I remember singing MY COUNTRY 'TIS OF THEE as a new American. I'd shut up for one line: "Land where my fathers died," because that wasn't true for me. But when it came to "Sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing," I BELTED it out, and still do.
I don't want to take for granted rights that people are willing to die for in other parts of the world. As I head to the polls on November 4, 2008, I remember two freedoms I cherish as an American by choice.
1. I can speak my mind.
Nobody's going to drag me off to prison if I stand on the street declaring my allegiance to either Barack Obama or John McCain. I can denounce the current administration in front of the White House day and night and the police would have to protect me.
It's not like that everywhere. In Burma, for example, I'd be hauled off to prison if I wrote or spoke my support of Aung San Suu Kyi, a leader chosen by the people but sentenced to silence and house arrest by the government for over a decade now.
And what about China? Author Justina Chen Headley, who is spending a year in Shanghai, informed me that even my own little blog, Mitali's Fire Escape, is banned there. Why? Maybe because I posted my support of PEN's efforts to free Chinese dissident writers.
Here in the Land of the Free, I can speak my mind, write my mind, and share my mind with others. Alleluia.
2. I can vote.
This Tuesday, I'll head to our local elementary school, register, enter the privacy of a booth, and cast my vote without paying a penny.
As always, I'll think of the heroes, known and unknown, who fought for suffrage so that an immigrant brown-skinned woman like me can help choose our President.
I used to be embarrassed because my eyes got blurry as I submitted my ballot. Now I just bring the tissues and celebrate.
I know so many of you are passionate about picking your candidate, and that's wonderful, but that doesn't come first. What comes first is remembering the past struggle for freedom and giving thanks for this "sweet land of liberty." Then go cast your vote, and rant about the election results all you want -- like a true American.