This Thanksgiving had special meaning for me. That may come as a surprise to some people who know that I am not a natural-born American. I was born in Kenya, received my higher education in England, and lived in Canada for more than 30 years before moving to the U.S. almost seven years ago.
So why would I feel a special connection to a holiday that is not rooted in my background?
The answer is because I am in the process of becoming an American citizen, and that is something I am extremely thankful for.
As you can imagine becoming a citizen is a rather long, involved process. I have gone through the initial interviews, fingerprinting, background checks and lots of paperwork. I was also given a book to study that covered 100 questions on U.S. history so that I could prepare for an exam that would include 10 of those questions.
A couple of weeks ago I went in for the naturalization interview, where I had to answer those selected questions. The person interviewing me was also a naturalized citizen and when he said âCongratulations, you passed,â I was as thrilled as I have been in a long time. I started questioning him on his background and his own path to citizenship, peppering him with questions to the point where he said, âHey, are you interviewing me now?â It was a moment Iâll never forgetâmy new friend and I sharing in the excitement of what it means to become an American.
When I was studying those 100 questions, I was surprised by how much American history I had forgotten. I had fun quizzing some of my American-born friends on the questions too, and many of them were also surprised by how many of the details were lost to memory.
But even if we canât always remember all the dates and facts, we somehow understand the purpose of this nation. For me, that resonates most profoundly in those words from the Declaration of Independence about our unalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That is the American ideal that has drawn people like me here for generations.
Whatever problems this nation faces, this is still the country people come to when they want to make the most of themselves and of the abundant opportunities life can offer. In this time of giving thanks, I hope that is something no American ever loses appreciation for.
The next step in my journey to citizenship is to be sworn in. I will soon be able to vote and to run for office. This is the country that has contributed so much to my success over the years, and I am proud to say that I feel I have, in turn, made my own contributions to the spirit of American enterprise in the best way I know how. That is why this has been a memorable Thanksgiving. And I am excited to know that when next Thanksgiving rolls around I will once again be sharing in that feeling of gratitudeâthis time as a full-fledged, proud American.