Nationality, identity and the pledge of allegiance
The author, Moni Basu, center, says the Pledge of Allegiance at her naturalization ceremony in 2008.
July 4th, 2012
06:00 AM ET

Nationality, identity and the pledge of allegiance

Editor's note: This is part of a series exploring the concept of American exceptionalism. Earlier, we examined its effect on politics and areas in which other countries lead the way.

By Moni Basu, CNN

Atlanta (CNN) - When the moment finally arrived, 86 of us stood up to utter 31 sacred words.

I raised my right hand. My heart was pounding. All those years spent in public schools in America, I'd refrained from saying the Pledge of Allegiance. It was wrong to say it when my loyalties lay elsewhere.

But that changed with a ceremony on a July day four years ago. And it changed me. I learned lessons about the meaning of country and more importantly, about myself.

I'd been in America almost three decades but happily retained an Indian passport. Over the years, each time it was renewed, my green card changed to pink and white but the status remained the same: permanent U.S. resident.

I'd lived here so long that I felt just as much American as I did Indian, but I had my reasons for not taking that last formal step that made my Americanness official.

One was practical - there was a matter of inheriting my father's property in Kolkata, India, and for a long time, that process was excruciatingly painful without Indian citizenship. My father knew what a bureaucratic nightmare inheritance could be, and as long as he was alive, he encouraged me to stay an Indian.

The other reason I held back was far more personal.

India does not allow dual citizenship with the United States, and assuming U.S. citizenship would effectively mean renouncing India. That felt like betrayal, a severance with the land that gave me birth and shaped me.

I spent a chunk of my childhood in India. When my family finally settled in the United States, I struggled to find myself.

I learned to speak English well, even with a twinge of Southern drawl, some would say. I went to high school dances and loved my Levi’s and even went out on dates, something I would never have done in India at that time.

But I never felt fully accepted.

I was always an "other" on forms that asked for race and ethnicity, before the days when Asian-American became a census category. In high school and college, I found myself fighting stereotypes and answering absurd questions about India, such as "do people live in grass huts?"

Sometimes, I felt Americans simply didn't understand me and that everything would be better if I could just go back to India.

The yearning for home and family grew stronger with age, especially after my parents moved back to India in 1985. I felt a need to rediscover my roots, not uncommon, I suppose, among immigrant children.

But every time I returned home to visit, I realized I could never feel fully at home in India anymore. I was too Americanized. A memsahib, the elders in my family joked, referring to the term for British women during colonial times.

That, too, is not uncommon among immigrant children. Many of us feel neither here nor there, straddling two cultures as we navigate key years of our lives.

In my case, I was happy to go on as a citizen of one country, a resident of another.

I paid my taxes and enjoyed all the freedoms afforded Americans save two things. I never served on a jury and more importantly, I could not vote. I never had an electoral say in India either because it did not allow absentee voting.

I hailed from the world's largest democracy and lived in the world's most powerful one, but was unable to take part in a free society's most essential expression. I always felt cheated, or worse, that I was falling short.

In 2004, I covered the presidential elections for an Atlanta newspaper, and after months of excitement and intrigue I was frustrated that I could not cast a ballot on Election Day.

By then I had cleared the biggest legal hurdles in India in settling my father's property. And so it happened that I sat down to fill out the necessary forms declaring my intent to become American.

I was fingerprinted, passed citizenship tests that challenged my knowledge of the Constitution and was finally called to take the oath in July 2008.

At the suburban Atlanta offices of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, I scanned the room to see faces from Vietnam to Venezuela. There were people from 38 different countries there that day for the naturalization ceremony.

I thought back to all the people I had met in my career as a reporter, of people who fought for freedom in lands that kept them caged, and others who clawed their way to these shores to break free.

I remembered Cuban dissenters I had met on my trip to Havana, and Afghan women who risked their lives to make things better for their little girls.

Today, all we have to do is look to the men and women of the Arab Spring, who took to the streets to oust governments that kept them down. Think of how much people risk to attain the kind of freedom we enjoy in America. And how much people in our own country have struggled to rid our society of prejudice and persecution.

My naturalization ceremony was testament to the American spirit. I looked around me and realized that this wasn't just about the journeys people had made; it was about the potential of all they could achieve in their new nation.

I thought about the Americans I’d met who worked hard, determined to achieve the American dream; about how their expectations were greater than their fears.

Such was the case with Fernando Andrade, who left behind Gen. Augusto Pinochet's military rule in Chile and arrived here without a college degree or English skills. He started in construction jobs and worked his way up to become a successful businessman.

