Contemplate: What It Means to be an American
by Mary Boyce Hicks I had the privilege last week of attending a naturalization ceremony at Thomas Jefferson’s home, Monticello. I have been there before for tours and such but this was a new experience—seated on the lawn, watching 84 people become new citizens of America. The day was loaded with significance—the 4th of July, the day that celebrates a freedom we often take for granted, and at the home of the man who wrote the Declaration of Independence. He was the one who fashioned the words and declared that all people have the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” and here we were, at his home, bearing witness to many who were being offered those rights for the very first time.
It made me think about what it means to be American. I for one did not swear an oath to bear arms for our country; I never took any test proving my knowledge of the facts of American history. I was just born here. From the moment I arrived I had the right to gain a passport, to vote, to live freely in this land we call home. Yet, these people, hailing from Brazil, Somalia, South Korea, and England, had gone through a rigorous process all to be able to call themselves Americans.
My experience is so tied with my upbringing. I know no citizenship except to be a Southerner. We know we are American, yet what could have affected us more than the specific town or city we call home? In terms of my background, I think of the South before I think of the United States of America (don’t you?). But celebrating Independence Day, we know that we celebrate just simply being American. As I sat watching the hot sun rise over the stately columns of Monticello, I realized just how much I take for granted. I am free to move about the country (as they say in Airtran ads). I am free to speak, to protest, to assemble peaceably, to practice my religion.
Our diversity is what makes us distinct. We celebrate being Southerners, and I am certainly grateful to have grown up here, yet on the 4th of July, I was taken back by just what it means to be American. To be a citizen here, with all of the history included. The south is a great part of a great nation. I am grateful that we have a holiday to ponder just what it means to be an American.
Mary Boyce Hicks is a University of Georgia graduate from Atlanta that now lives in Charlottesville, Virginia working for The Scout Guide. She is interested in reading, theology, fashion, hiking, design, travel, UGA sports, history and dogs. Her posts on The Southern C draw from her interests in these fields.
photo credit: By Waldo Jaquith [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons