Sunday, July 4, 2010

Pledge of allegiance

Whenever the Fourth of July comes up, it doesn't take long for it to conjure up thoughts of what being an American means to me. I think of my mother.

As a young Filipino woman, she came to the U.S. in 1985 to marry my father, an American naval officer, in his hometown in Alabama. Moving to America meant giving up everything and everyone she had known --- her small village, her family and the country she had grown up in. My mother loved my father enough to start a whole different life with him.

Through the many moves around the Philippines and the U.S., she raised us three kids, who all were automatic American citizens based on our father's citizenship. She learned English through watching television. She wanted us to learn English too, and didn't speak as much Tagalog with us in order to do so. She learned to live in another country and raise a family -- without the nearby support of her own family and friends who were back home.

When I was four, I came home from preschool and said the Pledge of Allegiance, which I had just learned that day, to my mom. During my recitation, my mother cried softly. They were the same kind of tears she would have sometimes when she perused my "American Girl" book collection.

Growing up, I often took my citizenship for granted, and forgot how much my mother had sacrificed for us, and how she sometimes struggled. How often people would hear her accent and assume she wasn't speaking English and would ask me to translate, even when she spoke the language perfectly; how often people would see the color of her skin, and think she was Hispanic, or Indian, or anything else non-white that can be considered "exoticized."  How hard it was to forge friendships in the region, when, even after the civil rights era, biases still showed in random environments: the workplace, the supermarket, the parent-teacher conference. How hard it was to raise three children with one value system-- the one she was raised with-- while being confronted with another.

She was strong through it all. And still is.

When I was 11, my mother took her citizenship test and was sworn in during a ceremony in downtown Atlanta. My family -- the five of us -- spent the entire day in a government building, as my parents filled out paperwork. We took a pit stop lunch to McDonald's at one point. In the late afternoon, after what was a long day, a judge swore in my mom and a few others as American citizens. Afterward, he shook everyone's hands and congratulated them. He came to my mom, shook her hand and mispronounced her name. She cried a little, but it wasn't because of the judge's silly mistake. It had taken almost 13 years, but the struggle had been worth it. She could take official ownership to being an American. She was finally an American citizen -- like the rest of the family she had helped create.

Happy Fourth of July, Mom.

signature1 by you.


  1. Joann, thanks for writing this. It is almost exactly my own parent's story. If you don't mind I'd like to link to it today. So many times we forget how much people sacrifice to be a US citizen when it was so easy for us kids or natives. Wow, this just resonated with me, thank you. Happy 4th!

  2. What a beautiful post and tribute to your mother and her sacrifices and struggles! She sounds like a very strong woman. Happy Fourth of July!

  3. This is beautiful. I'm so inspired by your mother's story, and I found myself choking up reading your post. Happy independence day to you and your amazing mom!

  4. What a wonderful tribute to your mum! I think we all forget our parents sacrifices for us, thanks for the reminder :) Happy 4th of July xx

  5. Thanks for sharing your story, Joann. I remember going with my mom when she got naturalized years and years ago and remember it being a very emotional moment for her.

  6. Dear JoAnn,

    I'm Lizzypunch's sister (Luisa) and I just followed her link to your blog. What a beautiful story; it's so touching to see that you are not indifferent to your mother's struggle. Thank you for sharing. All the best to you and your family!

  7. when I think of America- these are the stories that I think of. What a great story! :)

    Thanks for sharing!

  8. What a wonderful story. I felt the need to comment because my family's story is very similar! My mother is from the Philippines and my father was in the Navy. Thank you for sharing such a sweet story!


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