Or Darly Pierre, who fled the brutal dictatorship of Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier. She came to America ready to fulfill her dreams. In Haiti, she said, she never had that chance.

I thought, too, about all the Americans I met who inspired me to carry on in the face of adversity. They, too, championed the American spirit.

Dylynn Waters lost her New Orleans home to Hurricane Katrina, resettled in Atlanta only to lose her home again in a fire. Waters persevered with a smile on her face. She said she had learned that it was not possessions that made a home.

Richard Ingram was a young cavalry scout whose arm was blown off in a roadside bombing in Iraq. He returned home determined to make the best of life. He is the first severely wounded soldier in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to become an officer.

America is filled with such stories. It is a nation that gives people hope.

On that July day, I felt proud, and extremely lucky, to be a part of this land.

I glanced at Francisco Montiel of Venezuela, standing to my right, dressed for the occasion in a khaki suit and blue tie. And on my left stood my friend Vino Wong, a photographer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper and a native of Malaysia.

I wondered what they were thinking as they, too, became U.S. citizens. Did they have the same emotions I did? Was their joy tinged with the melancholy of giving up a homeland?

My eyes welled as I began the oath.

"I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same. …”

Two worlds collided in my head as I drove to the Fulton County Courthouse with my new certificate of citizenship so that I could register to vote in time for the 2008 presidential elections.

That November, America made history with the election of Barack Obama as its first black president. The election became an important part of my own history as I stepped up to a voting booth and cast a ballot for the very first time.

Since then, I've come to think differently of my new citizenship.

I know now that swearing allegiance to the red, white and blue gave me new nationality. But nothing can ever take away my identity or that of the 40 million other people living in America who were born in other countries.

My Indian roots run deep, and I strive to carry with me every day the very best of two lands.

That is, after all, what makes America great.

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Filed under: Asian in America • Immigration • Who we are
soundoff (312 Responses)
  1. jony

    There was a time in this country no one would ask why an immigrant became an US citizen, we all knew why and were proud to call ourselves the greatest country. Now that it's more fashionable to come here and take government handouts without becoming a tax payer, we have to ask why someone would do the right thing. Sad state of affairs

    August 7, 2012 at 8:18 am | Report abuse |
  2. Dick Hertz

    Most "immigrants" are here illegaly and plan to retire in Mexico.

    July 5, 2012 at 10:09 am | Report abuse |
  3. SOS

    Wow all the complicated emotional junk. I am a naturalized citizen from India. I felt none of the crap described above. I was at home in America from day one. I am an engineer, I love guns and love the freedom I have. I am not torn between anything. I am American and love every minute of it.

    July 4, 2012 at 4:52 pm | Report abuse |
  4. yong xue

    In recent years, immigrants from Asia has surpassed those from Mexico, becoming the largest group entering the U.S. However, in CNN's photos gallery of "faces of new citizens", we could not find a single Asian face. Very interesting.

    July 4, 2012 at 4:17 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Highlander2

    Moni Basu is also an opportunist in that she waited "almost three decades" before giving up her Indian citizenship and after she inherited her father's property in India! Evidently, she "got" much more than she "gave". How many immigrants really want U.S. citizenship because they want to give or serve the USA? Of the many desiring citizenship, very few are willing or able to serve in our military. Simply passing a citizenship test on paper will never determine proof of loyalty to the USA. This country used to maintain higher immigration standards. If the same "legal" entry requirements still applied that were in place at Ellis Island, at least we would attract more responsible immigrants.

    July 4, 2012 at 4:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • Huh?

      What's your solution? Make it mandatory for newly-established immigrant citizens to serve in the military? Or are you just hounding them to become Republicans?

      July 4, 2012 at 6:04 pm | Report abuse |
      • Highlander2

        There is no perfect solution concerning the immigration/citizenship process. But if immigrants are to be granted citizenship, we must have a more efficient , immigrant accountable system in place. I believe that an immigrant seeking citizenship who would also volunteer for military service is a much better candidate for citizenship than an immigrant who is unwilling to "serve" this country! The granting of citizenship would be an earned reward, rather than unearned gift. I am retired from the military, am a Vietnam veteran and politically, I remain an independent, as I regard both major parties as self serving.

        July 4, 2012 at 8:31 pm | Report abuse |
  6. oyvey

    You know real Americans do not volunteer into the IRS federal system.
    How many real free Americans out there? or your a 13th Amendment slaves?

