• Allison Lee Pillinger Choi

Celebrating the America-versary of my Mom, Karol, and other Americans by Choice

Updated: Oct 29, 2020

What we're reading on the Front Porch: a powerful and uplifting immigration piece by one of our favorite mamas and columnists, Karol Markowicz. She is an American by choice, of intention, and with gratitude. A true American patriot.



Concepts such as “patriotism” and “immigration” are fundamentally connected to the American story. Sadly, these days, they are also often associated with topics of tension and controversy. But we will not let politicized trends du jour sour our attitudes. . . and neither will mama and columnist extraordinaire, Karol Markowicz. Over the summer she penned a refreshing piece bluntly titled, We Immigrants Know the America-bashers are Ridiculously Wrong, which shines a beautiful bright light on the intersection of immigration and patriotism:

"It’s my America-versary, the day my mother and I arrived in the United States. I was just 1 year old . . . Every July 20, we celebrate. It’s up there with birthdays and anniversaries for our family. It’s the day we became free."


What makes this piece so special to me particularly now is that my mom’s anniversary of American citizenship is around the corner. So I was excited to tell her that Karol had coined of a festive phrase for an American immigrant’s personally patriotic celebration: America-versary! Like Karol, my mom does not take this day for granted. Though her pre-American experience was not as stark as Karol’s (Karol having come from socialist Soviet Union), my mama always said to me -- or rather, ingrained in me -- that in this country, you can do anything and be anything if you work hard enough to earn it.


So there’s Karol and my mom’s point of view, and then there’s a point of view with fundamentally toxic national sentiment. In Karol’s words, “half the country’s population thinks we suck.” My mom and Karol take issue with this. As Karol goes on to write:


"Believing in America, and that the core of our country is good and sound, shouldn’t be tied to any president or political party. Yet the hard left continually pushes the line that America is hopeless and terrible . . . America-hating has real consequences. There is a movement now to erase America’s imperfect history. Every day brings a new online hot take about how we should get rid of our National Anthem or remove Thomas Jefferson’s statue from New York’s City Hall. We should resist this movement. Our collective history matters, and it shouldn’t be discarded."


This collective history includes the good, the bad, the ugly; the brave, the daring, the conflicted; the celebratory, the sad, the corrupt. . . and the lessons learned. It also includes the tens of millions of American immigrants who, since 1776, chose this country to call home (including over one million each year in modern day). Given these numbers, we know that Karol and my mom are not alone in the positive sentiment – dare I say, the proud patriotism – they have for the United States, and the ideals for which it stands:


"My family and millions of others came here longing to be free, to say what we want, to worship how we want and to raise American children who will know nothing but freedom.

On the day my mother and I ­became citizens and said the Pledge of Allegiance in a room full of new Americans, there were few dry eyes in the house. Don’t end our patriotic displays because an influential fringe has decided they are somehow evil."


Karol’s reflection, along with my mom’s recollection of her naturalization ceremony (when the Oath of Citizenship is administered), reminds us of a video clip entitled, A Fine Time to Become an American, featuring British-born scholar, Niall Ferguson:


" . . . Then we placed our right hands on our hearts to recite the pledge of allegiance to the national flag 'and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.' . . . The grand finale was God Bless the USA, a country music anthem by Lee Greenwood. . . 'And I'm proud to be an American / Where at least I know I'm free /And I won't forget the men who died / Who gave that right to me.' More than half a century of being British has made it hard for me not to cringe just a little at this kind of thing. But this hokum is now my hokum. And this president is now my president, until such time as we, the people, vote in another one. Yes, I picked a fine time to become an American – because it's always a fine time."



From Niall’s perspective, Karol’s perspective, and my mom’s perspective (and we know mama knows best), our country’s naturalization process and citizenship ceremony represent much more than procedural logistics and certificate. Of course, “constitutionally” speaking, it represents a democratic republic; it represents a right to vote; it represents civic responsibility. But from the Primerrily perspective, it means a whole lot more. Choosing to apply, interview, and test for U.S. citizenship represents American values of intention, recognition, allegiance, process, order, and gratitude. And, for those who experienced life in countries unlike America, it represents opportunity, freedom, equality, law, and order.


For those of us lucky enough to be born in the U.S., we haven’t necessarily had to experience the “tangibility” of U.S. citizenship. Frankly, the significance of our citizenship is easy to take for granted -- even at the voting booth. So if that's the case for us grown-ups, imagine how it must be for the kids who were born on U.S. soil and, as Karol noted, “will know nothing but freedom.”


Want some ideas to help your children engage with the joy of becoming an American? We’ve got ‘em!

  • Watch a real citizenship ceremony -- held at the White House. In less than 10 minutes, you’ll see many races, religions, and backgrounds come together in the spirit of E Pluribus Unum.

  • Could your kids -- could you -- pass the American citizenship test required to become an American? Quiz yourself here. You can take multiple practice tests. Want to print and go for some Q+A on the road? Click here for a 100 question printable.

  • Role play what a naturalization ceremony would be like. You can get ideas from the ceremony above. After the “ceremony,” drive home the blessings of being an American -- for one, by telling your kid the reason they’ve never had to actually be at a real ceremony. It is a blessing to be born in America!

  • We can think of few better ways to appreciate this often innate privilege than to attend a citizenship ceremony. Under normal circumstances, we would suggest visiting your local courthouse holding these ceremonies. With your kids, wave flags and “congratulatory” signs for your newest American brother and sister citizens! It will be a beautiful way to make the lesson of citizenship (what should be a central theme of Civics 101) a fascinating and festive activity for you and your little Americans!