Ten years ago today, I walked into the federal courthouse in Chattanooga, Tennessee as a German citizen, and walked out a newly-minted American. The first thing I did when we got home to Knoxville was to take my shiny new Certificate of Naturalization to the town clerk’s office, to register to vote and file the paperwork for a U.S. passport.
It has been an eventful decade since then. We had two children, moved to New Hampshire, and I got to start a full-time writing career. Sometimes I wish I could go back in time to 1988 and show about-to-graduate-high-school teenage Marko his life in 2014. I mean, literally every single item on young Marko’s “Things I Want To Do When I’m A Grown-Up” list has come true, and a whole bunch of goals besides that he didn’t know to put on his list back then. What a lucky-ass kid young Marko turned out to be.
I’ve lived here for the majority of my adult life now. I moved to the U.S. when I was 24, which means I spent six years as an adult in Germany, and eighteen in the United States. In another five years, I will have been in the U.S. for half of my total life. With the way things have been changing on both sides of the Atlantic in the last 20 years, the country of my birth and upbringing is a foreign country to me now. (This is also true in the legal sense. When I got naturalized, I lost the German citizenship. Now I can’t stay in Germany, the place where I was born and where I served in the military, for more than 90 days without a visa, which is a little weird.)
When the subject of my personal story of immigration and citizenship comes up, I like to joke with my friends that I was an American all along, just one born in a German’s body. There are many laudable things about Germany and its culture, and it will always be the place where I was born and raised, but American culture is a better fit for me, and always has been. There’s a tradition if individualism and self-sufficiency here (along with a healthy streak of “you’re not the boss of me” distrust for authority) that isn’t very common at all in Germany. Having lived in the U.S. for almost twenty years now, I like going back to visit the family in the old Vaterland, but it always feels a bit too stifling and crowded and over-regulated, and I’m always glad when I’m back home where I have elbow space, both geographical and mental.
And even with the annoyances of air travel and customs and immigration kabuki, I never fail to feel a thrill when I walk back out onto the street in front of the arrivals hall at the airport, and take in all the familiar sights and sounds. This is America. This is home.
(Of course, everything I wrote in this post up until this paragraph is just a ruse, a public facade, to mask the fact that this is merely part of the master plan of OUR INEVITABLE WORLD DOMINATION:
Step 1: Go to America and become a citizen.
Step 2: Con a smart, beautiful American woman into marriage.
Step 3: Have children and raise them to be well-read, smart, functional, and responsible people.
Step 4: Start a great new career and pay lots of income taxes.
Step 5: ???
Step 6: WORLD DOMINATION!
Oh, crap. Did I just disclose the master plan? Scheisse. Merkel’s going to be pissed.)
Anyway, my ten years as a U.S. Citizen have been the best ten years of my life, and I have no reason to doubt that the next few decades will be even better. Take it from someone who was born and raised elsewhere–despite its warts and imperfections (and every culture has those, believe me), this is still the best place to be if you have even a little bit of Browncoat in your blood, and I’m thankful for the opportunity to be a part of it.