    July 4, 2012 at 3:31 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Ron

    Is that a gang stalking oath? I swear to stalk and harass my neigbour under the cloak of plausible deniability......I swear to never tell anyone about the psychological warfare i will implement on the people next door i swear not to talk about breaking into their house and (ghosting) micro tampering their private belongings. I swear not to talk about poisoning them, i swear not to talk about illegal surveillance and GASLIGHTING....Amen!

    July 4, 2012 at 3:26 pm | Report abuse |
  8. foxfire

    A liberal is someone that can think for himself/herself. He is knowledgeable and able to make rational decisions.They are not filled with hate. Liberals are what makes this country a great country. God Bless America.

    July 4, 2012 at 3:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tom

      Liberals scoff at the notion that God blesses America; Just ask Obama's pastor. You might want to get on the same page as your cronies who think that acknowledging the existence of God makes you intellectually inferior to them.

      July 4, 2012 at 3:41 pm | Report abuse |
      • foxfire

        The last things we need is another GOP Adminstration How soon we forget about the Bush Group and the waste of money and lives.

        July 4, 2012 at 4:23 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Ron

    God Bless America the greatest country in the world!

    PS- please STOP community stalking and organized harassment.

    July 4, 2012 at 3:21 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Born in NYC

    CNN and Time Magazine, once bastions of great journalism, have become nothing more than springboards for the liberal /communist agenda – they are almost as bad as MSNBC and The New York Times..

    July 4, 2012 at 3:17 pm | Report abuse |
  11. BillyBob117

    I am very proud of those who came to this great country and went through our immigration process to become citizens. There has never ever been anything wrong with our immigration process. The problem is allowing illegals in this great country and allowing them to butt in line and not even have to go through the same process as the others. It is a damn shame and I am mad, mad as hell that some approved of this slap in our faces

    July 4, 2012 at 3:13 pm | Report abuse |
  12. larry

    I became a citizen so I could work hard and make a good life and get my kids educated. Opps! I should have gone to China. Democrats Liberals and Progressives are in control.

    July 4, 2012 at 3:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • Henry

      Feel free to go to China.

      July 4, 2012 at 3:18 pm | Report abuse |
  13. larry

    The USA is a looser now because of Obama and Democrat/progressive/communists.
    The average Democracy last 200 years. We have beat the odds, but it's all down hill from here thanks to Democrats

    July 4, 2012 at 3:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • Priviledged Ones

      The USA was never an all white nation like those in Europe. Get over it.
      A lot of those white faces you saw on media for most of your life were never all white, the real Euros could tell you that by looking at them and they called you mutts. Many carried native american and african genes from way back.
      The racist myth that the USA became a superpower because of pure white power is based on a myth about a racial purity in the USA that never existed since the beginning, By the third generation a massive amount of the early colonists were carrying native genes before the USA even existed.

      July 4, 2012 at 3:15 pm | Report abuse |
      • oyvey

        digress much?

        July 4, 2012 at 3:25 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Bribarian


    July 4, 2012 at 3:05 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Rachel

    I bet if you were to ask these citizens whether or not this country is exceptional they would disagree with that liberal loon Bill Maher.

    July 4, 2012 at 3:03 pm | Report abuse |
  16. Ron

    Its nice youve become a citizen good luck finding work. You will not find it on this channel (CNN) but Fox reports as many as a 100,000 exsoldiers are going to work on Canada's Keystone pipeline. Not on the american side but the Canadian side. How come CNN doesnt report this? Why do we only get fed Pablum or Obama cakes on CNN?

    July 4, 2012 at 3:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • foxfire

      A well written story. Good luck and nice to have you as an American Citizen.

      July 4, 2012 at 3:19 pm | Report abuse |
  17. katolungile

    These people must not have heard. No reason to do it this way anymore... Just run in and you're here for good.

    July 4, 2012 at 3:02 pm | Report abuse |
  18. sfg

    Another CNN reporter interviewing herself, LOFL.

    July 4, 2012 at 2:56 pm | Report abuse |
  19. woodie

    I applaud all legal immigrants. I wish them the best of luck. All the illegals need to leave on the next train, boat, or plane. Obama will not save you. He has to answer to the law just like you.

    July 4, 2012 at 2:56 pm | Report abuse |
  20. oyvey

    I became citizen so I can PAY TAXEs on OBAMACARe

    July 4, 2012 at 2:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • jeff

      I became a citizen because it is a free country. Free medical, Free education, Free money and food stamps, Free airfare to bring in the rest of my family so they can get free money also. I also now have a clean criminal record, this place is the best. Go Obama! I am here thanks to you. What a great country.

      July 4, 2012 at 2:56 pm | Report abuse |
      • Priviledged Ones

        Umm, you are in Canada. Take the train to one nation south of you to reach USA.

