“American Flag Centered”

I always wanted to be a part of America, to live in freedom, to pursue the American dream I had for myself and to live the American philosophy that had been so much a part of me since my childhood.

Born in Scandinavia in 1964, my parents immigrated to Hawaii when I was 2 years old. I spent most of my childhood here, but just over 20 years ago we moved back to Europe to sort out some family problems.

As a young adult in Europe — an adult who knew firsthand the joys and freedoms of living in America — I began to identify the vast problems in Europe largely due to a socialized government. A government that wanted to be my “big brother,” that knew all and took all from me to redistribute to others through the welfare system and the health-care system — both of which are a mess. In my low income tax bracket, I paid 50 percent of what I earned to the government in taxes — 65 percent if I worked overtime. My father, who ran hospitals, paid 50 percent of his income to the government — 70 percent for overtime pay.

Wanting more for myself, I pursued higher education in Europe, getting a Masters degree in political science, and participating in a fellowship at John Hopkins University in Italy. As a graduation present, I opted to come back to Hawaii on vacation. That is when I realized how much I missed Hawaii and America and wanted to move back, so I did. The transition back to America was not an easy one — I applied for more than 2,000 jobs and was turned down for all of them because I was either too highly educated or did not have an employment history in the United States. Eventually I landed jobs and now I have two jobs — as a teacher at a local university and as a research assistant at the state Capitol.

All along, I dreamed of becoming a United States citizen, but I was scared to try. I was worried I would not be accepted. But my students, most who are law enforcement and in the military, spurred me on.

Then came the terrorist attack on America on Sept. 11, 2001. I always was American in spirit — all my values and ideals were American. But after seeing the reaction in Europe against the USA during those dark days, and after hearing, truly hearing, what President George W. Bush asked, “are you with us or against us?” I knew I had to swear my allegiance in court to defend the U.S. Constitution from all threats foreign and domestic.

The application process took 2 years: The FBI put me through an extensive background check, fingerprinted me each year, and I took an exam in English language, U.S. History and Civics. (This is the same exam I give my adult students who are enrolled in a U.S. History and Federal and State Government class in the evenings. We were asked: Have you ever voted? (Apparently many answer yes); Who are the two U.S. Senators from Hawaii? (U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye and U.S. Senator Daniel Akaka); Where does the President live? (White House was not enough of an answer, rather 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue was correct).

I was stunned when I had my final interview 3 months ago, the original file which my parents had filed with the INS in New York 38 years earlier was on the INS officer’s desk. I had to wonder where that old gray folder had been filed away and now found so many years later. Seeing the photo of me as a little girl in that file brought back a flood of memories and a lump in my throat. I thought of my life, my journey, who I have become, and the dreams that have and have not come true. But no matter what dreams have passed, there is an exciting new dream for me — being an American citizen.

Then last week, the big day was upon me. The day I became a United States citizen. There was a ceremony conducted at Hawaii District Court for a group of us — 56 in all sworn in that morning.

I wondered how the other 55 “aliens” were feeling. Did they feel the same anticipation? Did they have butterflies in the stomach? Were they on the verge of tears? Were they as excited and nervous as I was?

After filing through the security checkpoint, I found myself in an elevator with two men from the Philippines. One was a younger man with a shaved head and tattoos all over his body, who said he woke up at 2 a.m. because he was so excited about the day. And there was an older gentleman who was nervous because he was afraid he

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