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Justine Rivero

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3 Steps to Becoming an American

Posted: 05/23/2012 6:58 pm

A moderately epic tale of junk food, junk mail and fixing up the country.

#1: Eat Fruit Loops.

I lost eight pounds within a few months of moving to America. While that would be cause for celebration nowadays, I was five years old at the time and devastated to lose the marshmallow cheeks that had made me a one-time beauty queen at age three.

Unaccustomed to American food, the scandalized loss of my infamous appetite brought my Lola 7,000 miles from the Philippines to feed her youngest grandchild. The retired, iron-willed superintendent waged war on hunger with pork tocino, longanisa, sunny-side up eggs and fresh tomatoes juicy with vinegar. When she left six months later, I was up three dress sizes.

After Lola left, mornings had a decidedly more American flavor: Fruit Loops, Toaster Strudels and oatmeal. Filipino feasts were reserved for indulgent Saturday mornings, which was fine by me; by then, I preferred the toy in the cereal box anyway.

#2: Learn the Pledge of Allegiance.

I loved first grade for two reasons: Miss Hart gave out goldfish crackers for correct answers and her poodle Stanley joined us every Friday recess. I hated first grade for one reason, and it was called the Pledge of Allegiance.

Every morning, like clockwork, the PA system buzzed and the whole school recited it in eerie harmony. On my first day, Miss Hart asked me to learn it; a month later, she called me to her desk and told me to say it from memory.

"I pledge allegiance (pause). To the flag (pause). Of the Philippines (pause). And to the republic (pause)...". She stopped me patiently and asked me to say it again, correctly. I recited it again exactly as I had taught myself. We went back and forth till the recess bell rang.

They kept trying till third grade. By then, I became painfully aware of how my classmates looked at me every morning, and I finally fell in line. And with my accent flattened and shaped to a California tongue by then, I said the Pledge of Allegiance like every good American girl should.

#3: Vote (or not).

It was either my liberal high school history teacher or my anarchist high school friend who voiced my favorite opinion on the matter: It's as much a right not to vote, as it is to vote.

Sample ballots and voting information have peppered my mailbox recently, and as a responsible citizen, I always use the blue recycling bin in the mailroom to dispose of them.

Earlier this month, President Barack Obama became the first sitting president to support same-sex marriage. "I've just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same sex couples should be able to get married," he said.

When another voting packet showed up in my mailbox this morning, this time, it found its way to my kitchen table.

Becoming an American is a complicated privilege for me, because as a chubby five-year-old who hated cereal and missed her cousins overseas, that privilege wasn't my choice. Voting was a part of that privilege I simply wasn't interested in. Yet with Obama's statement, I felt the weight of being an American in a singular proud moment, one shining amongst many other threads of injustice, desperation and tragedy that make up the fabric of our American experience.

As Huffington Post Editor Peter Goodman wrote, Obama's words are "a case in which the political leadership finally caught up with the country." It's a moment in which the leadership of my country acknowledged the right for my queer sister to marry whoever she wanted. It's a moment when I believed deeply in the transformative changes in our future.

The same fabric of our American experience remains embroiled in differences. A CNN poll indicated 50% of Americans believe same-sex marriages should be legal, while 48% say they should not. While a survey released this week suggests that Obama's announcement may lead to record low opposition to same-sex marriage, Obama's statement won't devastatingly win over conservatives or undecided; it likely draws an unforgiving line in the sand for many voters. However, it helps me believe that America is finally taking steps to representing and protecting the people breathing and fighting for a place in it today. There are yet many more steps to take and many more people to fight for.

I am still learning to be comfortable in a country I was once reluctant to call home. But I'm choosing to vote this year, not because it's my duty as an American; I'm choosing to vote this year because it's my responsibility to other Americans to make this country feel like their home too.

 

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