This friend came to our shores over 10 years ago. Her documentation was not, shall we say, in order. Many keyboards have been pounded in other corners of the internet on such immigrants.
She came here to work and make a better life for her family. She babysat, cleaned homes and worked as a nanny. A very, very, good nanny. So good, in fact, that one family offered to sponsor her for labor certification, a first step down the road to green card status. And bank accounts, social security number, driver’s license, and the ability to leave this country to visit family and safely return here. She would no longer be in the shadows.
And she said something to me many years ago that no one had ever said before, when I told her that she would have to pay taxes if she became “official” and went on the books. She said, “But I want to pay taxes.” She knew, perhaps better than those who were born here and take citizenship for granted, what it means to be a member of a society.
About a week ago she paid a visit to Federal Plaza in New York. At this great big building new citizens are born. The time had finally arrived to pledge allegiance to the United States. Not because a teacher in a classroom told her to stand with the rest of the class, look at a flag and robotically recite a pledge. School children can’t possibly understand the significance of those words, unless perhaps, they are war refugees who know what the other side of the fence looks like.
My friend pledged her allegiance, promising to “protect and defend the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic,” because it meant something to her. She will vote for the first time this November. She takes her place beside you and I, with the sole door that is closed to her being that of the office of the presidency. All others are open.
I thought about including her name in this short piece, and my association with her. But it occurs to me that while her story is unique, it has played out in countless other iterations over the generations in so many other places.
I’m two weeks late with an Independence Day post. But I think this will suffice.
And I hope that, perhaps, my dear readers will spend an extra moment or two when encountering an immigrant, thinking about what their stories might tell.