Matt Knutson: Appreciate the gift of being born in the U.S.

Published 8:57 pm Thursday, June 1, 2017

Things I Tell My Wife by Matt Knutson

“How many amendments does the Constitution have?” I quizzed my wife after our latest appointment with United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. This most recent trip marked the final countdown towards citizenship for her, with an estimated timeline confirmed to be months instead of years if all goes as planned. The next, and hopefully final task, will be the interview where Sera will be asked 10 questions about my country to prove her knowledge of this new land.

Of course America isn’t exactly new to her. She’s been living here on various visas since 2007 when she arrived from Nairobi, Kenya, which she left to attend college in Iowa. That’s where we met, fell in love and got married. Well before Kenya, Sera previously lived in Baltimore, Maryland; Denver, Colorado; and Dubuque, Iowa, during different times in her life while her father earned his advanced degrees. This is the country she’s lived in the longest, by far, and one day hopes to have all of the same rights as me.

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That doesn’t mean becoming an American is an easy decision. So often people assume America is the best, when really, America is all that they’ve known. In all likelihood, their region of the United States is all that they’ve known. I’ve lived in Minnesota and Iowa my whole life. I could not begin to explain the cultural differences between here and Colorado, but I bet there are some significant ones. A country as large as America is bound to be blessed with a patchwork of cultures, but it is the entire quilt that makes us uniquely American. I’m certain, as excited as my wife is to become American, she’s fearful that this long-awaited step might alter her identity. Having lived here my whole life, I’ve mostly never thought of not being an American. The thought of losing that piece of me through immigration seems a bit startling — almost like something from another dimension. But Sera is willing to do that for me.

People often think of immigrants negatively, but if they stopped to consider why someone might consider such a big change of altering their nationality, you might be a bit more sympathetic. Few people choose to leave their home because things are so perfect in their native land. That’s a sacrifice unique to an immigrant that most here will never understand. My wife’s heart longs for her homeland in Madagascar so often. I see it in her posts on social media. I taste it in our dinner. I hear it in her prayers. Like a mother of many children, her heart also feels whole here, with me. Both divided and whole, an immigrant can uniquely feel pure love and heartache when thinking about home because home is no longer singular.

As home continues to be redefined for my wife, we’re spending these next few weeks and months studying for this final American quiz. Sadly, I’m guessing many Americans wouldn’t do so hot on some of these questions. Things like, “What is one power of the states?” (provide protection, police) or “What are two rights of everyone living in the United States?” (freedom of speech, freedom of religion), and “When was the Constitution written?” (1787) are all included as well as many others with various degrees of difficulty. A study guide is available on the USCIS website for anyone else who might be curious. I wonder how poorly I’d do if I had to take a similar test on Madagascar.

Take some time this week to appreciate where you’re from. Whether it be Albert Lea, or Minnesota, or somewhere else in this vast American land, you were given a unique gift if you were born here. I’m sure you can find joy in most places of birth, but the opportunities and advantages so readily available here are remarkable. To not appreciate it (and strive to make it better) would be a disservice to us all.

And in case you were wondering, Sera correctly answered that we have 27 amendments to the constitution (and shared that the first 10 are called the Bill of Rights).

Matt Knutson is a communications specialist who lives in Rochester.