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Profile Of An American

by Christine Flowers

It is difficult to find someone more patriotic than Francisco. He has lived in the United States since the age of 27, half of his current 54, and has never returned to his native Mexico since first obtaining the 'green card' in 1980. He speaks English with just enough of an accent to alert you to the fact that he was born in another country, prefers mole poblano to hot dogs, and rejoiced when the Mexican national soccer team advanced in the most recent World Cup tournament. But if you ask Francisco where he wants to be buried, he quickly answers "America, of course." And if you ask him why, he responds with a simplicity that humbles those of us who complain about taxes and jury duty: "Because this is where my heart is."

I sat next to Francisco last week as he took his citizenship test in Philadelphia. Nervous and certain of defeat, he arrived at the Immigration Office dressed in what I assumed was his only suit, given the fact that he spends most of his life in a restaurant kitchen. He clutched a sheaf of worn and tattered papers. It was Francisco's cheat sheet, a list of questions and answers about U.S. history that he'd memorized and, apparently, attempted to swallow whole.

When they called his name, Francisco stood up, glanced at the officer as if she was guarding the Gates of Hell, and we entered together. Despite his anxiety, and the fact that he called the national anthem the "Star Mangled Banner," a new citizen was born that morning. Dissolving into tears of joy and, I suspect, some regret for the past that he was relinquishing, he hugged me tightly and promised to keep in touch. The next day, I received a huge bouquet of flowers and his cheat sheet in a gold frame.

I think of Francisco whenever people talk about Arnold Schwarzenneger. What, you ask, could a quiet Mexican cook have in common with the muscle-bound millionaire from Austria who lives in a governors' mansion? More than meets the eye. Arnold is often mentioned as a candidate for President, touted as an ideal mix of conservative fiscal values and liberal social beliefs. Someone who would please everyone or, perhaps, no one. But what excitement he would bring to an election.

Of course, that's a only a dream. The United States Constitution mandates that the President be born on U.S. soil, and no matter how brilliant, well-loved or admired naturalized citizens may be, the White House doors are closed to them. And this is a great shame.

Some believe that those who choose to become Americans are destined to have divided loyalties, with one foot in their native land and the other in their adopted home. They say that only those who are born in this country can have its best interests at heart. Tell that to John Walker Lynde, the native Californian captured on a battlefield in Afghanistan who sympathized with the Taliban.

I know one thing. Devotion to country is not transmitted at birth. It is learned, and earned. Those who are given the gift of citizenship are not always the ones who cherish it the most. Just ask Francisco.

About The Author

Christine Flowers practices immigration law with the law firm of Joseph M. Rollo and Associates, P.C. in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She can be reached at

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.