Jul 4, 2013

What July 4th Means to an Immigrant

By Shahina Bashir
Sixteen years ago at the Immigration and Naturalization Services offices in Baltimore, Maryland I repeated these words of oath: "I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the armed forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God."

On the day of my oath I was too overcome with emotions to truly understand the depth of the words I just uttered. It was a day which was like a dream. America, which I thought was just a mirage, has accepted me as one of its own. America was only a place which I saw on television and movies. It was a land far away from the place of my birth- a place that most Americans would not even be able to point out on a world map.
I never realized that I would become the first woman from my family and my entire generation to set foot in the US. After all, how many fathers could afford to send their children, let alone, a young woman from a poor country such as, Bangladesh to attend a university in the US? I had heard that it was easier to go to college in UK than the US. I already had an admission and a British visa to attend a university in England. I found out that I was wrong about the possibility of coming to America for higher studies. I quickly came to know that there were more than three-thousand universities and colleges in the US and I could choose one which my family could afford.
So, in January, 1980, I landed at the Dallas/Fort Worth airport in Texas. As the plane started to descend, images from the hit TV series, “Dallas”, kept flashing through my mind. I was fascinated by the number of cars in the parking lot and the vastness of the place. As I was passing through customs and immigration I heard my name being paged. A sense of panic gripped me as I was puzzled on hearing my name. Did I do something wrong? I was told to go to the information counter. There was a note for me which said that my relative who lived in Houston and whom I thought would be there to receive me at the airport was not going to come. Instead he arranged for an airport shuttle to take me to my destination. Most of the foreigners do not realize the expanse of the country. Little did I realize that the distance between Dallas and Houston was more than 200 miles and a journey that could take around four hours.
When I reached the campus and entered my dormitory room, I felt a surge of multiple emotions overcoming me. On the one hand I was excited to have finally realized the dream of coming to America and on the other feeling the immense sadness of being away from my family. I knew that I came to fulfill a purpose- to get educated, and as soon as I accomplished my goal I would once again be reunited with my family.
But, no sooner had I completed my undergraduate education that I realized I wanted to become a US citizen. Thus began a long and arduous journey which finally brought me to the Immigration and Naturalization Services office in Baltimore in 1997. Today, on the 237th birth of my adopted nation I pledge the oath of allegiance once again. I am greatly honored to be considered as a part of the rich tapestry of this great nation and I would not trade it for anything. As a Muslim, I abide by the commandment given in the Quran which says, “O ye who believe, obey God and obey the Prophet and obey those in authority from among you” (4:60). May God bless America!
Shahina Bashir is a graduate of Texas Woman's University and the national chair of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Women's writers' group. The views expressed in this post are her own and do not necessarily reflect those of Interfaith Houston.


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  2. Thank you for sharing. Being born in Pakistan and then becoming a Canadian citizen and loving both those countries, although I now have the opportunity to become a US citizen having lived here for about 15 years, the last few with a Green Card, I'm not sure if I want to do it, especially with that heavy duty oath :) Regardless of that I do feel a certain loyalty to it. I like the U.S. for all the freedoms I have in this country and for the opportunities of employment it has given my family.

    Despite all my reservations about the American foreign policy, being a Muslim I have no reservations about loving the U.S as being loyal to one's country is part of faith as this article aptly points out. Having lived in three different countries I don't feel it is the legality of one's official citizenship that makes one a true citizen...it's all about how our heart connects with the people and places we live with...and one cannot live in a country for 15 years and benefit from it and share positive experiences with its citizens, and not feel being a part of it and not wishing the best for it.

    May the U.S. grow and prosper and form all its policies, domestic and foreign, to reflect the human values upheld by its Constitution...and become a role model for the world...Ameen.