I am an American, but I was not born here. My parents were British, and I was born south of London on the English Channel. Let me tell you how I became a citizen. On November 13, 1957, I boarded the Cunard liner SS Saxonia in Southampton bound for Montreal, Canada. I had $157 and a train ticket in my pocket. My ultimate destination was Edmonton, Alberta which was the province's capitol, and the center of the then recently established oil industry in Canada. It took me 10 long days to find a job.
I worked as a technician at the Research Council of Alberta which was located next to the University of Alberta. Working full time, I also obtained my Bachelor of Science degree part time, taking courses in the evenings and during my vacations. Then I moved to the University of Washington in Seattle. I had already obtained all the required documents to enter the U.S. With a graduate scholarship in chemistry, I obtained a green card proving to the authorities that I could financially support my family. From Seattle, I moved in turn to San Francisco, New York, Houston and Chicago with the chemical divisions of major oil companies. It was in Chicago that I became a United States citizen on March 30, 1971.
Previously I had taken a short exam with stiff questions such as "Who was George Washington?" And "What are the three branches of government?" Then on the day that I was sworn in, along with about three hundred others, we met in District Court in downtown Chicago. Several of the people being naturalized were from Eastern Europe, which at that time was still under communist occupation and rule.
The judge entered and said how privileged he was to be able to perform this ceremony. After we were all sworn in there was a reception where several officials addressed us. They said how honored they were--what a favor it was to participate. Then they asked if anyone would like to say anything. Many people had escaped from Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and other areas under communist domination. They told of their struggles, and how thankful they were to become Americans.
I had not had these tribulations. Certainly, I had survived the Battle of Britain as a child in WWII. My worst experience was that of a bomb exploding 75 yards from our house. But we had not been invaded. We had not lost our liberty or our freedom to worship God. My reasons for becoming an American were different. True, America was a land of opportunity, but I confess that I viewed Americans with a slight sense of puzzlement. Let me explain. As a schoolboy I had read of the Boston Tea Party, which led to the United States going to war with the British over the tax on tea. But as I looked around, all I could see was people drinking coffee!
Seriously though, I thought of what the judge and other officials had said: I am honored...I am privileged...what a favor it is for me to be a part of this ceremony. I had been in a position to look these people in the eye as they spoke, and I knew they were sincere. So, I got up and said that I had not suffered under a repressive government; I didn't have a dramatic escape to recount, but I really did appreciate the true welcome that they had extended to us. We were the ones who were honored. We were the ones who were privileged and favored. That is what I felt then, and that is what I believe now.
This nation was built on Biblical principles. To say otherwise is to deny history. On the very day of the birth of America, Samuel Adams told Congress: "We have this day restored the Sovereign, to whom all men ought to be obedient. He reigns in heaven and... from the rising to the setting sun, may his Kingdom come."
Our nation's motto is: "In God we trust." We are "one nation under God." We should be proud of our Judeo-Christian heritage. I am thankful to be an American.
Peter Gilderson, Madison.