“Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound…” Garth Brooks’s voice is warm and deep. The sun is out and the snow has just stopped.
“Please sing with me, the last verse…” He enthusiastically invites everyone on Capitol Hill — the President, Madam Vice President, and all of us who are watching at home to sing with him.
Hand on my heart, barely carrying a tune, tears start to stream down my cheeks.
Nearly 20 years ago, just like today, I heard that song standing among many people with different colored skins, hairstyles, and accents in a big room with the American flag and rows and rows of chairs.
A sunny day during springtime in Florida, 2002. I got up really early and picked out a soft, deep purple pantsuit. A shade darker than Madam Vice President Harris’s winter coat.
Samuel’s parents happened to be in America visiting us so they came to attend my swearing-in ceremony. My father-in-law was 72 years old and it was the only time he visited us in America before he passed away in China. He had put on his best suit, the one he only wore to attend formal ceremonies. Once a brilliant young doctor in the army who loved his country and writing poems, he had suffered greatly as a political prisoner in the 10-year-cultural-revolution in China. Wounded and wronged, he encouraged all his children to leave China and find an opportunity to use their talents in a free land.
Like many first-generation immigrants, it wasn’t an easy journey for me. It took 10 months and 3 rejections to get the entry Visa to America. It took another 10 years of hard work and the grace of God to receive my US citizenship.
In order to be an American citizen, I had to renounce my Chinese citizenship. It was a process I didn’t want to take but China doesn’t allow dual citizenship.
I miss the Chinese culture a lot, the food, my family, my childhood friends, new friends I have made in recent years. My family has spent every summer in China for the last five years until a virus closed our borders.
When I first landed in America, I introduced myself as WeiLi and there usually was a hesitation to attempt to pronounce it. Then when I added, “Oh, my American name is Doris.” Everyone would smile and reply, “Hi, Doris.” Pretty soon, I was only introducing myself as Doris.
So, when I eventually became an American Citizen, I officially changed my name to Doris.
That day, feeling proud in my purple suit, I raised my right hand, “… I pledge allegiance to the United States of America…with liberty and justice for all.”
It was that day when I finally felt this land had accepted me. I was no longer a foreigner.
Today, President Biden’s unity speech really touched my heart.
Unity within the country. Unity of the world. Unity of the Human Race. COVID-19 has shown us that we can’t live separately. When the pandemic first started, planes and planes of medical supplies were mailed to China by overseas Chinese. When the virus spread worldwide, plane shipments that carried care and hope flew from the other direction.
I am very grateful for the opportunity to live in a free land. My adopted homeland.
This country has given me a place to call home for nearly 30 years, a place that I am free to express my heart’s desires. To someone whose top values are love and freedom, it is truly a privilege and a blessing.
I am an American by choice. Yet, I wasn’t acknowledging my ancestral roots and I felt something was missing. On my 49th birthday, I changed back to my birth name, WeiLi, which means “Grand and Beautiful”.
Today, I am proud to be an American and I am proud to be Chinese.
I love the ending of 22-year-old poet Amanda Gorman’s poem, The Hill We Climb: “For there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it.”
Today, I have finally accepted myself. No country or race can define me.
I am the Goddess of Light.