Culture, Tradition, Integration, Loyalty and Patriotism
According to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), naturalization is the process by which U.S. citizenship is granted to a foreign citizen or national after he or she fulfills the requirements established by Congress in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). The USCIS provides a set of guidelines and criteria established for granting the US Citizenship. These are all based on objective criteria and are straightforward for the immigrants applying for citizenship. Hence, I am not elaborating on these procedural requirements for citizenship. What I would like to discuss here is, what it means to the person and the person’s mind, thinking, conscience and other aspects of life of a would be naturalized US Citizen. Although this can apply for immigrants from any country, however, the focus of this article is mostly for the people migrating from India.
Indians started immigrating to the USA from 1946, when the naturalization rights were granted to them. Most of the first comers were immigrant Indians from countries other than India, such as the United Kingdom, Canada and African countries. Later, from 1960s, people from India started immigrating to the USA. They worked hard and established themselves in the United States and secured financial stability. Their major focus was to raise their children as successful citizens, and to help their kith and kin back in India, with whom they have strong attachments. Unlike the immigrants from India who arrived until the start of economic boom in India, the recent arrivals are much younger, have less economic responsibilities back in their homes in India. They are also more likely to return to India after a short or longer duration of stay. Some of them also go back and forth between India and the USA for long time, while others have children born in the USA during their few years of stay. Since such children automatically become US Citizens and remain as such, even if their parents return to India for rest of their life, this creates a unique situation for those children as well as their parents, although the children face the brunt disproportionately more. Currently there are 3.8 million people of Indian ancestry in the USA (1% of the population), which makes them the third largest ethnic group of Asian ancestry, following the Chinese and Filipino Americans.
The different scenarios mentioned above, coupled with the personal, family and professional needs of the individuals may create different meanings to the very nature of naturalization. For some people the best and the highest meaning of naturalization is realizing the true meaning of culture, tradition, integration, loyalty and patriotism in their adopted land, while for some others it may be mere acquisition of US Passport and trading their Indian Passports for PIO Cards in the Indian Embassy. But, most of the Indian immigrants fall between these two and often need help to understand how they have to deal with their newly acquired US Citizenship. This article is to help such people and clarify their doubts. First, we need to define or demarcate a few terms which are often confused. One of the most commonly used term is NRI (non-resident Indian). It applies to all those Indians, who are in the United States on temporary visas, such as H or J or L or B visas as well as the holders of Green Cards. All these visas are limited by certain duration of time, after which the persons have to either go back to their country of citizenship or residence or apply for permanent residence status, if their visa status allows that. The second category is Permanent Resident or Resident Alien status or the so called Green Card holder. In this case, the person is a legally admitted “permanent resident” of the US, but not a “citizen of the US”. Unlike the above visa holders designated by different letters, the Resident Aliens can live, work and stay in the US as long as they want. Comparatively, Green Card holders have freedom to move from one job to another, and avail more benefits. However, Green Card holders are not eligible for federal government jobs and for some federal benefits or assistance. In contrast, the US Citizenship opens all the jobs, including federal government jobs, federal and other benefits and assistance, as well as protection by the US Government.
Having understood different types of immigration status, let us define the terms culture, tradition, integration, loyalty and patriotism, and how they relate to different types of immigration status. Culture and tradition are easier to identify, because most of the time they manifest physically. These are the ones that define how we live, eat, dress, or respect each other, perform certain important aspects of life, such as wedding etc. These are defined by age-old practices. Integration is the ability to understanding the culture and tradition of the land one lives, respecting those, not critical of them without rationality, and imbibing the best in them and being at ease with the people of other culture and tradition. Integration helps the immigrants to be part of the society. It is the responsibility of the immigrants to integrate well so that they can be treated with respect as equal citizens in the foreign land (see below for more details). Loyalty means feeling strong support to the people and the land one lives or one’s land of origin (see below for explanation). Finally, patriotism means love and devotion for one’s country (see below for explanation). Patriotism should not be confused with “conceit”, which is a negative trait. Conceit is too much pride in the worth and goodness of one’s own country.
Visa Holders: Holders of visas, such as J or H or L etc., are Indian Citizens. As such they are free to follow their culture and tradition, and be loyal and patriotic to India. They can salute Indian flag and sing Indian national anthem. However, they are also expected to be loyal to the land they live, i.e., the United States. It is also recommended that to the extent possible, they make efforts to integrate into the mainstream life in America.
