If you are a foreign-born California resident seeking U.S. citizenship, you may be wondering exactly what it means to be an American citizen. If you have asked citizens this question, you know that each one gives a different answer. Rather than finding this confusing, you should find it heartening and reassuring. These answers reflect the heart and soul of American citizenship: that each citizen is a free individual who has the right to make his or her piece of America whatever (s)he wants it to be.
Some years ago, the Congressional Conference on Civic Education held a meeting where Lee H. Hamilton was the featured speaker. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives at the time and currently serves on the Homeland Security Advisory Council. What he said then rings just as true today.
Government of the people
To begin with, while America technically is a republic, we are in fact a representative democracy. What that means, as President Lincoln said in his famous 1863 Gettysburg Address, is that America is a “government of the people, by the people, for the people.” It also means that each of us must take our citizenship seriously. Merely voting in elections is not enough.
America is always a work in progress, never a finished product. This means that as a citizen, you, too, will have ample opportunity to help America become, as stated in the Preamble to our Constitution, a more perfect union. The other thing you need to remember is that America is, always was, and will continue to be a nation of immigrants. Just because you were not born here does not mean that you cannot contribute just as much as anyone who was. You can and you should.
Pride of citizenship
As you go through your naturalization process and your citizenship preparation class, know that what you are being taught is not just a lot of empty ideals. Citizens really believe these things, even though we often neglect to practice them as much as we should. When you pass your naturalization test and are sworn in as a U.S. citizen, you will have the pride and satisfaction of knowing that, unlike those of us who were born here, you actually chose to be a U.S. citizen. Welcome!
This information is provided for educational purposes and should not be interpreted as legal advice.