No, this Independence Day, it's Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife who is celebrating.
When I called home to say goodnight last night, my wife told me that she got into an argument with one of her closer friends about politics. This friend is also a US citizen, like my wife, and also Brazilian. On failing to come to agree with her friend's view, my wife was dismissed with a 'I forget, you're American now. You wouldn't understand."
It was an interesting story. We both know this was meant as an insult, but it wasn't received that way at all.
When we were newlyweds, after about a year of processing, my wife received her first green card. She had been living here on a visa, but overstayed. By 10 years. The occasional brush with local law enforcement for getting pulled over, or what have you, just required undoing a button on her blouse and a smile, and she'd shortly be on her way. Perks of being Inappropriately Hot, I guess. Still, she was VERY aware of how tenuous her existence was. One female cop, or one hardass, and her life would be a mess in short order.
On the day we had the immigration interview, when the USCIS agent asked us questions to see if we were really married, she was issued residency. I'll never, ever forget the ride home.
We were driving south on Rt 93, coming out of the Chinatown tunnel in Boston, headed for the suburbs. The reality had already set in. The happy yelling, the jumping up and down, all the hugs and kisses had been dealt out before we got back to the car to go home and celebrate. We were just talking happily, holding hands as I drove.
The Big Dig, Boston's massive construction project, was still going on. I took the HOV lane to cut down on traffic. At the HOV lane entrance, a Massachusetts State Trooper waited, looking to pull over anyone who was driving solo. Traffic slowed to a crawl, and my wife slunk down in the seat by a full foot, just trying to make herself smaller, less visible, less noticeable.
Realizing what was going on, that cops to her represented great danger, I squeezed her hand, smiled and said "Hey, relax, honey. You're a resident now. You're allowed to be here."
Instead of the reaction I was expecting, I got a shaky smile and then she burst into tears.
I had no idea how much living in fear had been eating away at her.
In due course, the week after she qualified three years later, she applied for citizenship. But a funny thing happened.
Becoming an American Citizen doesn't mean much to many immigrants, especially the ones who solely reside inside an immigrant enclave, like the insulated miscellaneous Latino communities in Massachusetts, where being a monoglot with no English presents no problems. There's no interaction there, citizen or alien, legal or not.
Somewhere along the way, my wife started listening to me, and reading about American history a bit, ostensibly as a way to familiarize herself with the citizenship exam... but she took it to heart.
Despite having been here for over a decade, my wife knew little about the American culture. She very much still had both feet in her parent culture... but this started changing. She finally had one foot firmly planted on the day of her Citizenship ceremony... since she had dual citizenship, however, she didn't feel very American yet. Even so, during the Ceremony, it opened a door in her mind about what it actually means to be American... and she realized she still didn't really know, but for the first time, she really wanted to find out. Better late than never, I guess, but I think this might actually be pretty common. So few immigrants actually want to integrate and learn that becoming American comes with pride but also a sense of responsibility, that citizenship isn't a license to take free shit, but a license to trade- to give back and receive in equal measure- to earn a place and recognize that some things must be worked for. At the citizenship ceremony, my wife wasn't Americanized, but she became a patriot.
Of course it being Massachusetts, my wife was heavily pressured to join the Democrat party before we even made home that night. It didn't take, despite the hard sell tactics. As she explained it later, the allure of the party of All The Free Shit is absolutely amazing to people who grew up in the third world with so little. So she was registered Democrat for a while until she actually wanted to vote, when she went Unenrolled so she could vote the person and not the party.
In he runup to the last Presidential election, however, things changed. Our lives had changed, and my wife was now more invested in America. She's got a claim staked here, a dog in the fight, and her politics changed as a result. Somewhere along the way, she started arguing with her friends who got concerned regarding the steady supply of All The Free Shit. Somewhere along the way, she Figured It Out, what it actually means to be American, and that as an immigrant, regardless of her political opinions, her vote was no longer for sale in exchange for Free Shit, and the act of trying to purchase it cheaply with stuff was actually a pretty grievous insult.
Somewhere along the way, her friends calling my wife an American as an insult lost its' sting and became something to be answered 'I am. So?"
So today, along with a bunch of other Brazilians from her community, they're getting together to celebrate. They have good reason to. They've seen, and lived under a different system, and choose this one, not for the Free Shit, but for the freedom.