Tuesday, July 04, 2006


My Independence Days

This is another blast from the past out of the NRO vault, originally running in 2000. Happy Fourth of July to all!!


What's the best way for an immigrant American to brand a piece about his adopted nation? My first thought was to call it "An American Journey." Then I remembered that Colin Powell had beaten me to it. No going up against a war hero, the most popular public figure in the country — and probably the next Secretary of State. That's out. Hmmm...How about "My Love Affair With America?" Catchy title. It kind of sums up the basics. Oh, wait. That's the title of Norman Podhoretz' memoir. So much for that.

Well, let's just dispense with cute titles, and jump right into a brief reflection on one person's experience in the on-going process called Americanization. If it turns into a bit of maudlin sentimentality, accept the sincerest of apologies.

Here we celebrate the Fourth of July 4. For this writer, everything that the dream called America represents can also be found in two personal "independence days."

The first is January 21st, 1971. It was the day an eight-year old boy first landed in the United States at JFK International Airport. At the time, U.S. hospitals were experiencing a nursing shortage, so the boy's mother responded to an inquiry from New York City's Mt. Sinai Hospital. The boy wasn't happy about leaving his island home. It was only later that the lesson of taking advantage of an opportunity when presented sunk in. Fortunately, a volatile case of air-sickness endured by the young boy on the flight over did not prove to be a portent for future experience in the United States.

As she had in the U.K., the boy's mother put him in Catholic parochial schools. This was quite sometime before any policy debate on "school choice." The mother, Catholic herself, did what she thought was best for the education and disciplining of her son. This being America, of course, the son found himself teased — even in Catholic school — more because of his hard British accent than his particular complexion!

Living in a country for close to three decades, there are any number of days and experiences that might stick out that also symbolize America. But this writer selects November 3, 1989. It was not an election day, but it was personally significant. Eleven months prior, this writer decided that the time had finally come to get his citizenship. After living in America for nearly eighteen years, it probably should have happened sometime earlier. But the family moved quite a bit after the first couple of years in New York: Connecticut, California, New York again. College occurred in Annapolis, Maryland (though not the Naval Academy), which as it happened was home to the United States' first capital.

The future columnist had taken a job at the Republican National Committee in December of 1988. He had arrived at the RNC in one of those moments of fortunate happenstance. Opportunity did not exactly knock; instead it moved in next door in the form of an RNC fundraising director. Always having had an interest in politics, the writer became friends with the RNC official. He inquired about volunteering at the '88 Republican Convention. The fact that the convention was taking place in New Orleans had absolutely no bearing on the writer's inquisitiveness. Surprisingly enough, the RNC official said yes. Following that wonderful experience which led to a successful Republican presidential effort, the writer suddenly found himself a full-time RNC employee.

It occurred that it would be a good time to become a full-fledged American citizen. Thus, in January, 1989, he went to the nearest I.N.S. office and filled out the appropriate forms. After asking, "Have you ever been a member of the Communist Party," the I.N.S. agent smiled and said, "I guess that would have been odd, being a Communist and then going to work for the Republicans, eh?" It was a few years later that I actually met a few conservative friends who would not have found that particular scenario so unusual.

Typical of a bureaucracy, it took nearly a year, but a notice finally arrived that the application was approved and the time had come for the swearing-in ceremony: November 3, 1989. The event itself was rather low-key; ultimately, it seemed somewhat prosaic. The poetry was supplied moments later as the new American emerged into a crisp Maryland morning and looked up in the sky. There, fully unfurled over a government building, was Old Glory flapping in the wind. Couldn't have been more perfect if Spielberg had directed it.

Many people consider the passage of the first eighteen years as the initial step from childhood into adulthood. This particular eighteen-year passage marked a period separating arrival and "Americanization." Other opportunities followed. Less than three years later, a few of the writer's words ended up in the last speech Ronald Reagan delivered at a Republican Convention. Just a short phrase, but for a young island immigrant, it was certainly a thrilling, awe-inspiring moment. And then, a few years after that, the immigrant found himself writing for the first Republican Speaker of the House in forty years.

As we celebrate the nation's birth, it's not a bad idea to pause and consider our own personal "independence days." These are the moments in our lives that stand out as uniquely American. At one time, for many, it was the Ellis Island arrival. For others, it's starting a business, beginning the novel or casting the first vote. These are the days that connect each of us intimately with the opportunity that is America. The personal is the universal here. Each individual experience is a chapter in the larger drama called the American Story. The opportunity to excel within the story is the connection we all share, regardless of race, gender, or any other superficial attribute.

January 21st.

November 3rd.

July 4th.

Independence Days.

Happy Birthday, America.

And, Thanks.

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