American: Remembering My Home Country while Gaining
By Odette Alcazaren-Keeley
Note: For a Filipino immigrant, the decision to
become a US citizen came down to family. Odette
Alcazaren-Keeley is chief of staff of New America
Media and also hosts and produces "Headlines
from the Ethnic Media" on "Upfront,"
aired on 91.7 FM-KALW in San Francisco. She is a
former news producer and anchor for ABS-CBN International
-- The Filipino Channel TV.
I suspect that
I will continue to live with many questions regarding
my gains and losses. But I also know that my Filipino
heritage will pass on to my daughter, and I know
too that she will grow up proud and grateful that
her mother made that choice for her future -- to
be an AmericanI owe everything I am to the Philippines:
my traditions, education and values. But last week
I swore allegiance to the United States and became
a new citizen. I gained a new country, but lost
I left my homeland because no matter how hard I
worked, I had limited opportunities there. I was
also missing my sister in Los Angeles, and I was
encouraged that she led a successful life in America.
So I followed her footsteps.
In May 2000, I moved to California, got my work
permit, then my green card. I finally took my citizenship
test and my oath this month. It was a long, exhausting
five years of being afraid that it could all somehow
be taken away from me.
That fear ended recently, however, when I sat in
the San Francisco Masonic auditorium with over a
1,000 other immigrants from 90 different countries.
I felt mostly relieved that this arduous process
was now over, after countless appointments in various
immigration offices; after lining up for hours at
a time; after waiting months, then years for every
next step; after paying thousands in fees, and submitting
documents for what seemed like the 100th time.
But the biggest struggle was in my heart. I raised
my right hand and forfeited my loyalty to my motherland
as tears streamed down my face. There were many
reasons I decided to do this. I can now enjoy the
rights and benefits of any other citizen; can petition
my family faster to come here and join me; and can
travel much easier around the world.
But I have been a news producer and anchor for The
Filipino Channel for the past four years here in
California and eight years with its parent company
in Manila. For half of my life, I have been identified
with my community and served it in the best way
I knew how: As a journalist covering the news and
issues that mattered to us.
I knew full well the backlash on those who shared
my background, especially the undocumented. Recently,
60 undocumented Filipino immigrants were rounded
up and deported to the Philippines.
As I stood there and waited for my certificate,
I was full of questions. Once I became a citizen,
would I lose my perspectives on the issues that
I cover as a journalist? If I am critical of many
US policies, including the war on Iraq, why then
would I want to be its citizen? Am I turning my
back on my fellow Filipinos and my country, even
swearing to bear arms against them if they prove
to be America's enemy? Perhaps what made it a little
easier to do is the fact that the Philippines offers
dual citizenship, a step I am seriously considering.
I don't know if I can answer all of these questions.
But I do know this. First and foremost, I became
a US citizen for my family: Patrick, my husband,
and my 3 1/2-year-old daughter, Zoe. Becoming a
citizen will ensure that the government wont be
able to separate us. As a resident, if I am found
guilty of an offense or crime, I could be deported.
As a non-citizen I felt targeted, and by becoming
a citizen I am provided that much needed legal protection.
I am not leaving anything to chances.
The second reason was to vote. Through the most
harrowing times of this process, what also spurred
me on was the thought that I could finally make
my voice heard and to make it count. As a citizen,
I am determined to be informed and to exercise my
right to vote.
Besides, I am not unaware that I am living the dream
that many Filipinos are struggling to achieve, many
living apart from their families and waiting for
years to unite with them. The first Filipinos settled
in America a century ago. A century later, tens
of thousands more are still working hard to get
in line to get where I am.
I am grateful for this citizenship despite my own
misgivings. And I, as a journalist, want to devote
my life to help those who are struggling to reach
their American dreams. I am sad that I am no longer
a Filipino citizen, but I am encouraged by what
Prof. Dan Siciliano, of the Stanford Law School,
our keynote speaker, said during the oath-taking
ceremony: It is my responsibility to share my rich
culture with this nation and to instill in my children
I suspect that I will continue to live with many
questions regarding my gains and losses. But I also
know that my Filipino heritage will pass on to my
daughter, and I know too that she will grow up proud
and grateful that her mother made that choice for
her future -- to be an American. (New America Media)