5 Ways To Become an American: An Immigrant’s Guide

Photo credit: James Patrick Riley

Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to see lots of immigrants come to America. My grandfather rode horseback with the Shah of Iran, during World War II — and I’m pretty sure he was one of the hopeful ones who thought Iranians could absorb western traditions, (the verdict is still out on that one, Grandpa.) My uncle sponsored immigrants from Argentina. I’ve tried to help Courage cast members where I could. My wife’s grandparents came over from Greece.

If “making Americans” of them were up to me, I’d say the course curriculum would include these requirements:

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1. Learn English. Americans aren’t like the French. We actually like to hear the English language spoken with many different inflections. But we all need one language. If someone is having a heart attack, or has a great idea, we need to be able to understand — that is, if we really want to be neighbors.

2. Demand justice. In America, justice shouldn’t depend on who you voted for, or who your daddy is. It should depend on the law. Be idealistic about that. It’s allowed here. If someone arrives during the night, to beat you up, for testifying in a trial, we have become Columbia. No offense, but we don’t want to be Columbia, or Mexico or Yemen or Saudi Arabia for that matter. We are a nation of laws, not men. That’s one of the reasons you came here.

3. The welfare state is meant for the poor, not for those who can work. Don’t abuse it. Don’t commit fraud against the rest of us. A lot of the wealth you see around you is the result of a cultural and spiritual tradition: we hate fraud. Join the club.

4. We have a lot of disgruntled emotional children in our country who hate their very prosperity. Tell them to grow up and let them know what conditions were like in your native land. You would be doing us all a service.

5. Above all, remember this truth from our founding document: “All men are created equal.. they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” It wasn’t our government that made America the place you wanted to settle. It was the notion that government must be just, must be subordinate to God. If a Democracy can give you a right to life, it can take it away as well. Democracy by itself doesn’t make your life better. A representative government composed of people who fear God makes your life better.

Those are American notions. Teach them to your children.

James Patrick Riley

James Riley is the owner/operator of Riley's Farm in Oak Glen, California and the creator of "Courage, New Hampshire," a television drama seen on PBS stations across the country. The father of six children, Riley performs "Patrick Henry" and supervises a living history program visited by hundreds of thousands of school children. He holds a degree in history from Stanford University.

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