Monday, August 06, 2007

U.S. Citizenship Celebration

How Important is Your Citizenship in These United States?

OK. A little on the documentary side I know. This is an article that I wrote for our local newspaper. Hopefully, it will be published sometime in the near future. For now, enjoy watching the paint dry. (And get some coffee!)

Are we witnessing a demographic change of seismic proportions in our small, rural, hometown community? Probably not, though at times it may seem so. In fact, many of our citizens would answer yes to such a question, based on the number of immigrants, legal and otherwise, who now inhabit our small town in search of employment and a better life for their families. Immigration is an idea that has long been part of most major American cities and that is just now reaching out into small-town America. Immigrants come from all corners of the earth, though most of the current influx is from the Hispanic communities in Central and South America. However, a small, but growing number, of new residents in Athens and Limestone County is represented by children of Asian descent, primarily Chinese. This is the story of their newfound citizenship in these United States and how they are being nurtured by the Athens chapter of Families with Children from China, a Christian-based support group for adoptive families. The Athens chapter of FCC recently held its annual celebration of U.S. citizenship, honoring those who became citizens of the United States through international adoption during the past year. The Forrest Hills community was gracious enough to allow the use of their clubhouse on Saturday, July 21st for the event.

"Three New Citizens"

"Lily Mei and Her New Mother Monica"

"Let's See Now, What to Do?"

"A New Parachute "Game is Invented!"

Citizenship and the status of immigration is a topic of significant emphasis in many small, rural communities as they struggle to incorporate “new residents” into mainstream America. There are many barriers to successfully melding peoples of different cultures into our society, including reluctance on the part of citizens within the community to accept them and reluctance on the part of the immigrants themselves to adapt to an English-speaking society with cultures different from their own. For many Americans, our citizenship is not something we think about often enough. It’s not that we take our citizenship for granted. We are certainly aware of the sacrifices that many have made and are making on our behalf. And we pray Psalm 91 for those who would give their lives to protect ours.

"Practicing for His First Coca Cola Commercial"

Still, the question of the importance of our citizenship rarely comes up in our everyday lives. God has blessed our country so immensely and those very servicemen and women we pray for have done such an awesome job in protecting what God has given us, that we as Americans have come to ‘expect’ our freedoms. As for citizenship, those who come here for a better life would benefit greatly, as would society in general, by seeking to attain their own citizenship. They would learn to appreciate the sacrifices of those who’ve gone before us and could then teach their children the importance of loyalty to a concept called freedom for those who will come after us. In short, we have come to experience life in these United States as a normal, customary, and standard way of living. We consider it normal to be able to wake up each day to choices that enhance our Quality of Life. What to wear, what to eat, what to do, where to go. Even our children have an array of choices each day that keep their little minds busy, constantly evaluating choices.

Sadly, as many who have traveled to other countries will attest, life as we know it here in the good old USA is anything but normal for many parts of the world. Simply put, the choices that we enjoy and the freedom under which we exercise the privilege granted us to make those choices is not normal in many parts of the world. So, how important is your citizenship in these United States? For some, it is simply a miracle from God, granted not because of anything they’ve done, but simply because He planned it that way. This is their story. Lily Grace Xing Green, Paul William Ogles, and Lily Mei Carter all completed this journey in the past year and are now full-fledged U.S. citizens, whose freedoms and privileges are protected by the greatest country on earth, the United States of America.

"Love That Chicken from Popeyes!"

Each year, the miracle of international adoption is experienced by many families across North Alabama, with a surprising number right here in Athens and Limestone County. Many of these international adoptions are of Chinese children and more specifically, Chinese girls. This circumstance is born out of the Chinese government’s attempt to deal with a large, burdensome population in excess of 1.4 billion. (By comparison, the U.S. recently eclipsed the 300 million mark, or less that 1/4th the number of Chinese). The process of adopting a child internationally is lengthy and expensive, sometimes taking as much as two or three years, and filled with ups and downs, paperwork, and prayers. The first step in gaining U.S. Citizenship is completing forms for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS) indicating a family’s intent to travel abroad and adopt a child. This step occurs as much as a year before the family travels to China. Families who adopt from China typically spend 14-17 days in China, the first stop being in the capital city of the province where their new family member was born. Here, he or she is adopted into the family by Chinese government policies and given a passport for travel abroad.

The final in-country stop is in Guangzhou, China to visit the U.S. Consulate. The United States does not have an embassy in Beijing, nor do the Chinese have an embassy in Washington, DC., so matters of state are accomplished by similar government offices in non-capital cities. These offices are referred to as consulates and they are essentially the same as embassies. When you enter the U.S. Consulate in Guangzhou, you are on U.S. soil. You must have a valid passport just to enter the facility. It is the most awesome experience to be in a foreign land and enter a building wherein the full weight and power of the United States government is at your disposal. To see the American flag flying in a building guarded by Americans and Chinese alike is something I wish everyone could experience at least once in their lives. The appreciation gained for our government and way of life in that one instant is monumental. It is here that prospective new citizens are sworn in and granted immigrant visas, allowing them to travel to the United States with their new parents. Families of internationally adopted children go to great lengths to ensure that every step is completed accurately. If both parents travel to China, the child is eligible for U.S. citizenship immediately upon entry into the United States. This occurs when the U.S. Customs and Immigration officer stamps the child’s passport and immigrant visa allowing entry into the United States. If only one parent travels and completes the adoption, additional requirements must be met before U.S. Citizenship is granted. The end of the process is the receipt of a Certificate of Citizenship from the President of the United States a few months after arriving home!

"Try Getting a Picture of This Kid!"
Now, back to our newest little citizens. Lily Grace is from the Jiangxi Province in southeast China and has been in the U.S. for 1 year. Lily Mei is from the Sichuan Province, while Paul William is from Hubei Province. Lily Mei and Paul William were welcomed home in June and are rapidly becoming loving members of their families. Paul William represents the blessing of a Chinese boy adopted in the U.S., an event that rarely happens. The Athens Chapter of FCC is proud to present these newest little citizens to our friends and family here in Athens and Limestone County.

"This Citizenship Thing is the Ticket!"
For more information about the Athens Chapter of FCC, please contact Amy Hall at 230-6950.


Jeff and Sonya Hodge said...

What a wonderful celebration party!
The take out box with the flag is such a cute idea!

It was awesome seeing Paul William on your blog!!


Monica said...

What a great article, Jerry! The pictures are wonderful! What a special day for our three newest citizens! Love, Monica

Russ & Lisa W. said...

As always Jerry, WOW!! Wonderfully said and done! I hope we get to have alison and hopefully Susan home for next years celebration. See you soon. Love, Russ and Lisa

The Ferrill's said...

I've got chills! Having just come home, all I can say is GOD BLESS AMERICA...and He has. Thank you Lord for SWEET HOME ALABAMA!
Thanks for a great read...can't wait to see it published!

Journey to Lilly! said...

Yes, after just coming home from CHINA I can say we have great freedom!! & God has blessed America! There is no place better to live! Great article!

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My friend and I were recently discussing about how modern society has evolved to become so integrated with technology. Reading this post makes me think back to that discussion we had, and just how inseparable from electronics we have all become.

I don't mean this in a bad way, of course! Ethical concerns aside... I just hope that as memory gets less expensive, the possibility of copying our memories onto a digital medium becomes a true reality. It's one of the things I really wish I could encounter in my lifetime.

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