        July 4, 2012 at 2:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • Akmid

      I became a citizen to infiltrate your country and take over from within. Bwahahahahahaha!!!!

      July 4, 2012 at 3:03 pm | Report abuse |
  21. oyvey

    I became a US citizen so I could be harassed by the government, So DHS can label me a terrorist for loving freedom. Oh yeah so I can PAY TAXES and get nothing in return...

    July 4, 2012 at 2:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • minority

      america has million good things and citizenship certainly has some value.but american people are simply obnoxius.arrogant reptiles.

      July 4, 2012 at 2:56 pm | Report abuse |
      • Priviledged Ones

        They change a lot from one state to the next and in the larger states change even from one section to another.
        Find an area you like better. They exist.

        July 4, 2012 at 3:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • Salam

      U pay taxes so when u travel abroad they will think twice before they herass u, u pay taxes so u don't drive on muddy streets, u pay taxes so u can say what u r sayin now with having a government coming after u for say what u r saying, u pay taxes so u will be treated like a human being, u pay taxes so ur children can go to school, u pay taxes so u don't stay in line for gas, and u pay taxes to earn the right to proudly call urself an American.

      July 4, 2012 at 3:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sebastian

      This is so cool! I love it! Can't wait for you to capture our girls Is it okay if we have phtoos taken at the Schlitz Audubon Nature Center? Rowan just had her last day of preschool there, and it is where we hang out most of the time besides home! Let me know what you have in mind, and how much time you have available for us on July 6th (morning I hope?) I will try to be as organized as possible! Wade is taking off work that day or part of that day so he can see you too!!! Can't wait. You are magnificent.xo Jessica

      October 13, 2012 at 7:19 am | Report abuse |
  22. tafugate

    doesn't make any sense to me why anyone would abandon their country and run to somewhere else. personally, there's a lot wrong with the united states, most of which is big money controls the government, and i have no say whatsoever. not catastrophic, but very annoying. but whatever happens in the u.s., i will remain here for the fight. it's fine for the weak-minded or the weak-bodied to come here in search of an easier life. but they'll never have my respect for the cowards they are.

    July 4, 2012 at 2:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Priviledged Ones

      Shooting Native Americans and buffalo has not been a US pastime for a very long time now.
      The hot thing today is to shoot people in inner cities and buy drugs.

      July 4, 2012 at 3:07 pm | Report abuse |
  23. imstilanig

    I LUV illegal immigration!

    July 4, 2012 at 2:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sven

      These people did it legally, the right way. We need more people like this, and less America-hating liberals who were born here and don't appreciate what a great land this is. These new arrivals are more American then they will ever be.

      July 4, 2012 at 2:57 pm | Report abuse |
  24. southernwonder

    cnn is staffed with whole bunch of foreigners. it does not look or sound american tv any more. and yet our politicians want to rush to cnn for interviews. i just don't get it.

    July 4, 2012 at 2:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • jeff

      I became a citizen because it is a free country. Free medical, Free education, Free money and food stamps, Free airfare to bring in the rest of my family so they can get free money also. I also now have a clean criminal record, this place is the best. Go Obama! I am here thanks to you. What a great country.

      July 4, 2012 at 2:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ray

      I am sure your forefathers were foreigners, so why the bias!

      July 4, 2012 at 3:06 pm | Report abuse |
  25. Claudia, Houston, Tx

    If you think you know whose is and who isn't a U.S. citizen, think again. There are people who have been living in this country for ages and have never applied for citizenship and don't have to because they are protected but guess what, you'll never know.

    July 4, 2012 at 2:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • Priviledged Ones

      This story is from Atlanta. Lets see.....
      There is German embassy in Atlanta and a rather large group of German families who have lived there for generations and only become US citizens the year before they are old enough to collect SS.
      But they are very wealthy (avoiding US taxes), very prominent in Republican causes, and known as devout Christian fundamentalists.

      I am going to guess this is the type of you will never know that you are talking about, that the Repub next to them in a Red State complaining about illegals and waving the US flag is not even a citizen and has been gaming the system to cheat the US taxpayers for generations.

      July 4, 2012 at 2:56 pm | Report abuse |
      • nearearth

        Excellent point priviledged ones, its the atlanta germans, always stirring up trouble.

        Claudias right. Its a dirty little secret waiting to burst that the number of hispanics in the US who are legal citizens is quite small relative to their suffocating #'s. Stay tuned!

        Deport. Deport. Deport. (1.1million deportations to date- obamas singular accomplishment)

        July 4, 2012 at 3:36 pm | Report abuse |
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