the other night, i caught a documentary on hbo called “citizen u.s.a.: a 50 state road trip”. inspired by her husband’s journey to american citizenship, the filmmaker visited citizenship ceremonies in all 50 states, interviewing the newly minted americans. she asked them each the same question: “why do you want to become an american?”
the answers varied as widely as the countries of origin for the new americans. “the food!”, “so i can have guns”, “disney world”, “education”, “to buy a house, a car and two dogs” “clean drinking water” and “my family”.
along with those, they each shared one heartfelt answer. freedom. (high concept, difficult for those of us where were born here and who have lived our entire lives here to appreciate)
a new american from korea talked about how families in korea decorate their homes when a baby boy is born. about how nothing is done when a girl is born. she talked about her business and her life in america. she talked about how she would have none of that in korea. two new american twin girls from china talked about how one of them couldn’t have existed in china (one child policy). they joked that they might even have been thrown in the trash. a new american from belarus talked about how difficult it was to buy a car in her country. how you would have to wait for years and years. how you had no choice in the color of the car. “if you hated the color yellow,” she said, “and your car finally came but was yellow, you would have to drive that yellow car the rest of your life.”
big things, small things. all things that speak to what humans want. simply the ability to design their own lives as they see fit.
“what other country puts the right to pursue happiness in their declaration of independence?” one new american marveled.
this documentary is an unabashed love letter to the united states of america, and to the people from a conglomeration of nations that make up this country. the filmmaker said at the end that what she loved about the new americans was knowing that in every state there were people from all over the world sharing their traditions, adding them to the fabric of this nation.
and if all this discussion about country makes you a bit uncomfortable (admit it, you’re poised with the, “yeah, but…”) you’re just like most americans.
what we’ve known all our lives as the freedom to speak our minds about whatever’s going on in this country (a form of patriotism to be sure), the new americans see as complaining. they wonder why we complain so much. from their perspective, there’s not a whole lot to complain about. maybe it’s not such a bad thing to remember that perspective once in awhile.
p.s. i deliberately didn’t mention the filmmaker’s name. pelosi. yep, that pelosi’s daughter. did that change your view?