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In kindergarten all of the kids were assigned individual chores. The best chores, such as bathroom monitor or line leader, were always given to the snottiest-nosed kids while the worst chores were always given to me. I dreaded, despised, and loathed having to wipe down the chalkboard. I still remember the wet rag as I stood on my tippy-toes to reach the top of the board, stretching and panting, trying to make sure every spot was rid of all chalk dust. The chalkboard that before had our ABC’s, spelling words, and smudges of chalk was in the end, a clean slate.

Eighty-five years prior, chalk dust was flying and a clean slate was in the making. My great-grandparents were immigrating to the United States with fourteen children in tow. They were what you might call “wetbacks” straight from Mexico. They snuck over here and settled not too far away from the border and lived in fear of their futures every day.

Most Americans might be critical of that and say that it was their decision to break the law – to be insubordinate to the American government – and that they should in due time reap what they have sown. After all, they say, only we deserve this American living. Not them. But then again, what did we do to earn it? Who is “we” anyway? For I certainly do not toss my name into the “we.” How could I, when my grandfather was the child of two of these law-breaking criminals? Only partially biased, I still agree that my family should not have made the decision to do what they did. I understand America is an open and accepting society and has historically provided an avenue for lawful immigration to all those willing to accept the responsibilities of citizenship and that they should have worked within those parameters. However, neither can I say that I in any way earned the freedom into which I was born or that I deserve to be an American citizen. Is American citizenship merely an undeserving circumstantial gift to me? No, it is far more.


My grandfather Romeo, one of the fourteen, dreamed of one day living the life I have now from the time he set foot in the United States. He worked privately and secretly, as hard as anyone else and eventually legalized his citizenship and went to college and majored in business. He began working for Aflac Insurance at twenty-six, was married, and had two kids. Before long he took out a loan to put his first child, my father, through college at Yale University and his daughter was in the seventh grade and wanted to be a teacher when she grew up. Romeo became a deacon at the church he attended, rose to the top of his company, and loves American western movies more than any person ever should.

I am here because of him. I live in the United States not because I deserve it more than any other Mexican child, but because of luck. Happenstance. But did I earn that privilege somehow? Did I do anything beyond my Mexican relatives? I wish in some way I had my name on a list of the fortunate worthy to be called “Americans.” Or maybe, I was chosen, handpicked, by one of the founders of the country. Unfortunately, that is far from the truth. The odds were against me but I am here. I was given a clean and fresh start. Born into a world where freedoms already exist and thrive, I am richly blessed. I am not hindered, walled in, or constricted. Citizenship grants me the freedom of choice, of speech, and of more liberties than I can ever fully appreciate because I do not have enough time on this earth. I can vote in federal elections. Run for a federal office. Go to college on scholarship. I can travel the world. The opportunities are deep and the possibilities wide.

I’m facing a big black board. This time, I don’t have a rag because I wasn’t told to clean anything. Instead, my fingers are gripping a small cylinder-shaped object that feels like dry compressed powder. My hand is brought to the board and I’m told to draw. I ask, “What do I draw?” Citizenship whispers, “Anything.”



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