The red folder peeks from under other papers on my desk. I glance at it and mentally promise to take care of it soon and, in an effort to keep my word, I jot down a reminder in my diary. It’s done – I finally managed to cross to the other side and convinced myself it was high time for it, after seven years of the folder languishing at the edges of my desk. Seven whole years during which, periodically, I would question where I belonged, what made up my identity until I just didn’t know anymore and I realized I had become a fully fledged stateless person. Well, that is a bit dramatic. My maroon European Union passport clearly states I am Italian and a legal resident of the United States of America. My alien registration card, otherwise known as a green card despite not being in the least green, proclaims the same, its biggest advantage being able to join the line of US citizens when disembarking a plane, without getting stuck behind the snail pace moving queue of visitors, endlessly quizzed upon arrival.
I can work in the States, go about the everyday business of American citizens with whom I shoulder the same tax burdens but not entirely the same rights. I was brutally reminded of this when I happened to lose my “green card” at Heathrow and I couldn’t even get a foot inside the US Embassy without a phone appointment, and was stuck in London for a whole week waiting for my re-entry papers. A US citizen would have been issued a new passport in a matter of hours. Were I to spend six months and a day outside of the US, I would lose my right to residence and, obviously, I cannot vote, which bugs me to no end. Three years ago I would have proudly cast my ballot for Hillary Clinton and, listening to the recent Republican debates, I get frustrated thinking about not being able to exercise my right to relegate characters such as Mitt Romney or Newt Gingrich to the back of the bus.
For the longest time, I didn’t feel “American”, whatever that means. It was partly a remnant of my old world European snobbery towards the New World, a bit too brash, a bit too loud, not as refined. In truth, American is what you make it to be. As I am getting ready to sign my citizenship application (or, more correctly, naturalization) and to send it off with a couple of horrible pictures and a $700 cheque, I am coming to recognize that it was this New World that afforded me the opportunity to reinvent my life, to blossom into who I have become with fewer restraints than I would have encountered “back home”. It’s this New World that is experiencing an economic meltdown not seen since the Great Depression, with its bigotry, its flamboyance, its attachment to seemingly simplistic values, that I call home. This is where I belong now. It might not have been the place that entirely molded me, where my genetic and ancestral roots lie but it is where I freely chose to be for the longest time since I left Italy. This choice was partly dictated by circumstances but it had a lot to do with the sense of freedom I have experienced here – not so much the freedom of “the home of the braves and land of the free” rhetoric but, rather, the freedom that comes with being able to be who you want to be. Sure, I can express my opinion in Europe just as freely, for certain aspects my broad political thinking is better supported by the European political infrastructure but many aspects of the economic and working life of its citizens are too staid, impeding success and entrepreneurship.
I hope I have become a mixture of the better parts of the two worlds that live within me. I am glad the battle is finally over and, by declaring allegiance to the US Constitution, I finally don’t feel like I am betraying my roots. After all, I am a proud descendant of those Romans who would have approved. They so liked to roam and conquer.