I feel like a lot of the past few weeks have been focused on “issues”: issues regarding immigration policy, issues with the prison system, and issues regarding the border. I’ve found that many conversations seem to ultimately break down into a series of accusations against the United States government, until it almost seems as if NGOs could be more accurately labeled anti-governmental organizations. Not that this is entirely surprising: our pre-trip reading adequately equipped me with a series of strongly worded articles addressing the wrongs in the world of immigration politics and border militarization. I addressed in an earlier blog the ways in which such deconstructive language seems, to me, to only hinder any effort towards positive reform. I think it is easy to become disillusioned by what we hear and see, from politicians but also from activists. So this week, I was glad to experience a different, and more positive, view of the United States at a USCIS citizenship ceremony for the children of refugees.
This Tuesday, I attended a World Refugee Day event at Tucson High School. The event included speakers from different refugee aid organizations throughout Tucson, performances by refugees from countries across the world, and it concluded with over twenty refugee children becoming officially naturalized as citizens. Here are the children repeating the Naturalization Oath of Allegiance to the United States of America (which, by the way, has not changed since 1790):
Though the entire ceremony was awesome, the part that struck me the most is the part that I would have previously thought the most routine. The event began with the reciting of the pledge of allegiance and the singing of the national anthem. These were words I have recited hundreds of mornings before school and heard at countless sporting events, to the point where “I pledge allegiance, to the flag…” becomes mundane and almost robotic. But saying the pledge of allegiance surrounded by an auditorium full of people from across the world gave the words renewed value. I felt a sense of unity and inclusiveness, but I also realized just how much I take for granted the fact that I was born in this country. Though I didn’t know the life stories of the people in the room, I know that to come to the United States as a refugee implies a struggle. And the struggle doesn’t end upon arrival, as one has to realize how to start his or her life anew in a new country. It is unbelievable that mere political borders can so dramatically define one’s life. But here I was in a room of people who, despite the challenges afforded to them by this new country, were still able to say that the United States was their safe haven. And so, they, like me, recited the pledge of allegiance with pride. It was a brief moment, but undoubtedly one of the most inspiring in my DukeEngage experience thus far.
I have always held pretty unrelenting hope in the ideals upon which the United States is founded. But I feel like this hope has constantly been challenged the past few weeks. The way we handle immigration is wrong, war is wrong, corporations are wrong, the “one percent” is wrong, the healthcare system is wrong, even the way we obtain our food is wrong. But I want to believe that we can achieve change by working with, not by working against: WITH the government, WITH the “evil” corporations, and WITH those who hold beliefs that oppose our own. At the World Refugee Day ceremony, I felt a sense of togetherness and commonality, despite cultural and linguistic barriers. We are all part of a nation that, despite all of the criticism, is founded upon the principles of liberty, tolerance, and progress. Of course, it has been a several hundred year struggle to uphold these ideals. Even though we often try to distance ourselves from what we deem as the sources of our nation’s problems, the ultimate reality is that we are all part of the same nation, the same people, and the same United States.