On August 10th, I became a citizen of the United States of America. The journey has been arduous. I am grateful for many who prayed and supported me as I made each difficult discerning step in the process: leaving the Philippines for graduate studies in Berkeley in 2003, seeking political asylum in 2007, becoming a legal permanent resident in 2009, and a naturalized American citizen this year. I am relieved that this tedious and stressful process is now officially over. Now, allow me to be vulnerable as I reflect on this new reality. Saying this out loud is cathartic.
Crossing the threshold of changing citizenship was bittersweet. In fact, I still have a lot of emotions to process. I didn’t even think of taking a selfie. In the moment when I took the oath of allegiance, it felt like so many thoughts flashed simultaneously in my head. I was never really totally emotionally prepared for it. It was a matter of security and peace of mind as an immigrant in a nation in upheaval over who is included and excluded in society that primarily led me to take this step. As a former asylee, it was also my only ticket to set foot safely in the Philippines again.
Renouncing my Filipinx citizenship was gut-wrenching. In the moment, it triggered my queer instincts to resist yet another round of having my body colonized, as my homeland the Philippines was colonized by the same flag I was now pledging my allegiance to. Joining a small group of 25-30 people standing socially distanced in a big room, I raised my hand to take the oath. My jaws clenched and my eyes welled up in tears as I looked at the stars and stripes in front of me, thinking of the many things it means to my own people – a new life of opportunities, and also of empire and colonialism. All it took was a few minutes and a certificate of naturalization, then we were ushered out of the building.
That immigration building on Washington and Sansome in San Francisco has been the site of many protests I have participated in to support immigrant rights. I believe there are people still incarcerated by ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) in that building, separated from their families as some of us were being welcomed as new citizens. These memories of struggle mingled with emotions of relief, joyful fulfillment, sadness, homesickness, and an uneasy sense of betrayal and guilt. Like a mighty river flowing, I openly wept as I walked away from the happy group of new citizens taking selfies and group photos. I left with a heavy burden in my heart to be responsible with the privilege I now possess.
I believe that first and foremost, I am a global citizen committed to a better future for humanity and the planet we inhabit. Working for justice and peace is still my faith-rooted vocation. Being an American now amplifies my privilege to help me do more for the land of my birth, for fellow immigrants, for my queer family, and for my adopted homeland. I pray that you would hold me accountable, my dear friends and comrades.
- A Bittersweet Celebration: Queer Clergy Thoughts on Becoming a U.S. Citizen - August 19, 2020
- A Song from my Closet - November 4, 2017
- I will not be erased - October 25, 2016