I am a naturalized citizen and registered independent voter. I came to the U.S. as a legal resident and was issued an “alien registration green card” in London after complying with all the legal requirements, i.e. an intense medical examination at my expense, to prove I was bringing no communicable diseases into the U.S., an equally extensive examination of my education and my personal and my financial records.
I was also required to have a U.S. sponsor — a U.S. citizen who would sign an affidavit of responsibility for me. I was advised that as a legal alien, I was not entitled to any social service or voting privileges.
I left the U.K. before I was old enough to vote and came as a legal immigrant to the U.S. After I had lived here for about 10 years, I became naturalized.
I have now carried an American passport longer than I carried my U.K. passport, and the only elections in which I have been privileged to vote are here in the country of my nationalization, the United States. Never, before Sept. 12, when I joined the protest march on Washington, D.C., had I ever considered myself a political activist, nor had I attended a political event. When I first heard of the march, I knew I had to go, because never before in my American life have I ever been afraid for America.
I went to Washington to be counted, to stand with others who I knew felt as I did, to make our dissent known, to have our voices heard. I booked my flight and hotel without any understanding of where I was to go and what to expect. I had arranged to stay at a hotel near the airport, I flew in the night before the march and planned to leave the evening after the march.
My hotel, it turned out, was in Crystal City, Va., of which I had never heard. As I arrived at the hotel by shuttle from the airport, I saw bus after bus after bus pulling into the circle of one big chain hotel after another. Hundreds and hundreds of people were arriving, and the buses sported signs, “Don’t tread on me. Can you hear me now? Keep your hands off my health care!”
I was relieved to realize I was not alone! On the morning of the march, which I had learned was to begin at 11:30 a.m., I was downstairs early to find a way to get to downtown. I had been told it was impossible to go by car, for the numerous road closures, so I planned to ride the metro. While I was worried about how to get there, I did not need to be. Once outside my hotel, I simply joined a throng already headed in the direction of the metro and was invited, to “come with us.”
It took seven trains before I was able to insert myself onto a train headed for Federal Triangle. And this from someone who grew up in London and was an expert at getting onto incredibly crowded tube trains during rush hour. Never before had I seen so many people squeezed into a train!
Once onboard, it was a party. People singing, chanting and cheering. I was swept up in the celebration of our all being together of one accord, a huge crowd jubilant and filled with pride.
The rally at the steps of the capital was loud and boisterous, but always polite and civil. People shared their opinions and their food and water and their stories with each other, and though it sounds trite, we were like one huge family at a reunion picnic. As I stood, the crowd spontaneously started singing “The Star Spangled Banner.” As we all did, and I sang my heart out, tears splashed down my cheeks, and I realized that, indeed, I am an American, a proud American, just like everyone around me. I need no passport, no affidavit to describe that state.
I love the country of my birth, and my heart belongs to the country of my choice. We must win this battle to take our country back, before it is too late!
PATRICIA HARRIS is a Glendale resident.