Matt Knutson: Take time to stand up for that which is right

Published 7:25 pm Thursday, July 5, 2018

Things I Tell My Wife by Matt Knutson


“Nearly five years later and you’re finally a citizen,” I told my wife as we walked out of the U.S. District Courthouse in downtown Minneapolis. Her journey that began well before we were married in 2013 was finally complete with 50 other immigrants from 30 countries. For the first time since we said, “I do,” I feel like I can rest easy — our family can always stay together.

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It was a nice touch for them to schedule her ceremony for the day before our nation’s Independence Day. Ringing in the Fourth of July as a citizen brought extra excitement for our family on America’s most patriotic day. I even convinced my wife to wear a “Made in America 2018” shirt, which I had her edit with a sharpie to say “Made an American 2018.”

There’s no doubt that becoming a U.S. citizen at this particular moment in the nation’s history is unique. A sub-culture in our nation seems to think immigrants cause more problems than they are worth. Of course, I’d disagree with that sentiment, and few facts support their argument. There have been a few moments of extreme embarrassment on my part, knowing my wife is going through this process because of her love for me, committing herself to a country that may never fully accept her. Thankfully, the words spoken at her oath ceremony did inspire some hope.

The judge referenced how important diversity is in furthering us as a nation. The melding of American traditions and ways of thinking with those from around the world can create a powerful force of good. Notably, he shared that there is no singular definition of what it means to be an American, and that no one gets to define it by him or herself. It is the collective that shapes who we are, and though we may seem incredibly divided, that too is part of who we are as a nation. I’ve recently been so hung up on our nation’s name, United States of America — struggling with how we might ever feel united on anything. But even in our unity we’re broken up into 50 different states that have their own laws and cultures. Embracing our differences is a core element of who we have always been.

I left the ceremony with a renewed sense of hope for our nation. It only lasted for 30 minutes. To avoid traffic, our family rode the light rail train from Mall of America into downtown. On our return trip, we encountered an older man who wanted to sit in a particular seat. He gestured to a younger Hispanic man who was already sitting there and demanded he move. A look of confusion came across the Hispanic man’s face as he gestured to the open seat right beside him, inviting the older man to sit next to him. I couldn’t believe my ears when I heard the older man said, “No, I don’t want to sit next to your kind.”

It is 2018 and right before my eyes, I’m witnessing blatant racism. The Hispanic man got out of his seat and hopped off the train at the next stop. His final words to the racist were that he would pray for him. It shook me to my core. My wife, who is black, is sitting next to me, and our multiracial daughters are sitting on my in-laws’ laps a few seats away. I wondered what this man was thinking about us.

His America is quite different than mine, and it’s quite different than the one we’re raising our daughters to embrace. The juxtaposition of America opening her arms to embrace my wife while simultaneously harkening back to the time when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white person left a sour taste in my mouth. It had never been so clear to me that we have a lot more progress to make as a nation. Starting this week, my wife gets to be an active part of that progress.

If you have the luxury of being able to stand up for what is right and good, do it. It is part of what makes a good citizen. A lot has changed since my wife and I got married and I started writing this column, and her citizenship is just the cherry on the top of five brilliant years. But I can’t feel OK with my daughters growing up in a nation where injustice is passively accepted. We should do all we can to equip the next generation with the tools they’ll need to provide everyone in this nation with the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. No one should have to grow up in a nation where hatred is tolerated — that’s the reason so many people flee to America. So I’ll continue to tell my wife about how great our country is, but it’s time to recognize the cracks in the foundation and help build a better nation for all who call this land home.

Matt Knutson is a communication specialist in Rochester. This is his final column.