Earlier this month, at 72 years of age, my maternal grandmother became a citizen of the United States. This news surprised me. Why would someone who loves her home country of Ghana want to become a United States citizen? The reasons are plentiful, but the sentiment is straightforward.
The process of naturalization enables immigrants or green card holders to gain access to invaluable rights such as voting rights, eligibility for federal jobs and the ability to become an elected official. It goes without saying that citizenship through naturalization is a complicated process. Not even green card holders — immigrants who are allowed to live and work permanently in the United States — are guaranteed citizenship.
With time, I’ve realized that my grandmother’s path to citizenship isn’t about rejecting her home place. It’s about starting (or legally extending) another home in a different place. In this era of globalization, cross-country migration is not uncommon. At Elon University, we value visiting foreign lands to gain new perspectives on life. We pride ourselves in becoming global citizens dedicated to serving and working with various international communities.
The American Dream is rooted in hard work and determination. It evokes a “can-do” attitude, in which anyone from anywhere is capable of achieving something with due diligence. Today, the essence of The American Dream is in jeopardy. I’m not simply addressing policy reform — the negative attitude toward immigration is deeply concerning.
Immigration will forever be embedded in the makeup of this country’s history. And immigrants have not always been treated with open arms, and aren't necessarily today either. Discrimination toward different ethnic groups extends from the colonial era to present times. Even in the midst of ethnically-based discrimination, each wave of immigration changes the dynamics of U.S. culture. Many who hail from New England may recognize European influences in eateries, buildings and slang.
Each industry — ranging from education and medicine to technology to the military — has benefited greatly from someone whose native land is not the United States, such as computer-programming tycoon Elon Musk, the first female Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, acclaimed novelist Isabel Allende and David Ho, a prolific AIDS researcher, just to mention a few.
To remove immigration from the U.S. political agenda or to drastically confine it would be a great loss not only to the economy, but also to the rich mixing of cultures we can learn from. Several of my family members are immigrants to the U.S. They enrich society through their interactions with others and their contributions to the nation’s economy.
The national ethos of the United States as a place where people can achieve success through hard work is an attractive force that binds every part of the world together. These stories show that access to The American Dream is a living dream that should be celebrated for generations to come.