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Despite the United States’ multiple crises and poor leadership, I became an American because I know the country is bigger, and better, than one man.
Image: Mariana Atencion

Mariana Atencio at her naturalization ceremony in Miami on Feb. 14. Courtesy Mariana Atencio

By Mariana Atencio

“Boy, did you pick a time to become an American citizen! Are you sure you made the right decision?” My friends from abroad have recently asked these questions, with varying degrees of sarcasm and concern.

They are valid questions.

The United States has suffered social and political division since its inception, but lately it seems like the fabric of American democracy is stretching thinner and thinner, torn apart by three parallel epidemics: COVID-19, a fast-growing recession and racial strife flaring across the country.

My country of origin was torn apart by corruption, division and lack of leadership. We cannot let that happen — let alone encourage it — here.

It was only a few months back, on Feb. 14 — Valentine’s Day, no less — that I declared my love to this country by becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen in one of the last swearing-in ceremonies before the coronavirus halted that tradition, and everyday life for that matter. I was exhilarated! Getting to this point was challenging emotionally and financially. I had been waiting in line, albeit not always patiently, for over 11 years to take my oath of allegiance.

As I pushed back tears after singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” and waving a pint-sized flag, I hastily opened the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services packet handed to me. There it was: not a love letter, but a pact.

“Dear Fellow American,” President Donald J. Trump wrote. “No matter where you come from … you share the sacred rights, responsibilities, and duties that unite us as one people.”

Being a journalist who is originally from Venezuela, where an op-ed questioning the government can put your life at risk, I feel compelled to take Trump at his word, put in the work and exercise my newly acquired First Amendment rights.

As an official member of this nation, I humbly ask the president to take a moment to listen to all sides — without taking sides — in the debate over the inequality and division fracturing America and then create a plan to tackle police brutality, the coronavirus and the looming economic crisis from all angles: legal, social, economic, ecological and, most importantly, human. That’s the only way we will get out of this mess in the best possible shape.

I’ve experienced the frustration of fighting to restore democracy in Venezuela and having the government respond with authoritarianism and tear gas. Even after what happened during the now-infamous Bible photo-op at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Washington — where protesters peacefully demonstrating against racial injustice across from the White House were hit with flash-bang grenades and showered with tear gas because the president wanted to clear the crowd to have his picture taken at a church across the street — I’d like to think Trump is not like Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro.


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