Nurture or Nature?
“Some reasonable term ought to be allowed to enable aliens to get rid of foreign and acquire American attachments; to learn the principles and imbibe the spirit of our government; and to admit of a probability at least, of their feeling a real interest in our affairs." --Alexander Hamilton.
As Americans, we are proud of our history as a nation of immigrants. This nation, our nation, holds our political ideals that are the building-blocks for citizenry and patriotism because our values are universal. With them, anyone can aspire to greatness within the U.S.A. We, as Americans, hold these values close to our heart because under the Declaration of Independence “all men are created equal” with a natural disposition to “the Pursuit Happiness.” These are the traditional political ideals that have drawn millions of immigrants to our shores so that they too can fulfill their desire to be independent individuals and American citizens.
Yet being an American is not simply a natural act of “being born” in this country. There is a unique psychological process that many undergo to become Americans. This Human Revolution to become American, is unlike any other in the world, but it is consistent and through time creates the individual as a Proud American. This nationalistic process of becoming a proud American is open to all those born in the U.S. and those who are Naturalized in the U.S. Alexander Hamilton was one of the Founding Fathers who is credited with the ratification of the U.S. Constitution. Historically, he is the best example of how one who is born outside the United States can become a proud American by adhering to our universal American political values.
Alexander Hamilton was born in the West India. Around the age of ten, his family moved to the nearby island of St. Croix where his mother died soon after. In 1772, despite his lack of proper schooling, at the age of 16, Hamilton moved to New York to attended King's College where he was surrounded by talk of rebellion. This exposure to a national rebellion transformed Hamilton into an ardent American patriot. Though he was born in the West Indies, Hamilton became one of most patriotic Americans because he participated in the American political revolution. Additionally, he admired this new country and her ideals, thus he longed to become an American Citizen.
After meeting George Washington, Alexander Hamilton spent four years as his chief of staff during which time the two men developed a close relationship, built upon mutual respect, confidence, and personal attachment. After the Revolutionary War, Hamilton was influenced so much by Washington’s patriotism and dedication to the cause of an independent nation, that he led the campaign to ratify the Constitution. Imagine, an Immigrant taking part in the independence of the U.S. and writing one of the most influential pieces of individual freedoms known in the world.
When Hamilton was asked about becoming a naturalized citizen, he replied that becoming a citizen is like getting married. While in a marriage you learn to love your wife; in Naturalization, you learn to love your country. In a marriage, one makes a voluntary commitment to love your spouse through bad and good times. As in Naturalization, you love your country through war and prosperity. During the time it takes to become a Citizen, a person learns about the country’s history, has enjoyed economic success, and witnessed its democracy in action. During this process, you have courted the U.S. and you are ready to propose to it. Hence, when you become a citizen, you marry a nation that you have learned to love, respect, and protect. That is one of most sincere and best descriptions of how a naturalized citizen feels about the U.S.
American values, therefore, are a byproduct of nurture not nature. Today, a child becomes an American through interaction with other peers who are exposed to Americans flags in parades, conversation with parents about what it means to be an American, and mandatory elementary schooling. When people are born, they are not asked where they would like to be born. Nature and circumstances dictate this event. For example, at the time of birth, a baby in Sweden, Ireland, or Spain has as much understanding of American values, or American identity, as any baby born in the U.S. The acknowledgment or American-ness is a gradual process that birth alone cannot guarantee.
As Hamilton believed, becoming an American is a gradual nurturing process that a soon-to-be citizen voluntarily embraces. The elements of patriotism to our nation can be learned at home, work, or school. Therefore, loyalty to a country is not by birthright alone rather, but by the time invested in that country; in this case, the United States. Immigrants waiting to be naturalized are exposed to American civic culture and American ideals. In addition, immigrants become U.S. Citizens in bureaucratic methods while adhering to U.S. political principles and engaging in civic constitutional life. It was this gradual learned love for this great nation that made Hamilton, a naturalized citizen, devote his life to the creation of this Mighty Military Economic Superpower that the world would love and fear: The United States of America.
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