NEW YORK NEW YORK: In pursuit of the dream
The day before Americans paused to think about the military veterans, three West Indians – a Barbadian, Guyanese and Trinidadian — took a vital step in pursuit of the American dream.
Jeremy John, a Bajan, Akhtar Harrison-Lewis, a Trinidadian and Kwame Robertson a Guyanese, raised their respective right hands and took an important oath: they swore allegiance to the American flag and the principles for which it stands.
At the historic Federal Hall on Wall Street in Manhattan, the place where George Washington is said to have taken the oath of office as the first president of the republic, the three joined a group of 76 foreign born residents who travelled different paths to naturalisation and the right to hold a United States passport, vote in federal, state and local government elections, seek certain jobs and enjoy a host of other rights and privileges that flow with citizenship.
“It feels like becoming a new person,” John told a city newspaper amidst the cheering, the waving of small American flags and other nationalistic acts.
But apart from their Caribbean immigrant background, John, Harrison-Lewis and Robertson had something else in common: they had or were serving in different branches of the military services, including the Army National Guard and the United States. Coast Guard.
By joining the military, immigrants are offered an accelerated pace to citizenship while becoming eligible for educational opportunities under the GI Bill and have access to health care at veterans hospitals and other facilities.
Tens of thousands of Bajans, Jamaicans, Grenadians, Trinidadians, Guyanese and others from the Caribbean have served alongside native-born Americans in every conflict of the 20th and 21st centuries.
Benefit of service
As John explained it, military service had broadened his view of life showing him he can “go beyond what you normally can do. You can go even further – I think that’s what the American dream is about”.
A student of the City University of New York, John has set his sights on working with the Federal Bureau of Investigations or the Internal Revenue Service.
Like John, Robertson can tell you about being an American, even though he wasn’t born in the country.
“I always felt like an American,” asserted the 31-year-old Brooklyn resident who works in Manhattan. “But now it’s official.”
After four years of active duty in the United States Coast Guard, serving as a health service technician, the young man who calls Bushwick his home away from home had crossed the immigration Rubicon, if you will, and achieved a key goal. He came to the United States about 28 years ago with his parents and siblings and has remained in the country ever since.
Harrison-Lewis travelled a different route to the swearing in ceremony.
The combat medic in the United States Army National Guard arrived in the country as a teenager to join her aunts five years ago. The student of York College of the City University of New York in Queens had accepted the advice of a classmate and joined the military.
“He said it’s a bigger goal than just doing something just for yourself,” she recalled.
“As soon as I put on the uniform it was a very emotional moment to give back to serve.”
Ultimately, though, she wants to become a teacher and the bachelor’s degree from York would help to make that dream possible.
Before the ceremony two Brooklyn elected officials of West Indian heritage, United States Congresswoman Yvette Clarke and New York Assemblyman Nick Perry had extolled the virtues of citizenship and involvement in public and community service.
Shaping the future
“If we are to help set public policy so that the programmes we care about are protected and even expanded, then people must become citizens and join in the effort designed to influence policy,” Clarke said.
Perry, who represents a largely Caribbean immigrant district said: “If there is a lesson in the recent election results it is people, including immigrants must get involved.”
“And citizenship opens the door to participation.