I did realize today while prancing around the corridors of the International Institute in St. Louis that if I were to apply to become a citizen of the United States, I would be asked several questions that many regular Americans of my age might find very difficult to answer. What the capital of some states are, who was which president and what made them different and great, and what significance some milestones and symbols are in the United States. I was staring at a picture on the wall of some new adult immigrants becoming citizens of the country after going through the citizenship classes that the Institute offers as part of its programmes.
I also thought about what it meant to become the citizen of another country, obtaining such a privilege through rigours of study, diligence and loyalty rather than as a birthright. I don’t remember ever feeling particularly grateful to be Nigerian because it was just an accident of birth, yet some people would queue up in immigration offices in Lagos and Abuja from other countries of the world to obtain that as a privilege. Same for America. The pictures show the immigrants looking rather ordinary, but holding on to their newly acquired flags and papers with pride and hope. A new life, and a new expectation awaits them, along with a new status of being. What does it take to be a citizen, and how do we experience it when it is not handed to us as a privilege of birth.