Editor’s Note: Last week local resident Colin Jones joined more than 3,900 others in taking an oath to become an American citizen. The oath was administered by a district court judge at the Los Angeles Civic Center, Thursday, March 22. The Ojai Valley News asked Jones to write a story about his experience of coming to this country, and later becoming a naturalized citizen. What follows is his account of his quest for citizenship, which he calls “Colin Jones, A Citizen.”
Last Thursday, March 22, I, along with 3,958 others, took the “Oath of Allegiance” and became a citizen of this great country. It was a moving ceremony, but I was most touched by seeing the absolute joy on the faces of so many people — people so ready, so happy to become American citizens.
In this time of recession, a rising national debt, a divisive primary and what we all know will be a bitter presidential race, it was particularly heartening to see people who have a choice, choose regardless of the problems faced by America, to embrace and be embraced by this great nation.
I am blessed to live in a town like Ojai which embodies the best of the American spirit in that both are so accepting of new citizens from wherever they hail. Arriving in the U. S. in the mid-’70s from the depressed one-time coal mining and steel making valleys of Wales, I had worked in a steel mill for 10 years and grown up on stories of World War II and the GIs, who to many in wartime Britain, seemed larger than life. With a TV diet of “Wagon Train,” “Rawhide,” and Hollywood’s version of America in movies, I was hooked. Now it was 1974 and I had come to see it for myself!
Flying into New York and taking a Greyhound bus to Chicago, where I answered an ad to deliver a car to Alhambra, Calif., and driving from one side of the country to the other was an adventure, but that’s another story. On reaching Southern California I was immediately taken by the weather, the people, the laid-back feel, yet at the same time things seemed to move faster, things got done in a hurry. I felt freer than I had ever been. Growing up in post-World War II Britain, the class system, though dying, still held sway over the working man, leaving them feeling disempowered, unable to achieve in a system rigged against them and feeling resentful of the people who had status by birthright only. An example would be if you saw someone driving a particularly nice car, the reaction in Britain would be, “Why should he have that car and how do we rid him of it?” Whereas in America, people would be more likely to say, “That’s a nice car — how can I get one?”
When 1982 rolled around I had been married for four years, had a 2-year-old daughter, Lauren, was a green card holder and was starting my own business. In the 30 years since, I have experienced little negativity from employees, customers or competitors regarding my coming from another country. It seems that to accept people is second nature here.
My marriage did not last, but my business did. In 1989 I married my wife, Cindy. Our son, Connor, was born in 1991 and we made the move Ojai in 1999. I am very proud of my Welsh heritage and did not apply for citizenship until after my father passed away a couple of years ago because I felt that I would disappoint him if I changed my citizenship from that of my birth. I am close to my remaining family and the distance has not weakened our bond. My mother is 88 and still lives in Wales.
In all the time I have spent here, no one born in America has asked why I have not become a citizen earlier, but so many in the last few days have welcomed me and congratulated me on becoming a citizen — typical of the independent spirit embodied still in this country which allows people to achieve their personal ambition without interference. Interestingly, the only people who have asked me why I waited so long are other naturalized citizens. I have been asked several times if I feel different now; yes I do, and it like this: some of us from my generation made statements like, “Marriage is just a piece of paper, it makes no difference.” Well, most of us who woke up the day after our wedding know it does make a difference; it represents a personal commitment that you will be there through good times and bad times — that you have someone you can count on and who can count on you.
As I heard on “Saturday Night Live” in the ‘70s, “America has been very, very good to me.” She has, and I intend to do my best to be very, very good to her.