Green Card Holders: Holders of the Green Card are still Indian Citizens; as such they are free to follow their culture and tradition. They can be patriotic to India as well. They can salute to Indian flag and sing Indian national anthem. But they should be able to do that toward American flag and American national anthem with equal respect, especially if they are planning to apply for US Citizenship in the future. They have to show more loyalty and be proactive in integrating with the mainstream American life as compared to the visa holders. Green Card is a transition stage, whereby the holders slowly shift their loyalty and patriotism to the United States in preparation for the US Citizenship. In other words, Green Card holders should be able to step out of their “Indian closets” and walk in the rest of the community with ease and feel that they need not live in a closet ignoring the vast community around themselves.
US Citizen: Unlike the Green Card holders or Permanent Residents, prospective people for US Citizens have to pass two tests. One test evaluates their proficiency in English language, and the other one examines Civics covering American history and government. After passing these two tests and successfully completing the administrative and other requirements, the prospective people should take Pledge of Allegiance to the flag of the United States, which in its current form states: “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” This is a very crucial turning point in the life of the person, whereby something has changed forever. Basically, by taking this pledge the person has laid of all his/her loyalty and patriotism to India, and assumed loyalty and patriotism to the United States, which has accepted him/her as its naturalized Citizen with all its constitutionally guaranteed right of liberty, justice and equality. From this point onwards, the Government of the United States of America assumes all responsibility for the rights and security of the person, wherever he/she is on this planet. So, Pledge of Allegiance is not an event to issue Citizenship Certificates. It is much more than that. It is like a second birth for the person. One has to rise and live up to those expectations and be a good US Citizen. People who have been granted US Citizenship should salute the US flag and sing American national anthem, and should celebrate US Independence Day on July 4th, with the same vigor and excitement they used to celebrate Indian Independence Day on August 15th. If the heart of a naturalized US Citizen is inclined more to Indian Independence Day and beats emotionally to Indian national anthem, but not to the US Independence Day and American national anthem, then something is basically wrong. Period. Naturalized citizens can follow their culture and tradition, but should be able to imbibe the good in the American culture and tradition and amalgamate and thus bring out the best in them.
How to Change One’s Loyalty to the United States? For most Indians this is a difficult question before taking Pledge of Allegiance. But, it is not that difficult, provided one prepares well in advance. The Pledge of Allegiance to US Flag may be an overnight event, but the process leading to the event of Pledge of Allegiance is not an overnight event; in fact it is a long process that takes place over years. By acquiring the knowledge about the history, heritage, culture and values of the United States, one will be able to develop the loyalty and patriotism to this country. That can be achieved by regularly reading about the culture, heritage and history of the United States and watching videos on them. For instance, one can read about the American history, heritage and culture from Smithsonian Institute magazines or watching American Ride TV series (http://www.byutv.org/show/06d93297-b6fa-49f5-8cce-6bd555b563af/american-ride), which are inspiring and filled with so much information about this great country and its rise as the leader of the free world. It is not enough to know more about the United States, one should make proactive effort to integrate with the mainstream American life. Integration does not mean speaking good English, donning Western attire, learning American mannerisms or eating in fast food restaurants without any food restrictions or hanging with American friends or being nice with neighbors. That is just a physical integration. The real integration is “connecting to the heart and soul of America” just like one is or was connected to the heart and soul of India prior to naturalization. That is the difficult part to achieve many people, even those who are very intelligent and highly educated. Very few immigrants are able to achieve that level of integration. To achieve that one has to come out his/her “Indian closet mind” and work for the community and understand the needs of the people and supporting them. One has to love ones adopted country and go out to find out what one can do to serve it. In other words, one has to touch the “soul of the land” by working for the needy to get the real feeling of love and integration. Then only one can develop loyalty to United States when one is ready to take the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag of the USA and thus become a naturalized US Citizen.
In conclusion, all Indians living in the United States cannot conduct themselves in the same manner when it comes to certain aspects of their life, such as loyalty and patriotism, and they should be able to understand these two more than anything else. One should not equate one’s Indian culture and tradition to loyalty and patriotism to India. They are not the same. Just because the United States is a great country and gives them the freedom, does not mean that they can do anything they want on this soil. The issue here is not whether United States permits or generously overlooks such acts by foreign nationals on its soil, it is about what Indians living on US soil understand the freedom given to them, and how they respect that freedom, and be good citizen with loyalty and patriotism that befits their immigration status.
God Bless America by Lee Greenwood
(an inspiring video for all those who want to become US Citizens)
In The Arms of an Angel-American Soldiers Tribute
(a heart-moving tribute to those brave men and women who sacrificed their lives in defending the United States so that we all live in peace and security)
Author: Bellamkonda K. Kishore, M.D., Ph.D., MBA
About the Author: http://www.atlantadunia.com/dunia/FEATURES/F172.htm