In the morning of November 7, 2006, I woke up earlier than usual. I had to stop by the polling station before going to work. This time, the voting machine looked different, but my response was the same as it had been in times past. When I was ready to touch the “cast vote” button, I felt overwhelmed with emotion. My eyes teared.
I am a new immigrant from China, a naturalized U.S. citizen. When people ask me, “Do you see yourself as a Chinese or an American,” most of the time I reply, “Depends.”
In my refrigerator, you can find fish with head and duck with feet that can trigger anxiety attacks in Western people. My parents started to live with me when aches and pains took the better of them, and I tell my son that he is part of our retirement plan. I exclaim “A-yaa” loudly in front of my son’s friends. Even my Caucasian husband now says “A-yaa,” despite the weird looks. These are the times I am definitely Chinese.
When I openly criticized U.S. foreign policies, I was told I was “offending American people.” I received hate mail, and was told, “love it or leave it.” When I loudly expressed my dissatisfaction with the Chinese government, I was warned to be quiet, otherwise I would have problems returning to China to visit my sister. These are the times I am neither Chinese nor American.
On November 7, I was definitely an American. Like millions of new immigrants who came to this land of opportunity, I benefited greatly in every area of my life. I have a successful career, a circle of wonderfully open-minded, fun, and supportive friends, and a loving family. However, I know I didn’t do all this by myself. Numerous American people, from New York to California, helped me along the way. I remember my landlady’s assuring voice when I was a struggling student: “From worse to worst, Ljnna, you can always count on me.”
I remember being amazed by the post-election party on November 8, and wrote home to report how involved Americans were in their country’s political affairs. I remember the president of the university shook my hand the first time I learned to go through the proper system to claim my rights. America and its people embraced me, and empowered me. Now, as an American, dictated by my Chinese belief that “he who doesn’t pay back gratitude is not a gentleman,” I take it as my moral obligation to give back to my second home country and my fellow Americans.
On November 7, my giving back was to cast that vote, to practice my civil duty to my new home country — a pledge I made at the naturalization ceremony. Millions of people have died and are still dying for the right to cast that one vote. This right probably is the greatest privilege and right of being an American. This right guarantees the self-correcting mechanism of the democracy and makes sure that this country will never have to face the probability of being stuck with one dictator for half a century. This right is the warranty for the future of all the children and grand-children of mine and my fellow new immigrants.
With tears in my eyes, I touched “cast vote” button. In this, I believe.