Becoming an American: Remembering My Home Country while Gaining Another
By Odette Alcazaren-Keeley

Editor's 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 another.
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 my traditions.
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)


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