By: Roshanda Pratt
My American tale actually begins across the waters in a beautiful Caribbean country. My parents, both native West Indians of Trinidad and Tobago, came to America in their twenties. Both dreamed of better opportunities for their family back in T&T and the family they would soon create in America. I am, as the Trinidadians would say, the “salt-water Yankee” in the family. I heard that saying often growing up. It did not faze me and I always quipped, “I am part Yankee and Trinidadian.” In my mind as a young child I believed I had dual citizenship. At home we ate traditional West Indian foods like curry chicken and rice, and played Soca music while my father passionately debated with his other Caribbean friends about politics. At school, I was an American girl who loved hamburgers, hopscotch and Punky Bewester.
Through the years, there was one thing my father never let me forget: America is a land of opportunity and if you live in this country, you need to seize every chance you can. My father came from a country where the have-nots far outweighed the haves. He has seen poverty, corrupt government, and what happens when people decide to revolt against their oppressor. As a young child born in America you never really appreciate the freedoms you have been afforded. I have learned those who come to America most often have a greater respect for what our forefathers fought and died for.
My parents officially became American citizens on December 19, 1997. I was 20 years old. I stood proudly as my parents joined dozens of others and recited our pledge of allegiance on the campus of USC Aiken. At the end of the day everyone received an American flag. For the first time in my life, my American citizenship meant more than fireworks on the 4th of July or a barbecue on Memorial Day. It meant that my freedom comes with a certain level of responsibility. As I watched the ceremony that day, people surrendered their allegiance to their birth country and pledged it to ours. How could I continue living life the same? As a person born in America, I had a responsibility to adhere to the words of that pledge:
The Pledge of Allegiance
I pledge Allegiance to the flag
of the United States of America
and to the Republic for which it stands,
one nation under God, indivisible,
with Liberty and Justice for all.
The pledge essentially says that you pledge to be true to the United States of America. You pledge to make America better. In the fourth grade my Father made me watch the news because he thought I should always know what was going on in my community. How do you make America better? Volunteerism, activism and mentoring are a great start, but what about the simple liberty of voting. The first time my parents were able to legally vote in an election was a milestone event in our household. My aunt from Trinidad encouraged my parents to become citizens for the sole purpose of being able to vote in the country in which they now call “home.” My mother and father were so elated to stand in line, show their legal documents and go into a booth to vote. This month, my parents went out and voted again. I realize that for some of you this year’s voting process was not so memorable. However, it is still part of our responsibility as American citizens, one that I take great joy in taking part.
I am grateful that more than 30 years ago my parents made the journey to the sweet land of liberty.
God bless America!