Tuesday, December 7, 2021

The feeling of being an American…



It was a cold December day in 1979 when I landed at JFK airport in NY and stood in the line marked “Citizens Only.” Showing my brand new blue USA passport to the previously dreaded immigration officer was a proud moment for me; I was an American returning home from a business trip. For such a seemingly mundane event, it may be difficult to appreciate the feelings and thoughts that I am about to describe.

It was about a year before, on November 17, 1978 when I had stood before a Federal Judge in Hackensack, New Jersey and was sworn in as a citizen of the United States of America. A lifelong dream of mine was realized and I was now a citizen of the country of my choice. Sitting there before the judge, waiting for the ceremonies to begin, many thoughts were going through my mind. I was 29 years old, married with two young children and working

for an international sales company. Although I had lived in America for 9 years already, I don’t think I fully appreciated or understood the true impact of this occasion on the rest of my life.

Over the years, and from time to time, I thought of that very moment and what it meant to me to be an American. I did not think that I became a citizen just because a judge declared me to be such; it had to be more than that. I had to have deeper and stronger feelings which brought me to the decision. Whenever I traveled in the ensuing years and talked with friends and business associates around the world, I found out how difficult it was to explain my feelings to them. They argued with me; they did not like my decision and in the context of their lives in their own native countries, they sounded rather convincing. However, I was never deterred and I never second guessed my decision.

For some, becoming an American citizen was a huge change and a challenge in their lives. Many different people from many different countries came here over the years. Some never changed their citizenship, some became resident aliens and others like me, became full citizens. America’s greatness was the result of the collective hard work of Irish, English, German, Polish and Italian immigrants and countless others each contributing to the rich cultural mosaic.

It may be difficult for a native born American to understand fully what it means to leave behind your family, friends, familiar surroundings and allegiances, willingly and without any reservation, to become a citizen

Tarik Ayasun

Tarik Ayasun

of this great country. It is a sea change; a paradigm shift.

I grew up in the relative comfort of my own country where I enjoyed a common culture, common language, close family ties, friends I grew up with and a very long and proud history of a country I called my own. Then one day, I decided to leave all these familiar things behind and travel to a very different country where I had to prove myself all over again; to talk and think in a language other than my own and to make new friends, develop a new allegiance and salute a different flag.

When I look back at my own transition, I realize that I loved my new country from the first moment I stepped off the Pan Am flight from London on July 4, 1969. Was the symbolism of July 4th sheer coincidence or was it foretelling? What attracted me most to America? It was definitely not to improve my financial situation; it was not to raise my standard of living; it was not the great highways, skyscrapers or the massive shopping centers. Over the years it became quite obvious to me that becoming an American could not just have been a mere change in my passport. Being an American carried with it a whole different feeling.

To me, being an American means many things. It means you always think “out of the box”; be creative and original. It means you have to take your work seriously and yourself not so seriously; having a sense of humor unlike any other. It means you believe in equality across the board; being able to give to those who have less and help those in need willingly, lovingly and without asking for anything in return.  It means to answer the call when it comes; go around the world to places you have never heard of before to help and ease the suffering of fellow human beings whom you have never met. It means you believe in freedom and individual liberties above all. It means to have limitless imagination and a strong belief that you can achieve anything if you only put your mind to it. And being an American means you fill with pride when you watch the stars and stripes hoisted as the national anthem plays, wherever you are.

I am glad I was able to raise my children and their children in this country we call America, which stands for liberty, freedom, equality and justice for all.

May God Always Bless America.

Currently chairman of Marco Island’s Code Enforcement Board, Tarik Ayasun has given many years of community service to various organizations.

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