On Becoming American

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“This is a country made up of people like me, immigrants and refugees, who fled here because they believed in the promise of The Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Who upon reading Amendment I—‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances’—believed they had come to a land which respected people’s rights and dignity.”—Helen Noakes

Waking Point

By Helen Noakes

Taking the Oath of Allegiance.

Taking the Oath of Allegiance.

Helen Noakes

SAN FRANCISCO California—(Weekly Hubris)—April 2017—I am proud of the way I achieved the label “American.”

It required knowing The Constitution of these United States, and the Bill of Rights, and being tested on that knowledge.

The man who asked the questions—it was an oral exam—was an elderly gentleman who, with a twinkle in his eye, said, “You know more about this country than most of the people who were born here.”

It required standing in a courtroom with hundreds of other people of all colors and sizes, my father at my side, reciting the Pledge of Allegiance and taking an oath of allegiance to the United States. Although I was in my 20s when I took this pledge, I still uphold it and take my rights and responsibilities seriously.

On the court steps, my dad made it clear that by virtue of the document proclaiming our “naturalization,” we had ensured our safety.

He, like me, believed that The Constitution and the Bill of Rights were the established, indelible laws of our adopted country. We never thought that there would come a time when a few, born and raised here, would take a run at what we assumed to be impregnable and sacred.

I am proud of being in a family that cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, trace its ancestry to the original white settlers of this land. Being spared that lineage renders me innocent of the atrocities against Native Americans and the high crime of slavery perpetrated by these “worthies.” (See Author’s Note, below.)

But it does not excuse me from standing up to defend the rights of people labeled as “inferior” or “dangerous” simply because of the color of their skin, their choice of faith, their sexual orientation, or their national origin.

Indeed, if I am to take the oath I took seriously, it is incumbent upon me to stand up for the documents which represent the foundation of this country.

This is a country like so many others, with much good and some bad.

This is a country like so many others, with its prejudices and injustices, its noble stand against both, its delusions, its tragedies, its pride, its sometime cruelty and its compassion towards its own and others in the world.

This is a country like so many others, whose citizens, for a plethora of reasons, can be manipulated by corrupt predators.

But it’s also a country like so many others, whose citizens have the courage and will to take on such corruption.

This is a country made up of people like me, immigrants and refugees who fled here because they believed in the promise of The Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Who upon reading Amendment I—“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances” —believed they had come to a land which respected people’s rights and dignity.

This is a country currently in a dire dilemma, which seems to me not unlike the angst of coming of age. And until and unless America chooses to embrace adulthood, shed its pubescent swagger, and acknowledges its responsibilities to itself and to the world, it’s a country in danger of losing more than it can imagine.

And knowing that, I close with Friedrich Gustav Emil Martin Niemöller’s words:

“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

“Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

“Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

“Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”

Author’s Note: I am fully aware of the fact that the framers of The Constitution were slave owners. I am also aware that a few, very few, were beginning to grapple with the immorality of such a practice. Like so many excellent historic documents, its writers were deeply flawed. The precepts of The Constitution are high-minded, allowing great leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jr. to invoke them in his immense struggle. I praise the document and the document alone.

About Helen Noakes

Helen Noakes is a playwright, novelist, writer, art historian, linguist, and Traditional Reiki Master, who was brought up in and derives richness from several of the world’s great traditions and philosophies. She believes that writing should engage and entertain, but also inform and inspire. She also believes that because the human race expresses itself in words, it is words, in the end, that will show us how very similar we are and how foolish it is to think otherwise.

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2 Responses to On Becoming American

  1. Will B says:

    Your – and my – country requires its fierce defenders like you, Helen; and I’m grateful for your perception, your commitment, and your stand.

  2. Barbara kalmoutis says:

    DEAR HELEN,

    I FEEL THE SAME WAY, BUT AM NOT ABLE TO EXPRESS MYSELF SO ELOGUENTLY.

    SPACIBA..EFHARISTO…..

    BARBARA

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