Yet, despite all that, I was always reluctant to become a U.S. citizen. It was in part out of a sentimental attachment to France and its storied multi-ethnic soccer team, Les Bleus, and in part because even after 20 years, I still find America’s mores and laws somewhat foreign, if not alienating. All this time I told myself that I could pack up and leave at a moment’s notice, whenever I was finally fed up with American society’s least attractive aspects. Or in the event of an adverse political outcome.
I confess I entertained such a thought last night upon the unexpected election of Donald Trump to the presidency.
It was a lie, a fantasy. My life is here. My family is here. My friends are here. I care about them. Whether I like it or not, I belong here.
And so I have changed my mind. Instead of packing up, I will apply for United States citizenship this week. I will make it official: I will become an American and swear allegiance to the star-spangled banner. It is a small act of defiance and resistance. I owe a debt of loyalty to my American friends, to the city where I live, and to the amazing, crazy, troubled, quirky and always surprising country that has welcomed me with arms wide open. Above all, I owe it to my kid.
Last night, when it became clear that Trump was going to win, my son ran to the bathroom and locked himself inside to cry his heart out. Because of the way the presidential campaign unfolded, and the ghastly xenophobia deployed by Trump and his followers, my son is terribly anxious that his friends of foreign heritage — Filipino, Guatemalan, Mexican, Japanese, Persian, German etc. … — will get hurt and sent back to their home country. He is also afraid that his dad, too, will be forced to leave.
I tried my best to reassure him while putting him to bed: “Everything will be fine. The United States is a country of laws. It has ancient and proud institutions that have endured through even the most perilous and trying times. Its democracy is vibrant, if contentious.”
“Americans have learned to solve their conflicts through active political participation,” I told him. ” In America, we fight injustices and we redress wrongs by engaging in our communities, be they schools, churches or union halls. This is how we change hearts, and laws. This is how we make our country a better place. We persuade each other with passionate, and sometimes overheated, public arguments. And then we break bread together — e pluribus unum, out of the many, one.”
It dawned on me that the only way I would convince my trembling child that this was true, that these words had real, practical meaning, that the ideals of America were in fact not hollow, was to practice what I preached.
And so I will become a United States citizen at long last. I will be a hyphenated American, a proud French-American, an immigrant. That way, I will take my rightful, if minuscule, place in the ranks of President Trump’s loyal opposition. And to paraphrase the gracious words of former senator Bob Dole, I will do my utmost to defeat him and his party as an opponent, not an enemy.
Just don’t ask me to root for U.S Men’s National Soccer Team.