Today is my first Independence Day as an American.
On the surface, it’s not that different from any other day when I’m not at work: the Husband and I don’t do ceremonies and things, and we don’t have much of a social circle (non-existent isn’t much, after all), so none of the many traditions that my friends (all of whom are online and live far too far away for more than occasional face-to-face visits, alas) follow happen for us. We have a quiet day at home, relaxing.
But we still think about what it all means.
For me, it’s particularly interesting, since the Husband is American born and raised. Well… Texan, which just makes him even more so. I had to become American, and I’m honestly not sure when the scales tipped.
See, I came over here for him. We’re going on 15 years married now, and we’re just as much “old married” as we were within months of getting married. We just fit together, somehow. We’re not demonstrative, or extravagant, but when I ask him what he wants for birthdays or Christmas, he’ll tell me he has everything he wants and smile. And I’m no better.
Somehow, in these last 15 years, I became American in the same undemonstrative but utterly devoted way.
I’m not sure when I started having to stop to remind myself that I wasn’t – technically – American when I started talking or thinking or writing about Americans as a group. Or when I started thinking of myself as one despite not being a citizen. It crept up on me, as it were, as I struggled to match the assumptions built up by growing up in Australia to the new world I’d landed in. The dissociation and culture shock wasn’t as bad as some of my friends who are legal immigrants have faced. I came from a culture that’s possibly as close to American as you can get without actually being American, at least superficially. It’s close enough that the differences, when they hit, are immensely jarring because so much else feels familiar.
Americans and Australians are generous people. Both will give whatever they can to help someone who needs it. Neither will look at the skin color or history or anything else except that someone needs help and they’re there. But Americans are much more open, or were, more trusting in many ways. The depredations of the idiots who want to take America the way of the failing European socialist-in-all-but-name monocultures have had made many people more wary about who they speak to and who they trust, but there’s still an openness to Americans that I haven’t seen anywhere else.
Yes, I could live with Americans being less prudish, but I can live with that, particularly when it’s so often coupled with a strong sense that if it’s not their business they don’t want or need to know about it. That’s my issue, not anyone else’s. It’s one of the things I found hardest to acculturate to, at first – I had nightmares about not being able to find the loo in a mall, because the damn signs are always discreetly placed to make sure they’re not in anyone’s face. And for the longest time, I didn’t really know how to ask. I mean, I grew up calling it a toilet when I was being polite. The idea that it would be called a bathroom or a restroom when there’s usually no bath or rest to be found in there really struck me as odd.
I survived. I learned that the assumptions I’d grown up with simply didn’t fit with America and Americans (although I’ll admit to having nearly converted the Husband to agreeing that all politicians are crooks out for whatever they can get and the best you can hope for out of most of them is that they’ll try to enrich themselves as well as the country instead of simply taking the country for everything it has. Honestly, Sir Terry Pratchett had the right idea in The Last Continent. Once you’ve elected them, lock them up, because they’re all unconvicted criminals. Apart from a few exceptionally talented individuals who manage to get re-elected after serving time for some of their misdeeds). I learned that American values of conservative bear no resemblance to any other nation’s value of conservative. And that the same applies to American values of liberal.
Bit by bit American values grew on me and became mine. I couldn’t say when I became more American than Australian. I honestly don’t know. I can say that when I took the oath, it felt like I was affirming something I’d known for a while, that I’d become American some time before then but hadn’t really realized it.
There’ll always be a piece of my soul that belongs to Australia, but I’m not really an Aussie any more. I’m a Usaian, and my bit of flag will be with me even if it’s only in my heart. Somewhere in the last fifteen years or so, I learned to truly value the spirit of this nation’s founding, the dream embodied in the Declaration of Independence and encoded in the Constitution.
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.
There is no promise that preventing other from infringing our inalienable rights will be easy. No promise that we can achieve the dream of a nation where all our citizens are free to enjoy our inalienable rights in any fashion we choose as long as we do not infringe the rights of others.
That doesn’t make it any less of a noble dream, or any less a goal to strive for.
Personally, I’ll be doing just that.
Thank you, America, for letting me be part of your dream.