Newest citizens have something to teach us all

2011-07-03T00:00:00Z Newest citizens have something to teach us allDavid Wiegand San Francisco Chronicle Arizona Daily Star
July 03, 2011 12:00 am  • 

SAN FRANCISCO - It would be challenging to watch Alexandra Pelosi's new documentary, "Citizen USA: A 50-State Road Trip" on any day other than the Fourth of July and not feel an insistent rumble of cynicism.

Pelosi, whose previous documentaries include "Journeys With George" (as in Bush), waves the flag in all 50 states to capture scenes of immigrants being sworn in as U.S. citizens in her new film, airing Monday on HBO.

As she moves from state to state, we're treated to sound bites from new citizens sharing their unqualified joy in being able to call themselves American. An Iranian woman talks about the absence of social equality for women in her native land; Chinese-born twins thrill at having access to YouTube, Facebook and Google; a Korean-born woman notes than when a boy is born, the home is adorned with red pepper decorations, but the birth of a girl prompts only indifference in many households.

Again and again, we're told of how much opportunity and freedom exist in the U.S. compared with other countries. It's hard to argue when the new citizens point out how native-born Americans take their liberty for granted and complain too much when the economy dips or bad political decisions are made.

Pelosi's subjects celebrate the undeniable greatness of the United States, with only one small suggestion that things might not always be quite that glorious for immigrants and American streets are not necessarily paved with gold. That brief reality check occurs when Pelosi films a naturalization ceremony in Arizona as it is being picketed because of the state's controversial immigration law.

While the rah-rah aspect of Pelosi's film is undeniably genuine, a less passive viewing may prompt us to weigh what the new citizens say about our country with some of the challenges it still faces.

Women do have more rights in the United States than they do in Iran, but male-dominated government organizations are still wrestling with abortion issues, and women are still fighting for economic equality in the workplace.

The Middle Eastern gay man is correct when he says that he would be jailed or worse if he hadn't come to the United States, but not only is same-sex marriage legal in only a small handful of the 50 states, but LGBT kids are bullied in school and some have been driven to suicide.

And while the country has an African-American president, no thinking person could state unequivocally that racial prejudice has been eradicated.

Pelosi's film may not tell "the other side of the story" directly, but if it does nudge us to consider these issues, viewing the film becomes more rewarding: We can't help thinking that if the rest of us had just a bit more of the unalloyed hope and determination of our newest citizens, it might go a long way toward realizing our common goals.

On TV

"Citizen USA: A 50-State Road Trip," a documentary by Alexandra Pelosi, 9 p.m. Monday, with encore broadcasts through July 19 on HBO.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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