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Choosing When To Breathe

Updated: Jan 1, 2021

"You are now officially a United States citizen." I can tell that the man eagerly looking through the car window is expecting something from me. A cheer, a celebration, or maybe even a smile. I feel lost. I know I am supposed to be happy. All the people waving their flags and grinning so hard I can see their molars, indicates that would probably be the acceptable response. So, I take a deep breath and I smile. It feels unnatural and severely forced, but, regardless of the plethora of emotions rushing over me, I must admit I am pretty darn relieved that this long and exhausting process of becoming a US citizen is over. And for that reason, and that reason only, I am able to breathe.

But as the weeks have passed and I recall that moment and the moments since, I am forced to acknowledge my lack of breathing. Every time I scroll through my Twitter feed or view my Instagram stories I stop breathing. The reality of the evil in the world and fear that one of those fatal stories might just be about someone I know, is too much for me to focus on the rising and falling of my chest. The worry in my roommates voices, as they try to navigate an action plan in case they are deported, due to their student visas no longer being valid, tells me that they are not breathing. It is in times like these that you have to wonder is anyone breathing? And if they are, how did they get so lucky?

They must be individuals who have never had to worry about their legal residency in this country. Or they must not be of a marginalized group, that must fight each and everyday to live and be respected as a human in this nation. And maybe they are not affected by the children that are still in cages or the worldwide pandemic that has killed over 500,000 individuals. But how could that be? How could someone, living in this country, not be affected?

These moments of fear and uncertainty have become such a prominent part of the US identity that I can not imagine a world without them. At my ceremony I had to recite the following oath:

"I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God."

The only thing that was missing from this perfectly curated oath of allegiance was; "I will promise to stop breathing."

For a land devoted to the "liberty and justice for all," there is a suffocating cloud of oppression. It is so dense and ominous that I wonder what it must feel like to truly be free. Are you able to breathe?

But, until that cloud has been lifted, I suppose we must simply choose. We must choose those moments where we allow ourselves to exhale...even if only for a second. Because without those moments we can't survive the periods of inhalation. Without those moments we can't fight for our sisters and brothers. We can't speak out against injustices. And we can't be a voice for the voiceless.

Now, don't get me wrong, I am thrilled to be a citizen of the country that has raised me and I have called home for the past 15 years. But, until everyone who steps foot on this soil is able to breathe, I am not sure of the extent of my pride. I am not sure whether or not I will be able to smile or wave that flag high in the air; but I do know that I will fight. And I will continue to fight until breathing is no longer an option for few but simply a way of life for all.


*post originally made July 2020

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