sigh of relief. I vowed never to take my American citizenship lightly or for granted.
I voted in my first presidential election in 1976. (The Bicentennial!) and in every election since that time. I am a registered Republican and I am very conservative in my beliefs. (If you've been reading my blog for any length of time this shouldn't come as any big revelation.)
Voting is a sacred trust and it should be treated as such. I'm a super sappy American patriot. I love this country and the amazing system of government where the government derives its powers by the consent of the governed. I cry every time I hear the Star-Spangled Banner.
I choke up when I read this part of the Declaration of Independence: 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. —
That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men,
deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed... *sniff, sniff*
Having come from a place where there was genuine government corruption and having watched as socialism went on to destroy my homeland and so many lives, as socialism has always historically done, I believe in the beauty of our system of democracy, even with all of its flawed human representatives.
Having said all that, Happy November 6th!
Also, God Bless America. And, go Dodgers!