We who are born in the United States take our citizenship for granted most of the time. I spent two years in Germany courtesy of Uncle Sam and I had a chance to see firsthand just how much we take our freedoms for granted.
But when you see the barbed wire and the guard towers in what was then East Germany â€“ known then as the Deutsche Demokratische Republik (German Democratic Republic), the Germans on our side of the barbed wire were generally grateful to have us there.
We call America the Land of Opportunity, but we seldom act like it. When we are not complaining about what the government doesnâ€™t do for us, we seem to harp just as loud when we have to pay for what it does do for us.
But it starts to sink in when you talk to people who want to become Americans. I donâ€™t know anyone who would actually want to move away and become a citizen of another country. Oh, I think about what it would be like to open a bar on the beach at Rota, Spain, where I went once for the wedding of my brother-in-law.
They really have a truly laidback lifestyle, and in Rota there are so many sailors, not knowing the lingo wouldnâ€™t be such a problem â€“ I like to think.
But I couldnâ€™t really give up pizza, TV without subtitles, my beloved Dawgs or my grandchildren just a few miles down the road. There is so much I love about living here that I donâ€™t even realize it most of the time.
So imagine what it takes for those who up-stakes and move to a completely new environment. Why do they do it?
Well most do it because they buy into the idea that this is the Land of Opportunity â€“ usually because they come from places that have no opportunities. And I donâ€™t mean just the people who risk life and limb to come here to pick tomatoes for $5 an hour or to work in a chicken rendering plant. We know about those.
But there are plenty of well-educated and smart people who come here for the opportunity to succeed based on merit and hard work.
You know they said the early pioneers who trekked west were only the strong. They said the cowards never started and the weak never made it. It is not so different today. You have to be strong and brave to come to a new land with a new language, strange customs and laws.
Oh, I know we have such a porous border, and we are frustrated by so many who come here illegally.
But I am here to talk about those who are here with papers. They want more than just the opportunities they find here. They want to belong.
That is what a co-worker where my wife used to work wanted. Lyuba came from the former Soviet Union with her husband to escape religious persecution. She was a musician there, but here she had to take what work she could find.
That didnâ€™t matter. The happiest I ever saw her (and she was always happy) was the day she got her citizenship. It was her true birthday, she said.
I happened to be at North Fulton Community Charities and found out they are in the birthday business also. That is, they offer citizenship classes to North Fulton residents.
NFCC Program Director Eden Purdy wears that hat too. They offer the six-week classes two times a year to documented residents in addition to GED classes and English classes. Other programs include financial literacy â€“ teaching how to save and the mechanics of saving, life skills in America and more.
NFCC does many things to help people in need. But this is one job the staff is happy to perform.