What citizenship means to this Indian transplant

  • Daily Herald Diversity Editor Madhu Krishnamurthy, pictured here with her 76-year-old mother, Shyamala Krishnamurthy, reflects on what citizenship means as a first-generation Indian immigrant about to take the U.S. citizenship test.

      Daily Herald Diversity Editor Madhu Krishnamurthy, pictured here with her 76-year-old mother, Shyamala Krishnamurthy, reflects on what citizenship means as a first-generation Indian immigrant about to take the U.S. citizenship test. Madhu Krishnamurthy | Staff Photographer

  • Madhu Krishnamurthy

    Madhu Krishnamurthy

 
 
Updated 7/4/2022 8:13 AM

After a journey of more than 9,000 miles from Chennai, India, to Chicago, Illinois, -- with some detours -- and living nearly 26 years in this country, finally I am preparing for my U.S. citizenship test this month.

On this Fourth of July, I'm reflecting on what it means to belong someplace and what citizenship truly means.

 

If all goes well, God willing, I soon will take my oath of allegiance to the United States of America -- a pledge I have heard recited countless times and know by heart after years of covering public meetings and events.

I arrived in the United States in 1996 as an international student in Oklahoma (all I knew about it was the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical), then became an authorized worker and later a green card holder.

Wading through the legal quagmire of the U.S. immigration system, my prolonged wait to reach this point -- 16 years from the time I applied for permanent residency -- isn't even the longest delay some petitioners endure to become naturalized citizens. For some, their petitions have been languishing for decades -- a drawback of a beleaguered legal immigration system desperately in need of reform.

Mine has been a long and interesting road. I've built a life here, advanced in the profession I love and grown my family and beloved community of friends.

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Coincidentally, for the past 19 years, my mother, Shyamala Krishnamurthy, has been on a similar journey. Hers reached its climax on June 10, when she finally took her oath of Canadian citizenship at age 76.

Having spent only five years of my early childhood in my motherland, I grew up into young adulthood as an expatriate in the United Arab Emirates and attended college for a couple of years in England.

But America is where finally I would plant roots. With more than half my life spent here, it's the longest I have lived anywhere.

I grew up with a blend of Indian, and ironically, American values having consumed a steady diet of Bollywood/Hollywood films and American pop culture through TV shows and music albums since childhood.

Even before setting foot in America, I defended this nation's First Amendment values during a mock trial staged as part of a college journalism class in England. To this day, I continue to espouse and treasure these values and work to preserve the First Amendment protections of freedom of speech and freedom of the press daily as a journalist, and I relish the freedom to practice my religion as I choose in private life.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Over the years, I've exercised my right to peaceably assemble on issues that matter and petition for worthwhile causes seeking societal change.

These are protections afforded to all, regardless of citizenship.

Perhaps the biggest benefit of citizenship for which I yearn is being granted the right to vote. There is no greater exercise of civic responsibility than participating in the democratic process to elect competent leaders who faithfully represent the interests of their constituents and uphold and improve the laws and values of this republic.

I've come to appreciate the importance of voting to a functioning democracy in 20-plus years of covering elections and seeing how people all over the world struggle, even die, for this right so many here take for granted.

As a true movie buff and to quote one of my favorite American presidents on film (Andrew Shepherd from 1995's "The American President"), these words nicely sum up how I feel about U.S. citizenship:

"America isn't easy. America is advanced citizenship. You gotta want it bad, 'cause it's gonna put up a fight. It's gonna say 'You want free speech?' Let's see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who's standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours. You want to claim this land as the land of the free? Then the symbol of your country can't just be a flag; the symbol also has to be one of its citizens exercising his right to burn that flag in protest. Show me that, defend that, celebrate that in your classrooms. Then, you can stand up and sing about the 'land of the free.'"

While I've always stood for "The Star-Spangled Banner," never before have those last lines meant so much as they do now, because this is the land that has granted me the freedom to live as I am.

Happy Fourth to all my soon-to-be fellow Americans!

• Madhu Krishnamurthy is Assistant City Editor and Diversity Editor for the Daily Herald.

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