OPINION: My Irish cousin, the new American

Declan Clear, a newly naturalized American citizen, helps to carry the American flag at Truist Park during a Flag Day ceremony this year.

Credit: Courtesy Declan Clear

Credit: Courtesy Declan Clear

Declan Clear, a newly naturalized American citizen, helps to carry the American flag at Truist Park during a Flag Day ceremony this year.

It’s easy to slip into despair about the country when you look at the darkening state of our nation’s politics. Last week’s confounding presidential debate only reinforced the feeling.

But nothing will make you feel better about America than knowing someone who wants to be a part of it, warts and all. For me, it’s my Irish cousin Declan Clear, who was sworn in as a U.S. citizen two weeks ago.

I remember hearing about Declan years ago because he had somehow figured out how to watch Atlanta Braves games as a boy in Ballyroan Dublin. On trans-Atlantic phone calls with my father, he knew the smallest details of the Braves’ starting lineup and the latest player trades. West Coast playoff games were the hardest to watch, since they typically finished as the sun rose at 6 a.m. in Ireland. But Declan watched anyway.

Stories about his relatives who had moved to America a century ago, including my grandparents, piqued his interest in the United States. My grandfather and grandmother immigrated to America in the 1920s from the west of Ireland. The road ahead wasn’t easy, but there was the hope of a better life at the end of it. What more can a person ask?

“The Americans” made trips back to Ireland decades later, including to visit Declan’s family in Dublin. He and his friends watched the 1994 World Cup when it was played in New Jersey, along with American television shows such as “Friends.” It all appeared very glamorous.

“America seemed exciting,” he said. “I always wanted to go there on holiday. I wanted to go see New York.”

As luck would have it, Declan eventually met his wife, Jenna, a Californian, in Germany during a school holiday from college. They married years later in Europe. Although they initially lived in London, they came to America when Jenna enrolled at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School. After three years of residency, he applied for U.S. citizenship.

“I pay taxes here. I work here. I have a life here,” he said. “I want to get involved, to feel like I can do things like vote and be part of the process, to be engaged.”

The citizenship test through the Department of Homeland Security includes a written English language test and an oral quiz about the country’s origins and values. Of the 100 questions an applicant can be asked, I’d wager the average American could answer about 40% of them, starting with the first one, “What is the supreme law of the land?” (The Constitution, of course.)

Other questions are more challenging. For example, name one constitutional power that belongs exclusively to states. Also, name one of the authors of the Federalist Papers. Can you name the first two people in the presidential line of succession? Declan can.

Some of the citizenship questions explore how America became a country and why, while others remind you of the tremendous benefits that come with being American that most take for granted, more often than not. “What are two rights of everyone living in the United States?” There are many.

Declan already had a master’s degree in American history, but he did daily mock tests with his wife or co-workers quizzing him on the answers to make sure he would be ready when the time came. After weeks of preparation, he passed his exam in a nondescript government building in Atlanta and was sworn in as a citizen later that day.

Declan Clear and his wife, Jenna Bamberger, at his swearing-in ceremony in Atlanta on June 11.

Credit: Courtesy Declan Clear

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Credit: Courtesy Declan Clear

I’ve heard more than a few Americans say that they’re planning to move to Canada or Europe if their candidate loses the presidential election in November. They may have been joking or maybe not. But Declan said he doesn’t have any regrets about becoming an American, despite our tumultuous politics lately, and he definitely doesn’t plan to move away based on who wins the White House.

“I think there is a lot more to America than just the politics,” he said. “There are so many great people here and I find that people are very, very kind.”

On the day after he took his oath of citizenship. Declan arrived at his office to find it festooned by his co-workers with American flags and bunting. They welcomed him by singing the national anthem.

Two days later, he celebrated Flag Day by helping to carry an enormous American flag onto the field of Truist Park, just before a Braves game, of course. He held the second white stripe from the bottom.

“I think it’s easy to get cynical about what’s going on in politics, but I think there’s something really awesome about America and this state and this nation,” he said. “It’s very special. I’m very grateful to be an American.”

And with that, Declan Clear became the third generation of our Irish family to find not just opportunity in the United States, but also family, a community, and a purpose. My father, the son of Irish immigrants, served in the U.S. Air Force. My mother’s favorite songs are the patriotic marches of John Philip Sousa. Her favorite holiday is Independence Day. And so is mine.

Happy July Fourth, Declan. And welcome to America.

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