A Dream Deferred: An Independence Day Story About Becoming An American Citizen

On July 4, Popehat’s Ken White posted a touching story about Filipino World War II veterans belatedly given their promised American citizenship in the early 1990s after 54 years of waiting. White’s boss at the time, Judge Ronald Lew, administered the citizenship oath to eight of these elderly men, who came to the VFW Post to be naturalized even though they were too old and infirm to stand:

These men, born Filipinos, answered America’s call in World War II and fought for us. President Franklin D. Roosevelt asked the men of the Philippines to fight, promising them United States citizenship and veterans benefits in return. 200,000 fought. Tens of thousands died. They weathered the brutal conditions under Japanese occupation, fought a valiant guerrilla war, and in some cases survived the Bataan death march. 

In 1946, Congress reneged on FDR’s promise. Filipino solders who fought for us and their families were not given their promised citizenship, let alone benefits. Many came here anyway, had children who were born U.S. citizens, and some even became citizens through the process available to any immigrant. But many others, remembering the promise, asked that it be kept. And they waited. 

They waited 54 years, until after most of them were gone. It was not until 1990 that Congress finally addressed this particular stain on our honor and granted them citizenship. . When Judge Lew declared them citizens, the families whooped and hugged their fathers and grandfathers and the children waved the little flags like maniacs. . . I heard expressions of great satisfaction. I heard more comments about how long they had waited. But I did not hear bitterness on this day. These men and their children had good cause to be bitter, and perhaps on other days they indulged in it. On this day they were proud to be Americans at last. Without forgetting the wrongs that had been done to them, they believed in an America that was more than the sum of its wrongs. Without forgetting 54 years of injustice, they believed in an America that had the potential to transcend its injustices. . . I am tremendously grateful to Judge Lew for taking me to that ceremony, and count myself privileged to have seen it. I think about it every Fourth of July, and more often than that. It reminds me that people have experienced far greater injustice than I ever will at this country’s hands, and yet are proud of it and determined to be part of it.

The proudest day of my wife’s life was the day she became an American citizen. The naturalization ceremony was one of her life’s happiest moments. She treasures her citizenship, even as she laments growing dependence in this country on government favors rather than on the free market and voluntary institutions that made America great and contributed to her desire to come to America. In her native country, big government has long crowded out private initiative and innovation, and resulted in less economic opportunity and weaker civic engagement than in America. She is painfully aware that expanding federal entitlements and regulations have recently made America a bit more like her native country, although she is still glad to be here and grateful to be an American citizen.