Thirty-two years ago, I immigrated to the United States of America. My permanent resident visa eventually changed, after five years, to a Certificate of Naturalization---that is, after I passed the U.S. citizenship test and began to pledge allegiance to The Stars and Stripes and the republic for which it stands.
I was already in the U.S. Navy before I became a naturalized U.S. citizen in January 1989. The naturalization ceremony took place in Agana, Guam, Marianas Island, where I was stationed then at U.S. Naval Hospital in Guam, a U.S. territory.
Becoming a U.S. citizen is an American dream that I believe every immigrant U.S. resident aspires for. Having a U.S. passport made me feel at home.
I have had that sense of belonging, but at the same time a responsibility that I have to uphold. Truly, I feel blessed with all the opportunities America offers me. I thank God, everyday, for my being a part of America.
My first taste of Thanksgiving Day in America was in 1983, at the home of my sister Betty and her family in San Jose, California.
New to any national holiday in the U.S., with the exception of Fourth of July, I thought that it was just another celebration with food, family, and friends. That turkey was the biggest one I've ever seen! And that was my first time to eat turkey, too, because we mostly ate chicken, pork or beef in the Philippines.
Along with my three younger siblings who came her, I had a great time with sister Betty and her family as well as the other guests who were present. There were plenty of food on the table, and we feasted while having fun watching football.
Years later, I realized the significance of Thanksgiving Day in America. It is a special day for family and friends to give thanks to Almighty God for all the blessings we have in life: food, faith, freedom, family, friends and peace. Despite all odds, we overcome and we celebrate holidays with others.
On Thanksgiving Day, I pray: "Almighty God, I thank you that we're alive and well. Thank you for all the blessings you've showered upon us: my sister Betty and her family; Aunt Emilia, our families united together in these trying times, our neighbors and friends near or far.
"Thank you for the settlers that inspired us to be brave, strong and hopeful. Thank you for our government leaders, who have worked hard to make America great. Thank you for our religious leaders for inculcating and increasing our faith.
"Thank you for our teachers, volunteers, innovators, scientists, doctors, nurses and caregivers, police officers, and our dedicated and hardworking farmers for all their efforts in making America a great and powerful nation.
"Thank you for our journalists for informing us of what's happening around the world. Thank you for our actors, singers, writers and athletes for entertaining us and reminding us that despite the issues confronting our country and the world, we can still manage to celebrate our humanity.
"Thank you, Lord, for our veterans, our service men and women who have gone or are here and abroad fighting for freedom and peace, and their families for the sacrifices they made.
"I pray, Lord, that our homeless, especially our veterans, will find shelter and comfort
this cold holiday season and beyond. May your light and love shine before us all, Lord.
"God bless America. Amen."
-Chris A. Quilpa, a retired U.S. Navy veteran, lives in Suffolk. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
*Appeared in the Opinion page of the award-winning Suffolk News-Herald, Thursday, November 26, 2015. For more information, visit www.suffolknewsherald.com.