When I stepped foot in America seven years ago, a lot of things caused me to wonder. But of all of them, the first thing that shocked me was that America had trees – lots of trees! And even more shocking was the fact that they had no leaves on them. I will never forget the feeling and wonder as I stared outside car windows, looking at all those fall trees in mid-October. This was not the America I saw in pictures or imagined in my tiny brain. When I thought of America, I thought of the big buildings, the most amazing playgrounds for kids, the nicest white people I saw on TV and in real life, who came to do mission work in my village, the clean and well-tarred roads, and every beautiful thing you could wish for because everything was seemingly possible for America. For me to see trees just hanging in dryness that in my country would be quickly used for firewood or carpentry engulfed my eyes.
I then remember the first time I stepped into an elevator. That was when I actually felt like I was in America. The elevator not only shook my mind but also my stomach. I was even more shook as we arrived on the 8th floor of our apartment complex and I realized that we were not in the same place we were about 10 seconds ago. I was so confused. As we got into the apartment, I was so happy that the whole house was carpeted and I thought the floor would be my bed. I saw that we had actual beds and thought how this was a waste of money, but for the time being, I enjoyed my carpeted floor.
Enough of my exciting entrance! Let’s get to business!
What have I not yet seen, experienced, or felt? Only God knows how I passed through some of those rocky hills. I met a lot of different people with their misconceptions about Africa and Africans. I myself had come into America with my own misconceptions, though they were not as bad as what the residents here thought they knew about my origin. But, misconceptions are misconceptions, and they can lead you to be kidnapped by lies. Once, I was literally kidnapped because I thought all people who looked pale were white caucasian and that every white caucasian was a good person. I mean, you can’t blame a poor girl who was so mesmerized by the very accueillant white flight attendants and airport workers who seemed so nice, and who had seen white missionaries and peace corps people work in her village who were in fact very nice people. But the poor girl over assimilated and it got her into trouble.
To cut a long story short, the Hispanic man who almost kidnapped me miraculously took me to the destination I had been trying to direct him to as he tried to go his own way. I ran out of his truck in tears after having been sexually touched. And my parents, who were so glad I was alive, decided to drop the case. I was even given $20 for my bravery!
In addition to that, I also encountered bullies in school whom I think hated my existence because it began in Africa. So, why did I become American? Was it the adaptation process (which I am still going through)? Or loving my African culture so much but constantly having to try and be somebody else outside of my home so people could at least understand the words coming out of my mouth? Or was it some of the African Americans who looked as black as me, but who denied me as much some of the white caucasians did (openly or hidden)? This was actually the one that had surprised and disturbed me the most, but it allowed me to learn some history and come to understand a bit of the possible reasons for that mentality. Nevertheless, I have a lot of good things to say about my residence here.
Is it the free high school public education I received? That I didn’t have to think of a day that I would’ve been sent out of school crying because my parents couldn’t afford my school fees (although college expenses are a whole ‘nother topic!). Is it the fact that every tap in my house would have clean water for me to drink and I wouldn’t walk far for water or stand the risk of water-borne disease? Is it the fact that I met great, amazing teachers and professors who actually cared about my existence and believed in my dreams? Is it the fact that I have met faith-filled communities in which my faith has grown and flourished? Is it the fact that there are four seasons I can enjoy in all of its colors in a year instead of just two? Although, I still think the cold murders my soul sometimes. Is it the fact that I have had white Caucasian friends like Nick Schmitz who genuinely love Africans to the point where they pride in the 2% African blood in them? Is it the fact that there was a good police officer that was generous and patient to go around the town with me just to find a camera that could trace the Hispanic man who almost kidnapped me? Well, I could go on and on with the list, but I’ll leave space for the rest of the blessings God may permit me to receive. Yet, among all the negative experiences, the good ones triumph in the next big, overwhelming, and perhaps life changing decision I will make: becoming an American citizen.
When it comes to making any decision, I often overthink, because I don’t like lofty decisions that don’t have meaning. Even when it comes to picking a gen-ed; I’d rather pick a difficult gen-ed with intention on what I will learn than an easy A that will do nothing for me. When it comes to citizenship, I didn’t just want to do it for security, or “just cuz”, but because I have actually reflected on my motivation for becoming a citizen and the things I would have to give up. I also came to the understanding of what being a citizen means.
I thought about it! I thought about the sorrows I have had here, the homesickness, but also the way in which America gave me a home away from home. I thought about how God had led me here for a reason, not just to make a life for myself but to grow to serve the lives of others and the immense opportunity to be able to do that. I have thought about my own responsibility in loving those who hate me and praying for those who may have persecuted me because of my background or beliefs. I have thought about the fact that I would not be officially called a Cameroonian anymore – that the whole essence of my identity would be officially lost. That my pride, my home, the place where I grew up to become the morally and culturally enriched woman I am today would no longer recognize me as nothing else but a foreigner and I would need a visa to enter the place of my birth. That I have to give my complete allegiance to a place I am still getting completely used to, though I call it home.
As I was filling out the rough draft of my citizenship application, I couldn’t help but ponder some of these questions in my mind as I was struck with those deep questions of allegiance: they’re not shallow at all to me as they have to do with not just the identity I was born with but the identity I have been proud to live by despite all opposition. As I got to page 20 of that application, I almost cried. I read the oath of allegiance on that last page. At least, I found comfort in the “so help me God” at the end of it. I wondered in my heart why, many times, America doesn’t look like she seeks to follow the God she professes in her allegiance.
Choosing to become allegiant to America doesn’t mean my heart for my origin will change or that my brain will automatically erase all the memories I have had from my birth. It does not mean I will call myself an American without mentioning that I was born in Cameroon. It doesn’t mean that I will stop eating all the delicious Cameroonian food I have eaten all my life – although hamburgers (which are actually beef) don’t taste too bad. It doesn’t mean that I will not raise my kids with the morals and cultural values I was raised with – they have to know their roots. And it definitely does not mean I will not defend America when I ought to, but that I will seek the love of Christ to govern all my decisions as He helps me submit to the authority that I have been subjugated to. It means to me that I appreciate America for welcoming me and fighting for me at the times when I may not know (thanks to the wonderful service of the military!), and for those who have accepted me because of my humanity and those who have rejected me because of my difference. Isn’t it great to stand out?!
So, as I take on this novel identity, I pray to be a good citizen to my fellow Americans and serve them as they have also served me and nourished me in the best way they can. I pray never to forget my history, as it leads to a gate to my future, and I pray to love all humanity no matter their background as we are all one in Christ. My sanguineness will always be from the motherland! I never reject that, but neither will I reject America … “so help me God”.