In our cynical time when it’s fashionable to bash the establishment whether it’s the church or state, I found this 2011 interview refreshing. In it, Scott Simon talks with Alexendra Pelosi about her documentary chronicling the lives of new citizens. It’s called Citizen USA: A 50 State Road Trip.
Nearly a million people become US citizens each year and for many of them, it’s the path to a better life. But surprisingly a better life often is defined by the little things– walking down safe streets, available, inexpensive food, and the ability to work hard to build a better future for your family. The very things we take for granted. Here are a couple quotes:
For me, it’s, you know, I can take my family around the block for a walk with a stroller and I don’t have to be worried about being hijacked. Sometimes you forget that every day’s a blessing. You wake up and it’s a gift.
I love it because you just dial the number  and then they come right away for your rescue.
It all reminded me of some dear Israeli friends who had lived in the US for several years. At the time, they were an anomaly to me, the closest I had come to the exotic. But as our friendship grew, we began swapping stories and I’ll never forget when they expressed how much they appreciated the peace of America. They came from a country embroiled in internal and external conflicts, where air raid shelters were standard issue, and every child had a cell phone, not as a status symbol, but to ensure his parents could quickly locate him in an emergency. Here, their daughters could concentrate on being fun-loving, carefree teenagers whose greatest concerns were navigating the complexities of high school, drivers tests, and boyfriends.
Believe me we’ve got our problem—racism, violence, social and educational inequality, and massive personal and national debt. And if we don’t engage these problems, they threaten to undermine the very things that new immigrants relish about our society. But I think that sometimes in an effort to fix our problems, we overlook what we’re doing well.
As one newly-minted citizen asked: “Is there any country in the world that has it enshrined in their constitution [sic] that you have a right to be happy? Any country?”
Life. Liberty. The pursuit of happiness. It’s these fundamental truths about human beings—recognizing that God originally created us for life, freedom, and joy—that make this country great. And though we should never expect to achieve utopia on this earth, these truths mirror the reality of what we will experience one day as newly-minted citizens of an even greater country.
Last year, we spent July 4th at Warren Dunes State Park, crowding the shore of Lake Michigan with families from India, South America, Asia, and the Middle East. It all seemed so very appropriate that we should celebrate it this way, together as one communal beach party, freely rejoicing in our God-given life and pursuing, at least for one day, our happiness.