One of the finest columns I have read in a long time.
Over fifty years ago, when I was just shy of my tenth birthday, my family fled Hungary during the failed revolution against the Russian Communists. Our family's story was like so many of the refugees from communism, complete with relatives arrested, property seized, and a nighttime dash to freedom. The decision to escape was an easy one to make (although not so easy to execute), but the question I had--the one I distinctly recall asking my father--was "where are we going." We could have stayed in Europe--and indeed, the Germans would have welcomed us as Volk deutsche because of our German surname--but this was not my father's plan. "We are going to America," he said. "Why America?" I prodded. "Because, son. We were born Americans, but in the wrong place."
Born Americans, but in the wrong place? I've spent the better part of the last fifty years working to more fully understand these words. Mind you, everyone understood America to be a free and good place where one might prosper unmolested. But in saying that we were "born Americans, but in the wrong place," Dad, in his way, was saying that he understood America to be both a place and an idea at the same time. Fundamentally, it is a place that would embrace us if we could prove that we shared in the idea. We meant to prove it.
Because America is more than just a place, being an American citizen is different than being the citizen of any other country on earth. We Americans do not look to the ties of common blood and history for connection as people the way the citizens of other countries do. Rather, our common bond is a shared principle. This is what Lincoln meant when he referred to the "electric cord" in the Declaration of Independence that links all of us together, as though we were "blood of the blood, and flesh of the flesh, of the men who wrote that Declaration."
Because ours is a bond of principle and not of blood, true American citizens are made and not born. This is why, odd as it may seem, we must all learn--those who are born here, and those who come here by choice--what it means to be an American.